So here's a funny little rule quirk about the Pinball At The Zoo tournament championships: you have to actually be there to compete in finals. And yeah, you might think, who would qualify but not be there for finals? But with 32 people on a multi-day event you can count on someone discovering they had to duck out for one reason or another. The strange thing is none of the top 24 people, the A Division, had to duck out. But two of the next eight did skip, for some reason. And one of the people between #32 and me was also absent. And so I got in as the eighth seed in B Division by the classic method of default.
The twelve machines for the Main Tournament were organized into three groups: old, mid, and new. This was four machines each and based on the age of the games. The tournament would be three rounds of play, with groups of four playing one each of the old, the mid, and the new games. As lowest seed I would never get to pick a game, but that's all right. I found I liked coming in to what other people picked.
TG, the guy whose name I couldn't remember though I knew him, had first pick, and in the New games he selected Whoa Nellie. This breast-themed pinball machine is new chronologically, as the table was just issued in the past year (apart from a little boutique run). But it's designed like an old, 1960s table: one ball, no ramps, no real modes, a game of lighting bumpers and shooting a collection scoop. TG picked it partly because he likes older-style games, and partly because this ruled out all the other modern games like Tron and Mustang and that bunch form consideration. When he mentioned that I realized how many levels of strategy could go into this.
I don't like Whoa Nellie. I mean, I love the concept of a retro game; I like electromechanical tables, and playing one that has the sharp, solid feel of a new machine is great. But the playfield and the game's sound effects have one theme: breasts! Lookit them! And that's tiring if you aren't a horny fifteen-year-old hetero boy that hasn't noticed women are not merely carriage schemes for mutated sweat glands. I had put in an indifferent game during qualifying, since it made sense to try everything once, and considered myself happily freed from that obligation afterwards.
So this would be when the pinball gods looked down upon me and got the giggles. I had an astounding first ball, one that just kept hitting the high-value 50- and 200-point targets, and even got close to lighting all four bumpers. My first ball (of five) I put up something like 2,000 points, which alone would have secured me second place in the game. And while one of the guys I didn't really know made a strong comeback, I just had to play not-so-awfully and I came in with a bit over four thousand points. This wasn't technically an easy win, and since I wasn't last player I couldn't walk away relieved. But it did give me a first-place finish to start the contest out. I could feel relieved.
The second game, the Mid one, was World Cup Soccer. Everybody had a crummy first ball on it, provoking the usual joke about let's just start over and pretend that didn't happen. We all struggled back to mediocre in the second ball, and threatened to actually be competent players by the third. I got the multiball started, after a lot of struggle, but the guy who had picked it broke tradition and won the game. I came in second, which still left me well-positioned to move on to the second round of play. All I had to do was not come in last on the third machine.
And that was an old machine, the 1980 solid state Blackout. I feel nice and comfortable on solid states, Meteor excepted that day, and Blackout was being very nice to me. Not so nice was that the guy who played before me somehow got confused about the balls on the first ball and plunged my ball. I believe the problem is he scored nothing, or almost nothing, and thought there was a ball save which there was not. I had to make a mad dash for the table before it got into flipper range. Fortunately I got it under control. Properly speaking I could have got the guy disqualified for plunging someone else's ball. bunny_hugger felt offended for my honor. I did think hard about it while playing and decided not to ask for it.
Perhaps good deeds come around: I would win this table too, on the bonus as it crept slowly above the 150,000 point marker. I would go on to the B Division finals.
Trivia: Before the Schuylkill Canal was completed in 1825 the coal barges were pulled by pairs of men, with boards against their chests, walking the several hundred miles from Pottsville, Pennsylvania, to Philadelphia. It would take about six weeks and the men wore out a pair of boots each trip. Source: Coal: A Human History, Barbara Freese.
Currently Reading: The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History of Slang, Jonathon Green.