austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Just a man with a man's courage

The Baby Food Festival is a pretty good-sized carnival held in July in the small, remote town of Fremont, Michigan. Its theme is just what you might think given its name and that it's where Gerber Products Company is headquartered. PH and son AJH run the National Baby Food Festival Open, an open pinball tournament, there. This year it was also the Meijer State Games pinball tournament. PH has a collection of dozens of machines, many of them all-time classics, many of them exotic and pleasantly weird, so putting out a subset of them makes for a fun tournament. AJH has a superhuman ability to organize playoff formats that maximize International Flipper Pinball Association reward.

Some of their genius is holding the tournament during the town's festival, with a big sign out front pointing out that it is a charity tournament (it raises money for MS research), and that there's daily contests and many categories of contests so that the chance of winning something feels high. And having a lot of people enter a pinball contest boosts the IFPA reward, which encourages every serious competitive-pinball player in the state to go there, which drives its value up more. Of course we'd go. It would be the biggest in-state pinball event of July. It would be the second-biggest pinball event of the month.

We carpooled with MWS. Fremont is about two hours from our house and three hours from his. He can't get there without passing within two miles of our house, so not carpooling would be a touch daft. But it was two hours (three for him), which is why we set out only on the last day. There were daily tournaments Thursday and Friday which we passed up. Saturday we could attempt to qualify for the Main tournament, with mostly modern games, and for the Classics tournament, with electromechanical and solid-state games from no later than the early 80s. We still had to get up way too early in the day for that.

They would have four games we knew or kind-of knew in the Main Tournament: Embryon, a 1980 solid-state game with a weird theme and a lot of strange, confusing shots that I inexplicably like. The Walking Dead, based on the TV show, which every place has and which has had so many code revisions nobody knows what to do with it anymore. Whirlwind, a late 80s game made just before FunHouse and similar in many ways to it, but still requiring agonizingly precise hits and lots of them for the high-value payouts. And Shrek, which is the same game as Family Guy but with different art and animations and audio recordings. Somehow, Shrek is a lot more fun than Family Guy, and it must just be that it's a less annoying theme. Literally the only thing changed between the games is the pictures on the playfield and what they name stuff.

Games we didn't know well: Corvette, one of roughly a jillion games licensed to cars that drive fast. It had this crowded, complicated playfield and we'd never touched one that we remember. And Elvis, an early-2000s Stern license we'd played at Pinball Pete's in Ann Arbor. We knew a few tricks from it, like where the super-skill-shot was and how to start the Heartbreak Hotel multiball. Not much, but even a little bit helps.

The Classics tournament had only three games. Boomerang, by now an old familiar, with a dangerous tendency to center-drain after you make the scoop shot that's the one valuable shot in the game. We knew to watch for that and what to do (hit the cabinet at the right spot at the right time, nudging the ball out of its doom). Blackout, the game that brought me glory in the Pinball At The Zoo Classics back in April. Flash Gordon, themed to just like you think, 1981 model with an upper and a lower playfield and the promise of lots of instant drains if you didn't keep the ball's speed very slow for as long as possible.

There were two daily-tournament games, not ones we'd have to play to qualify, but which might be picked by people in the finals. One was Mystic, another 1980s table with no comprehensible rule set and a tendency to award enormous last-ball bouses for no reason anyone could work out. And Tri-Zone, another model of the pinball machine we have at home and know so well. Pinball folklore has it that if you own a game you can never play another of that table worth anything. This would be the first time we'd get to find out whether we suffered under that curse.

Trivia: The final launch countdown for the Space Shuttle required about two and a half hours, and consoles watched by three launch control personnel. The equivalent process for Apollo required about 28 hour and ten times the launch controllers. Source: A History of the Kennedy Space Center, Kenneth Lipartito, Orville R Butler.

Currently Reading: Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth, Lee Jackson.

Tags: baby food festival, fremont, pinball
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