austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Into this house

If there's any standard rule in match-play pinball, head-to-head competition to see who scores highest, it's that people would rather play last. It's part superstition, part practicality. If you're going first, you have to put up the highest score you possibly can get and hope that's enough. If you're going last, you know what you have to beat. You might have already beaten it. This changes strategy calculations. If you need as many points as you can gather you have to shoot the highest-value shots you think you can do safely. If you just need a small number of points you can take the safe, low-value shots that are out there. And going later lets you watch other players and see what they discover about how the table's behaving, as see my Asteroid Annie discovery. So if, as at Pinburgh, you get the choice of whether to play first, second, third, or fourth, nearly everyone will pick fourth. Or as close to fourth as they can get.

But there are reasons you wouldn't. You might choose first. Mostly that's for psychological factors. If you're confident you can put up a powerfully impressive first ball you might do that, trusting that you'll shake your opponents' confidence. Or if the game has some reward that carries over from game to game --- and many older games do --- you might want to grab that and leave others deprived of the opportunity. What you'd never do is pick second.

Me, I started picking second. No real reason except that I had some good games when I was playing second of four. And there's so little you can really control in an unfamiliar game in an unfamiliar venue, so why not take that? It's superstitious thinking, sure. But the thing about competitive superstitions is that if they help you feel in control, then you are.

Also doing something as innocently out-of-the-ordinary as breaking the rule for standard playing order will throw others off, surprisingly easily. In the second and third rounds of the day I'd be put up against MAT, one of the very many people named Matt who play in competitive pinball. And my choice of second on every game where I could get it just kept throwing him. He figured from our seeding that he ought to be second and kept going up, ready to play. Playing out of order is as serious a problem as you get in competitive pinball, at least in this sort of contest. It would get him disqualified, if the rest of us didn't catch him. Repeatedly. Yes, I warned him too. I don't want to win that way.

Did this throw him? Hard to say. He didn't beat me on the two rounds we happened to play together on. But that's just to say he had on fewer win the first round we had together, and we tied on our second round. Then somehow we didn't see one another in play again.

I wasn't trying to psyche anyone out. I just liked the slot.

Trivia: During Spring Training in 1908 Cleveland baseball players, in New Orleans, had a flock of vultures swoop down on their batting practice. Source: Crazy '08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History, Cait Murphy.

Currently Reading: Discovering the Natural Laws: The Experimental Basis of Physics, Milton A Rothman. It's a pretty nice if decades-old conversational book about why we believe in the conservation of energy, conservation of charge, that sort of thing. And Rothman mentions he wrote pop-science stuff for Analog, which you could only guess at from his explaining why he has these reasons for not believing in ESP but, you know, you never know, maybe some experiment might turn up something maybe sometime but, yeah, he hasn't seen it.

Tags: pinball, pinburgh

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