austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

But seeing Charlie smile can make you stop a while

Pin-golf, as a tournament, is about meeting some objective in as few plunged balls as possible. The objective might be score-based. It might be achievement-based. Generally, an achievement is more fun, because you nearly always play pinball just to drive the score up as fast as possible. Trying to get, say, ``Barnyard Multiball'' is novel. But score-based has advantages. You can give value to people not making the score, for example, and give a better value to people who come close versus not making it at all. And the score might be something particularly challenging, forcing one to think closely about how one plays and what one does.

The PinMasters tournament was open to anyone who'd pay admission, which is why I was in on it. It would be two days, playing nine pinball tables each day. The tables would be nine of the twelve used in the National and the Women's World championships. The objectives would be based on the scores players rang up those days, so, they would not be low. The objective on Whitewater, for example, was 4.5 million, a score I'd gotten on a real-world table maybe twice ever.

So! I'm in a group of four, one of nine group of four. We're on Flip-A-Card, the table bunny_hugger had her victory on. I remember what she told me of the table, although I know going in what to do; hit targets matching each card. I'm playing completely cold; I had literally run in from the parking lot up to the table and was told to plunge. It's in single-player mode, too. The objective is something like 2,500 points; if I can make this in four balls or fewer I'll be starting out at or below par. And what do you know but I manage it! In fewer than the five balls the game is set to. Good start. I play the ball after that, and get chided for it by LOU. He's a local, who's taken over leadership and scorekeeping for our group. I talk with everyone in our group, but somehow it's most natural for us all to chat through him.

Eventually the next table on is free. There's time to spare. This is because there are exactly nine tables and exactly nine groups of people; we can only advance if the next table is available. Sometimes a group finished way early, especially if it was on an electromechanical table. The groups on the most modern games could play forever, since even on the tournament-hard settings they were given a skilled player on a modern table can just keep playing. At one point bunny_hugger's group, two tables ahead of me, believed the next table to be free and started to play. They got chided by this from the group they inadvertently jumped and bunny_hugger still hasn't completely forgiven herself for this thing which was by absolutely no posible reasonable definition her doing.

I have some good games. I don't get any holes in one, but I do get one table in two: The Flintstones starts up a particularly valuable mode at the same time it gives me multiball and I can flail my way to success. CSI is a slog but I reach it on the fifth ball of a game set to five-ball play. There are tables I do worse on. Whirlwind I don't reach the 4.5 million objective, but I get to over three million, good for seven ``strokes''. I finish the day with 46 strokes, ten over par. It isn't fantastic, but it is consistent play. ADM's friend jinxes me, saying that if I play slightly better than that the next day I might make the top-sixteen finalists. Even if I weren't jinxed by this, I'm not sure I would want that anyway. But it is a good place. I'm only two strokes behind SJG. I'm four strokes ahead of Roger ``The Man Who Saved Pinball'' Sharpe. !!!

bunny_hugger has a worse time of it. She reaches the objective on only four of the eight tables. She meets par only twice. She sets a goal of just not bottoming out, getting the maximum ten strokes for any table. It's a close-run thing. Whirlwind is not happy with her at all. She finishes the day 21 strokes above par and despairing that she'll be at the bottom of the whole contest. I try to reassure her she's done better than LOU. But she heard LOU say he'd looked up the results so far and he was at the bottom.

A wild card in the matches. They have Stern's brand-new table. There are launch parties for it going on in pinball venues across the country, but not this one, because a launch party is a contest on the featured table and this is just one of nine. The table is Aerosmith, one Stern's two favorite themes (glam rock and TV/movie licenses). It's brand-new. The programming on it probably isn't complete. It has the new, Batman 66-style LCD screen instead of the old-fashioned dot-matrix display. It shows stuff using an appealing cartoon style. The screen is smaller and less detail-realistic than Jersey Jack's offerings and I'm warm to it. It looks good, and it eats up less of the backglass.

I like the game. It's punishingly hard. But it's got a cheerily bright design and some neat layout. It's got an appealing ``toybox'' for the main multiball, that can be launched with as few as three or as many as six balls. Player's choice. There's a skill shot that takes real skill to do. There's some neat little shots. There's problems, too. The biggest: when ball is locked it gets physically tossed up and into (theoretically) the toybox. Ah, but if the toybox hasn't opened for some reason? Such as that the mechanism's broken, or because it's set not to open by the tournament directors? (This is a setting, called ``virtual locks'', done to keep player one from messing up the balls player two has locked and vice-versa.) The ball isn't supposed to get stuck on the toybox or in any of the other plastic on the playfield, but it does. A lot. It's a minor hassle, and a disruption of one's flow, at this tournament. But on location? Played somewhere that management maybe doesn't even have the keys to open the game up and move the ball, or doesn't want to deal with it? This could be problematic. Maybe I'm overly suspicious of games that launch their own balls into the air on purpose. Maybe some well-placed shims will keep the ball from being able to get caught anywhere it shouldn't be.

As with the championships the PinMasters tournament is streamed over Twitch. bunny_hugger overhears a few times that she's on camera, partly from hearing the commentators wincing when the ball does something indecent. They don't have a permanent set of commentators; people come and go as their schedule allows. She thinks at one point SJG is commenting. The night before, when we had nothing to do, there was a shortage of people behind the microphone and they asked for volunteers. She had almost worked up the courage to do so when someone else jumped in. She's resolved, if there's time between balls or after her games are done this time, to take the chance. There isn't the chance.

Trivia: Benjamin Franklin called his invention ``double spectacles''; others would name them ``bifocals''. Source: The First American: The Life And Times Of Benjamin Franklin, H W Brands.

Currently Reading: Boom, Bust, Boom: A Story About Copper, The Metal That Runs The World, Bill Carter.

Tags: dallas, pinball, world women's pinball championship
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