The semi-finals. Only two groups of people playing now. My pick for the first set, so we go back to Cirqus Voltaire's bank. The official asks what position I want. I say juggler. ``All right, and where does the juggler go?'' I play third.
Cirqus Voltaire is the first table. And now, my third game ever on this particular machine, I am ready. And warmed up. I plunge what I figure is sure to hit the skill shot, one thing I hadn't got the hang of before. It rebounds softly onto the rim of the Ringmaster target. The Ringmaster is this toy that pops up out of the playfield, and there's a little seam between that and the main playfield and I didn't even know it was possible to get a ball stuck there. But it's either I try slapping the side of the machine to nudge it loose, or wait for the ball search. But I didn't hit the skill shot, or any target. The game doesn't know that I've plunged the ball, so it isn't going to do a ball search. It's a freak event, one that requires the intervention of tech people. Ominous start.
Omens aren't everything. I put up something like ten million points on the first ball, which is already getting into what would be a decent score on a table that wasn't on tournament-hard settings. A good long ball like that has many rewards, not just in points. Pinball players speak of freezing other players out, making them wait around, nervously, not playing and losing their memories of just how the table plays. And seeing someone run up the score when you aren't near those scores yet has further psychological effects. You can play nervous. You can take bigger chances than you should. You can nudge, and discover the machine is very touchy and that the tilt is incredibly sensitive. I knew someone would. The player complains that a tap like that shouldn't tilt the game. But it's not something that can be appealed. I end up with 28 million points, dominating the field. Three wins and we're done with just one game.
Mars Trek. I start off with a bad ball, but that's why electromechanical games give you five balls to play. I have one really good ball that gets me back into range of the rest of the players. But I'm still short. With effort and luck I get a narrow lead for the last ball. If two other players tilt quickly I might yet get first place. They don't tilt quickly, or at all. I'm beaten by two players, and myself beat one. Four wins total. If I can get a first place, or two second places, I should be in the finals. Yes, all our scores are below bunny_hugger's good-for-second-place finish.
Genesis. Now. I'm the second player. On the first ball I test what I had seen. I remember, from RLM's explanation of the table he brings to West Michigan tournaments, that the center drop targets are a valuable little piece. Hit them in order and you make progress on one of the body parts. He doesn't recommend playing that way, because the center drop targets are a dangerous shot on his machine, and you get progress on only one body part, and the ramps are easier to shoot. But here? How bad a shot is it?
I experiment. And when I hit the drop targets --- it takes some time --- I find, first, that I can hit the drop targets in order without the ball feeling out of control. And second, that it gives me progress on all four body parts. RLM, and the instruction card, say you only get progress on the body part you've already gotten closest to completing. I hypothesize that since I hadn't make progress on anything, the game awarded me everything as its best bet what to do.
But this --- this changes everything.
First thing: I start shooting the drop targets. It's tough going; while the targets are safer than they are on RLM's more familiar machine, it's not like shooting at stuff dead-center, close to the flippers, is ever completely safe. And if I hit the wrong target I have to clear the rest without getting a letter. And then, also, I have an advantage. Nobody else is shooting for the center targets. Can I avoid my competitors copying me?
Well, they don't catch on to what I'm doing, not after the first two balls. It probably helps that the ramps flank the center targets, and everybody's having trouble with the ramps: it may look like I'm just trying to hit the ramps and failing a lot without losing control. But, finally, I have done enough banks to get three of the four body parts lit and ready to go. One ramp shot and I start multiball. Ramp shots have been hard. But I only need one.
I get it.
The multiball starts. Since I have three body parts completed, it's scoring at six times the normal playfield value. Everyone else got one, maybe two parts started and so was at two or four times playfield value. Too bad there's not a jackpot ... oh, wait. There kinda is. At least, if I shoot the swinging lever that's called a vari-target, and if I hit it hard, something will ---
That sound is me hitting the vari-target, and hard, at six-times playfield multiplier, rocketing from around third place to way out ahead in first place and going past the replay score. (The games are on free play, but some tables keep track of credits anyway.) bunny_hugger and MWS say they don't even know what happened. They just know that in like ten seconds my score quintupled. So it does. I have another first-place finish, and three more wins, in what's got to have been a shockingly sudden fashion.
bunny_hugger asks what I was doing that I scored like that. I have a rare moment of actual cut-throat competition. I turn away and tell her softly that I'll tell her what I'm doing when we're done playing Genesis. I mean, after the finals, if it comes to that. Melodramatic? Maybe. But an edge like that I don't want to let go of easily.
I've got seven wins so far; there's an excellent chance that even if I finish last next game I'll be into the finals. (As it transpires, yes, I would have.) It's a relaxing place to go into the last game from.
I don't finish the last body part, and so I don't get the wizard-mode revelation of the Maria android, which is the only thing missing from this performance.
Last game: Stars again. I don't start out well. But nobody does. One poor fellow has two house balls. I finish the third ball hanging on, improbably, to first place with a meager 58,100. Anybody ought to be able to beat that. Somehow, only one person does. Once again, bunny_hugger's second-place score would beat any of us. Indeed, her score would have beaten all of ours added together.
But this has given me another two wins, for nine total. I am in the finals, and the top seed.
Trivia: In 1345 the Count of Holland prepared for his campaign agains the Frisians, in part, by ordering the preparation of 7,342 cod caught off the coast. Source: Salt: A World History, Mark Kurlansky.
Currently Reading: A Gambling Man: Charles II's Restoration Game, Jenny Uglow.
PS: Reading the Comics, August 17, 2017: Professor Edition, closing out last week's mathematically-themed comic strips. Next week: this week!