austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Where is the path to Wonderland

A little south of the Freehold Raceway Mall is a spot called iPlay America. It's an indoor family entertainment center that opened a couple years back, back when I was still living in New Jersey. We'd never gone there for want of anything interesting to us in it. Over the last year, that changed: they got a roller coaster. So now we had good reason to divert into it, or try to, since it was farther back from the highway than we imagined and finding the way into the parking lot was surprisingly complicated.

The place, it turns out, has a bunch of rides and arcade games and redemption games and all that. The novelty is that its interior is built to look vaguely like the streets of a shore town or tourist stop. I haven't been to anything quite like it since back in Singapore days, when Bugis Village made an enclosed mall of a shopping street. Most of the ``buildings'' were facades, but the illusion of wandering around a cute little sanitary shore town wasn't bad. And I was disproportionately amused that they had storage lockers and bathrooms dressed up to look like a New York City subway, down to the signage.

It was more spacious than I imagined, at least. They even had an indoor go-karts crack. Not a large one, but still, one at all is amazing. Also a miniature bowling alley of the kind we've seen at Cedar Point and always thought would be interesting to try. Also a tiny carousel, only big enough for kids but still more substantial than those coin-op rides in the neglected sections of malls. Also a mechanized swing that seemed to bring people's feet dangerously near the ceiling. And, of course, what looked like maybe a salvaged Disneyland Br'er Fox animatronic tucked up far enough away and at an oblique enough angle you don't wonder if he was maybe caught in a tire fire on the way here.

The roller coaster was that same spinning-car figure-eight thing, maybe fifteen feet tall, that we had seen at Playland Castaway Cove. And it had, if anything, an even longer ride cycle than that one. We joke about the Roller Coaster Tycoon peeps who get to thinking ``I want to get off Spinny Coaster 1'' or something like that. But there is a point when you do start thinking you've maybe had enough ride. The roller coaster felt more exciting here, possibly because being enclosed and so close to the walls made the modest speeds feel much faster, or at least more dangerous.

Another ride we went on: the bumper cars. They had the same circular-base bumper cars that we'd ridden at the Columbus Zoo earlier in the summer, and that we had seen at Castaway Cove. Here we also got a clear explanation of one of their features. If another car bumps yours in the right spots --- and they're marked --- they make your car lose control, and go spinning for several seconds. I don't know why the other rides didn't advertise that; maybe they don't have that engaged. But it does add a great side to the bumper car experience since even better than jolting someone is making them go twirling. Also, with a bit more experience, I got to know just how flexible and responsive these cars, with separately controllable left and right driving wheels, can be. You can go from moving forward to moving backward on a dime, and make dramatically sharp turns. So if you work out the angles right, you can fake someone out to a crash and then recede, backwards, and giggling at them. I must repent my early thoughts that the spinning bumper cars were a silly reverse adaptation of bumper boats to dry land. They do add something novel and pretty great.

So the spot is pretty good, although it's clearly for smaller kids and for family groups instead of us. We like the concept, though, and don't see why faux shore towns shouldn't be a thing even in places like mid-Michigan. And then we got to the pinball.

They had the first two Jersey Jack games, The Wizard of Oz and The Hobbit, both favorites of mine. The Wizard of Oz ... wouldn't take money. Well, it would take money, but it would give only one-quarter the credits you were supposed to get. (Well, not money, but swipes from your magnetic-stripe card, but still.) Got the attendants. They said, yeah, it just does that and they gave me a refund on my card. No suggestions of putting up a warning sign on the machine, though, so when they left I turned the game off.

The Hobbit, now ... I started a game and fiddling around with it and I had a killer first ball. And then, somehow, did not regress to the mean on my second. I had one of those mysterious occasional games in which I just could not lose the ball --- except occasionally, off to the right, hitting the sometimes-lit target that gives you the chance to earn your ball back. Which I kept doing. A good reliable Hobbit strategy is: shoot enough of the pop-up beasts to start that multiball. In that multiball, start one of the game modes. With Beast Multiball and the mode going, shoot the rollovers to lite locks and shoot the right ramp to lock balls. This starts Smaug Multiball. Then just keep playing because you will be making massive scores with everything you do. It's the way I always try playing, and this time, it wasn't just working, it was working fantastically. I was having the best game of The Hobbit I had ever had. And then, as multiball ended, I discovered that I had a stuck ball. One of the pinballs had gone airborne, as they will, and got wedged on some of the plastic outside one of the metal railing ramps.

This was dire. My game was interrupted, yes. And bunny_hugger was hurt by the prospect that I might not get to put my initials on the high score table. I got an attendant, who was helpless to do what the right thing was --- open the game and free the ball --- but who could shake the machine more, hoping to nudge it free. This scared us both since that could cause a slam tilt, ending the game and aborting even the chance to enter my initials. I would have recovered by now from the indignity of losing the chance to enter my initials, but that would have hurt still.

No good, though. There wasn't any way to free the ball except by turning the machine upside-down. Bah. Mercifully, I suppose, the game eventually gave up the ball search, ended my ball, and gave me ball three. And it was willing to carry on despite one of the multiple pinballs in the machine being missing. I could carry on, and did finally come out as the Grand Champion with by far my highest score on The Hobbit or any Jersey Jack game. (They're low-scoring games.)

bunny_hugger took the credits that I'd won (and I think the attendant gave us a free credit for the game interruption), and she herself had some solid games, getting two of the day's high scores on the table and I think a personal high score too.

While taking a last tour around the place one of the attendants, I think the one running the laser-gun room, came up to say hi. He had noticed our amusement park T-shirts --- bunny_hugger was wearing one I had made featuring the Wild Mouse formerly at Casino Pier --- and asked if we were here to get our riding credit. So we discovered this fellow roller coaster enthusiast, and got to talk a little about what the new Casino Pier was like, and also to talk up some of the other parks we'd visited over the past week, and ones we'd like to get to. It was such a sweet little dose of personal connection for the end of the night.

Also for the end of our vacation. Monday we were to fly home, and when has flying out of Trenton ever gone wrong for us, except for every time we have ever tried it?

Trivia: RCA did not move its experimental New York City broadcasting antenna to the top of the Empire State Building until CBS put its antenna higher up on the Chrysler Building. Source: Please Stand By: A Prehistory of Television, Michael Ritchie. (The antenna had been lower on the Empire State Building.)

Currently Reading: The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History of Slang, Jonathon Green.

PS: some very specific details of a neat thing at the Merry-Go-Round Museum.


Detail from an enormous map for a projected ``Toy Town'' amusement park, sometime in the 1920s or early 30s. There just isn't much information about the thing, but gosh, doesn't it look wonderful?


Close-up detail on the Toy Town park, focusing on the Easter Bunny section, with a bit of Arabian Nights mixed in.


Among the many baffling details of the Toy Town planned park: the in-park transportation by way of fish car. I love it, I just don't understand it.

Tags: amusement parks, fifth anniversary trip, halloweekends, merry-go-round museum, new jersey, pinball

Posts from This Journal “fifth anniversary trip” Tag

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