The Baby Food Festival, held in Fremont, we never heard of before we got into competitive pinball. It's what it says on the tin, a local fair celebrating the product of the tiny Michigan town where Gerber baby food was first made. Among the fair's events is a pinball tournament that AJH and PH run with uncanny skill. It's a charity tournament. It encourages locals to participate, raising money for MS research. And all those locals putting in one or two games, through the magic of International Flipper Pinball Association rules, creates a choice jackpot of IFPA rating points. A good showing in this can bring dozens of points, launching one into, or toward the top of, the state rankings. It's always one of the big points-gathering opportunities in the Michigan pinball calendar. It's really the last tournament with such a potentially huge prize pool.
And this year it was even more precious, thanks to a rule change whose significance I'm not sure has filtered into the general awareness. Previously, state championships were based on all the points one had earned over the year. But in response to complaints that this let mediocre players into state championships just by playing dozens and dozens of events, the IFPA changed the rule. Only any person's 20 highest-point tournament results for each player count for their standings. This hurts high-volume players like, well, me and bunny_hugger. It threatens to sink KEC, who got into the state playoffs last year partly by indefatigability (KEC played in over 70 events!) and partly by good luck (several players above her, me and bunny_hugger included, couldn't make finals, moving her up from her Alternate position).
I personally don't like the rule change. I'm okay with letting someone willing to put in the time to play seventy events into the state championships. I think it encourages people to play more, and that right now, we need more events more than we need to keep mediocre players out of the top 24. (States like Michigan, with many active players and many events, now have a 24-person championship. States with few active players will only get 16 persons in their championships.) But here's the implication I'm not sure has been noticed: most of the serious players top out at 20 events. After that, getting a new score means knocking out a lower one. So you can't improve your standing except by doing significantly better than you already have. And the system hoards most of the points to the top finishers at any given event. Or by doing well at big points-value events, where there are so many points to gain that even an average finish is worthwhile. Like the Baby Food Festival.
We were going to the Festival, of course. We figured to do two days, even though it's two hours there and two hours back. The first day would be to put in qualifying scores; the tournament is Herb-style, described here recently. Put in scores on a bunch of games and hope that your several highest are good enough to land you in finals. The second day would be to shore up our positions and, all going well, play finals. I figured all the westside crew would be there, and probably a fair number of eastside players. Anyone trying to make a serious run at the state championship.
The venue this year was the Moose Lodge. In past years it had been at a restaurant with a lovely side room perfect for the place. But the restaurant had closed, opened under new management, closed again, and turned into a clothing store. Not a viable spot anymore. Last year they held it in the Blind Squirrel Tavern. But that's a tight, cramped space, good for a low-turnout event like the Blind Squirrel Monthly Tournaments, unpleasant for something drawing in many passers-by plus the seriously competitive state players. (Plus AJH is rather angry with the Blind Squirrel Tavern, after what seems to be surprisingly petty behavior on their part, including the taking away of a table he had brought to the room housing the pinball games.) The Moose Lodge is right next to the Blind Squirrel Tavern, near enough that we could use the Blind Squirrel's Wifi. And yes, one of the pinball games was Rocky and Bullwinkle.
Rocky and Bullwinkle is an idiosyncratic choice for a pinball tournament. Its rule set includes some things, including a score-doubling random award, that makes many tournament directors shy away from it. Also it has Rocky call out ``wrong hat'' about eighty times each minute. So we had to know: did he put this game in the tournament because, I mean, Bullwinkle. Moose Lodge and Squirrel Tavern. You know? He said no, but now that it was pointed out, he wished he had.
Our plan was to spend about four hours at the Moose Lodge. Get there about 2:00, leave about 6:00, and yes, that implied four hours' driving for four hours' play. Less, since we signed up to record scores for an hour each. But we wanted to be able to get a good eight hours' sleep before Saturday, the second day of the tournament. And this kind of tournament can drive you mad, encouraging you to ever buy one more game, try to buff your standings one little bit more. If you let it, the game will take all the time you have.
As it happens we ran an hour late. Along the way I put in some scores on the Friday daily tournament, even though I had no intention whatsoever of staying until the 9 pm start of the daily tournament. I just wanted a bit more practice on some of the older games and figured, you know? It won't hurt me. I ended up in a tie for 13th place; the top eight would go to finals. I'd have had to play more than one game on these to make it in. And by 9 pm we were long gone; we'd have been back in Lansing, if not literally at home.
There were three major tournaments running, the daily one, the Main tournament, and the Classics, based on a bank of older pinball machines. The Daily tournament played Knockout and Judge Dredd, Knockout an electromechanical and Judge Dredd an early-90s DMD-era game I have never begun to understand. The Classics were 4 Square, an electromechanical of wonderfully clear, simple rules; Eight Ball, an early solid state and one of eight hundred jillion pool-themed games (this one with Fonzie In All But Name on the backglass), and Mystic, a perennial at Fremont tournaments, an early solid state that's got a magic and a tic-tac-toe theme, and on which you either do excellently well or you curse the game out. The main tournament had six games. Five were 90s games: Congo, Demolition Man, Dirty Harry, FunHouse, and Rocky and Bullwinkle. One was the newest pinball there is, Iron Maiden.
I took my normal approach, playing each game once and then looking for what table I felt most sure I could better my scores on. And this wasn't easy. I knew the basic rules for all these games, although none of them played like the other instances of the tables, or played like the games had at other venues, like when they were at the Blind Squirrel Tavern. Moving a game can mess with its balance just enough to mess with your reflexes, or with any slick moves you've learned about how the ball bounces or rebounds off targets or something.
At the end of the first day, I was qualified for the finals in both the Main and the Classics. Not by much, but, above the cutoff. That made it easy for me to rest overnight. MWS, with whom we carpooled, was much higher in both tournaments than I was, and was in barring a major influx of talent, which we still thought likely. All those Grand Rapids Pinball League players, who'd only need to make a one-hour drive, could still get in on Saturday and grab higher positions. bunny_hugger was close to the line in the Main tournament, and slightly below qualifying for Classics. She'd have to play more games Saturday morning, or give up on making Classics.
And ... the Friday of the tournament was pretty comfortably paced. Not too packed, not too busy, not too mad. As the deadline to put up scores approached, though? And everyone who realized this might set the state championship roster rushed in to enter scores? ... Saturday could be much more stressful, even before the finals began.
Trivia: General Charles George Gordon (who died as leader of the British forces besieged in Khartoum from 1884-85) resigned his post as Private Secretary to Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India after three days. The nominal sticking point was that he was expected to write a letter saying the Viceroy had read a report with interest, when ``you know perfectly that Lord Ripon has never read it, and I can't say that sort of thing''. Source: Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power, Niall Ferguson. (Yeah, I know. And there's not any discernable lessons for global power in the book, just the suggestion that maybe if some Anglo-Saxon powers started offering Imperialism-As-A-Service? But I figure little granular facts like this, if it does rise to the level of ``fact'', are legitimate enough.)
Currently Reading: Fuelling the Empire: South Africa's Gold and the Road to War, John J Stephens. Y'know, when the 19th-century British are the relatively non-racist turdbuckets your society's screwed up and you really should start over from scratch.
bunny_hugger taking a cup of coffee and a Flemish giant out in the backyard to enjoy the temperate weather and abundant plantlife.
Columbo taking a moment to clean up some dead leaves. I don't know what's so good about them but both he and Stephen liked the crunchy dry leaves even if fresh growing plants were around.
Pride of ownership, or discovery, of a dead leaf that looks kind of like those nachos designed to scoop up salsa.