Friday. Second day of Pinburgh. The day which determines who goes on to playoffs. For the A through D divisions, this includes winning prize money. For the new E division, it's just a chance to win a medal. This is a change from last year. The D finals in 2017 set off controversy about whether the people in them, like me, were too good to truly play in the ``novice'' division. The sandbagging suspicion is fairly ridiculous. But the lowest division now having no cash payout pretty well settles the claim someone might stink up their first day to have an easier time winning something. The medals are nice, but you can just buy a nice medal that says anything you want. It's not even that expensive. It's not, like, new-door-key cheap, but it's still not that much.
MWS, who's in C Division with me, except that he earned his division, is on Set 58, Aeroguns, Aerogar. It has Aerosmith in it. He goes 5-7, his cumulative record dropping to 35-37. JTK also goes 5-7, but in D division; his record drops to 33-39. But he's on Set 50, Stoned Chicken, which includes the famous and weird Class of 1812. It's a comic horror theme and when you get multiball going, it plays through the refrain of the 1812 Overture. Then goes through it again, except this time, it's a chicken clucking the 1812 Overture. Why? Who knows. It's everybody's favorite. After the tournament ends, they turn the game's volume up to mega-earthquake levels so that everyone at ReplayFX gets to hear this and, honestly, never gets tired of it.
bunny_hugger is on Set 55, Things That Destroy Castles. The modern game is Medieval Madness, one of the most popular games of all time. It's extremely new-player-accessible; shoot the castle. Shoot it enough times and the castle 'explodes'. Repeat. If you find the castle shot, it's easy to win. If you're playing Pinburgh, you can do this all day, unless the table is set hard. The electromechanical is Williams's 1977 Argosy, universally named Agony because the table seems to drain way more than its layout suggests it should. The late-solid-state is Williams's 1989 Earthshaker, an earthquake-themed game that bunny_hugger has been warming to. The game's designed by Pat Lawlor and she's learning how to understand his style of game. The early-solid-state is GamePlan's 1985 Cyclopes, a monsters-and-awful-art-themed game which we know from MJS's pole barn. (Seriously, look at the anatomy of that woman over the cyclops's shoulder on the right.) bunny_hugger goes 5-7 for the round, but everyone in her group goes either 5-7 or 7-5. Her record rises to 28-44.
And me? I'm assigned to a three-player group on Set 66, Deep Space Homer. The name halfway makes sense. The modern game is Stern's 2003 Simpsons Pinball Party. The early-solid-state game is Williams's 1984 Space Shuttle, ``the game that saved pinball'' by selling about seven billion units when it came out. The theme evaporated for the other games. The electromechanical is Gottlieb's 1976 Volley, a tennis-themed game. The late-solid-state is a lovable and too-rarely-seen friend, Midway's 1990 Doctor Dude and his Excellent Ray. It's one of the few games in the 90s that I knew from playing on locations besides student unions. Pizza place near my parents' home had one.
Also evaporated: one of our opponents. I'm there on time, of course. So is A- L-. But the third guy just doesn't turn up. We get a bit worried as the ten-minute grace period ends. We go to get a tournament official, but slowly, giving a guy every chance we can to realize he's overslept and rush to the convention center. We think of how horrified we'd be if we were running late. But 10 am is the start time. It's not like the weird 6:15 start of the after-dinner round. And there's still nobody there by the time a tournament official reaches the tables, and he gets officially declared absent. All there is to do is print up a new, two-player score sheet. In a three-player group the raw scores --- the cumulative number of players you beat on the four games --- is multiplied by 1.5, so that the attainable high of eight wins matches the normal high of twelve. For us, the raw score --- potentially as high as four --- will be multiplied by three. It's dangerous stuff. I have a terror of another zero-win round.
But we have to play. First game, Space Shuttle. I decide going for the multiball is too dangerous, and shoot for spinners and bonus multipliers instead. Locking and getting multiball requires shooting a central drop target and it seems likely that a good solid hit would go in unpredictable directions; plus, I'm pretty sure your opponent could steal any balls you've left locked. I'm not a cutthroat player, but I'd rather not leave chances like that around. A- L- goes for multiball instead. I make the right call, scoring 381,730 to his 290,710. It could've gone the other way easily, but now I feel much easier: at worst, I'm getting credit for three wins this round.
Second game. Simpsons Pinball Party. I have an okay first ball. He has a great one, putting up about ten million points. That's about my average league score this game. I have to get serious. Simpsons has one obvious strategy: shoot the garage. This collects letters to spell out ``SIMPSONS'', which starts the D'Oh Frenzy, where every switch hit scores a flat 10,000 (or something) points. It lasts thirty seconds. A Frenzy is almost always the happiest mode in a game. It relieves you of needing to aim. Often modes will have a huge payoff for some shots, and nothing for others. Here, everything is as good as everything else. Of course it helps if you can aim, because a spinner or the pop bumpers will generate lots of points for your one shot. But the glorious thing is that in a Frenzy mode there's no wrong shot (apart from the one that drains). It's magnificent when you get it.
The other thing to do in Simpsons is start other modes. You can start a lot of timed-countdown things, such as Comic Book Guy's ``Hurry Up'' modes, giving you thirty seconds to reach some particular shot. These stack. If you're down to five seconds on D'Oh Frenzy, and start a Comic Book Guy Hurry Up, you now have 35 seconds and both modes going. There's a lot of modes, between Comic Book Guy, Otto, TV Episodes ... plus, a Couch Multiball and an Itchy And Scratchy Multiball. String them together and you can have a lot of scoring going.
Which was my second ball. I got the D'Oh Frenzy going, and then just kept on hitting things that extended the timer on it. And brought in multiballs. And the other multiball. All these things that carry score with them, and all going on, and on, and on. A- L- is amazed. Other groups are amazed too. When my ball finally ends, and I think it must have been ten minutes later, people clap. A friend comes over to pat my shoulder.
A- L- has a great second and third ball by any standards except that he's up against that score. He finishes at 21,382,220. I'm at 44,211,790. He was robbed. Anyway now I'm guaranteed six wins for this round, and can rest easy.
Volley, the electromechanical, is single-player. A- L- takes his privilege to go second, and learn what he can of the game from my play. Dropping a ball down one of the top lanes lights the same-colored drop targets for 5,000 points. I get the hang of this, more or less, and come away with 48,640. Not quite halfway to rolling the game, but pretty good. A- L- has two lousy balls, and then gets the hang of it. I hold my breath as he gets through the last ball. The bonus stops counting up at 37,130. I've got nine wins for the round.
Last game. Doctor Dude. The theme is building up an Excellent ray beam by shooting several component targets over and over. Multiball is started by this dangerous center-left ramp shot. I figure to skip that and just go for easy points, like the 1-2-3 target combination. Or shooting up the right orbit, which hits this target good for from 25 to 100 thousand points. I never quite feel in control of the game, but I do break a million points: 1,279,120. Still, A- L- could beat that as soon as he gets anything going. And he ... doesn't, really. He finishes at 702,640. I win our fourth game.
I won all four games. This will be counted as a perfect, 12-win, round.
I'm stunned. I can't quite believe it. A- L- is gracious, and congratulates me. I hug him, and apologize. I mean it, too. For me to have a 12-win round, he's suffered a 12-loss round. His day won't really recover; he'll finish with a 54-66 record, in a seven-way tie for 134th in the 167-player division. I tell him of how my first Pinburgh had a 12-loss round, and that in a full, four-person quartet. He's good-spirited about it. Later in the day, walking past with friends, he shakes me out of my self-absorbed cloud by saying, ``Heya, killer''.
And me? This wipes out the deficit I'd started the day with. It puts me in the six-way tie for 9th place in the division. If I can average .500 the rest of the day I won't just be in the playoffs again, I'll have a first-round bye. Even if I slack a little, I can make playoffs.
bunny_hugger had a perfect round at Pinburgh 2017. She insists on attaching an asterisk to that, on the grounds that she did that in a mere three-player group. I say that's nonsense; she had her perfect round against a real, serious, tough group. But now I have a perfect round that amounts to beating one person four times in a row? ... And that just doesn't feel right. I take to calling this a perfect round with double asterisks.
I mean, imagine there were a third and fourth player there. I would almost certainly have won Simpsons, and A- L- would almost certainly have gotten second. But Space Shuttle? Volley? Doctor Dude? I could accept that I'd have won one, maybe two of those, with the scores I had. But all of those? Nah. In a proper four-person round I'd probably have gotten eight or nine wins. And A- L- would have surely had no less than two, and likely four to six, everything else unchanged.
Controversy attaches to my ``perfect'' round. Not because of my play. In the ``Pinburgh 2018 Sob Stories'' thread on TiltForums we hear from our missing player. He says that his first day was such a trainwreck for himself and his partner that we ``voluntarily DQed ourselves for Friday''. And why would you voluntarily disqualify yourself from Pinburgh? His partner ``wound up in E division, which isn't really the place for someone with 5+ years tournament experience and past winner of Cincy league''. And there was family stuff needing attention. The reasons aren't received warmly.
I think the charitable reading is that his partner felt wrong playing as a ``novice'', and that he'd be sandbagging to play ``below his level'' so. He said that he had called a friend at the tournament's front desk to report they weren't attending, which --- done before check-in --- would have let them reshuffle the groups so everyone had three- and four-player groups. But they don't take telephoned reports that someone isn't coming, which avoids certain kinds of mischief. (After two missed rounds the players were dropped from the rest of the tournament.) And the wording as presented just set off a nice juicy little flame war, with a side where a moderator came in to try to clear things up but misunderstood exactly what was under discussion. Someone on the ``Pinburgh 2018 Sob Stories'' thread says how A- L- is a super nice guy who didn't deserve what happened to him. I agree: he got screwed.
Naturally I'm flattered to be the subject of heated debate at Pinburgh two years running now. If I were capable of self-esteem it would give me a fat head.
What can I possibly live up to this next year?
Trivia: The first record of Columba livia, the rock dove, in North America dates to 1606 on French ships landing at what is now Port Royal, Nova Scotia. Source: Superdove: How the Pigeon Took Manhattan ... And The World, Courtney Humphries.
Currently Reading: The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics, Editors Bill Blackbeard, Martin Williams.
PS: Stare even longer at Lake Michigan with me.
And then looking up a bit, so you can see the pebbles and the plants, with the Great Lake far beyond.
The same scene as before, except that a withered, ancient witch is poking her ghastly finger in from camera left.
Looking over my photo roll now, it seems I was really interested in the waters rolling in.