austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

If you want to follow me

We woke Saturday to find it had snowed, but it was not still snowing. So the weather was not so bad as we'd feared. We didn't rush downstairs for breakfast before that closed, and went instead to a Tim Horton's that was harder than it should have been to reach, because the side street leading to it wasn't cleared. Bad omen for the drive to AND and JJ's house. But they still had hash browns (breakfast service had just ended) and I was able to get an egg-bacon-and-cheese sandwich without bacon, which is what we'd wanted. The drive, nominally about ten minutes through county roads, took maybe twice that, and the roads were not well-cleared. But we got there in plenty of time.

We tried to park on the poorly-plowed road that the house was on, and bunny_hugger declared the car was stuck and got very cross with me for having said it would be fine. She got the car out, and drove across the intersecting street --- and, it transpired, the county line --- to the paved, better-cleared road where everyone else was parking. And talked about the day with the just-arrived GRV and MWS.

Had it not been for MJV's withdrawal, for back pains, bunny_hugger would have faced GRV in the first round. Which could be great for her: GRV had earlier declared he was going to just show up, plunge every ball, and walk away with the winnings for showing up at all. Even if this was bluster --- and a lot of what GRV says is bluster --- he's ... a ferocious competitor, if he doesn't lose his temper. If he does, he doesn't get it back, and he tilts away games he could win. MWS meanwhile talked about how he was finding a place where he could go to safely sulk about his performance. We would get inside for about an hour of warmup time before the tournament. I refrained from playing anything too much. I have observed how much I fade in tournaments, and while it's worth getting in some warmup time and some time spent finding skill shots and the like, there's no sense wasting good energy on games that don't count. I tried to think more about getting in a winning mindset.

Everyone except MJV checked in. The weather did not cause any players to miss, and the alternates sadly accepted this and asked if they were allowed to play games --- Stranger Things, Indiana Jones, and Dracula --- which weren't in the tournament. Not unless there were no games going on in that area, to avoid interrupting tournament players. But, that's all right. There'd be time.

PH called things together. Michigan is a very active competitive-pinball state. There were over 900 unique players and somewhere around 400 events for 2019. The great number of players and events is why there are 24 competitors for the state championship; less active states, such as New Jersey, get a mere 16. Michigan is busy enough it wouldn't be ridiculous to expand the field to 32. BIL would later work out that he had been at over a hundred events in 2019. He estimated that bunny_hugger (and thus, I) had been at seventy or so. We had the fourth(?)-largest prize jackpot, paid for by the International Flipper Pinball Association's one-dollar-per-player excise at every sanctioned tournament, of all the states and provinces of North America. He laid down some of the rules, and then we were on to the tournament.

I went in as 12th seed, dislodged from my longstanding 13th place by MJV's withdrawal. My first opponent: KYL, who I had only a vague idea who he was. He plays in a lot of Kalamazoo events, but I'd only seen him at the new Year's Eve tournament. I'm the high seed, so I get to pick the first game, and choose Fathom. My first ball is my first house ball, coming out of the plunger, hitting a bumper, and going straight down the center. But I recover, and end up doubling KYL's score. After the first game, the loser gets pick of game (or, if they'd really like, position). He picks Grauniads of the Galaxy. He's a specialist in the game. This is the Rocket Raccoon game. I'm not a specialist, but it usually treats me very well.

Grauniads has something like eight modes, corresponding to important characters from the (first) movie. I pick Quill's Quest, a mode in which you have to complete a lot of shots, but which, if you do, gives you an enormous bonus, and one that you collect every ball after the completion. KYL picks a less difficult, but less lucrative, mode to start. I finish Quill's Quest the first ball, and so my second and third balls have a bonus that starts at 25 million and can only get larger. He's beaten. It's a best-of-seven round, but his specialty game has betrayed him, and he can't pick it again; after this, he's playing to catch up, always a bad spot to play from.

So his next pick is Neptune, an electromechanical whose theme is collecting cards while King Neptune looks in. KYL has it nailed down: you shoot the targets corresponding to all the many playing cards, and then repeatedly shoot the scoop that's lit for 50,000 points. He puts in a score of 655,840, noteable because the scoreboard shows the hundred-thousands with a special light, and the 600,000 light is burned out. (There's a sign warning about that on the table). Me? I have a lousy game; I've never figured out how to play Neptune, and I put up a fair-for-me 49,430. It's my first loss, but: I don't feel beaten. I figure, I just have to get two wins before he gets three.

I pick Lord of the Rings. This is set on Hard Mode. I know what Hard Mode means. I suspect that most other players do not. It means, for example, that starting the various character modes, where a healthy number of points are, is not automatic the way it is in every Lord of the Rings game on location everywhere. It also means that the lanes which you shoot to light the ball lock (for Two Towers Multiball) can also be unlit, making what is ordinarily the easiest multiball in the game into a challenge. Despite my awareness of these, I put up a poor game: only 2.8 million points. KYL, less ready for all this, has a worse game, finishing a whisker behind me. I have my third win in the best-of-seven.

He picks Title Fight. I bite my lip rather than thank him for it. I suspect he was picking it as a coin-flip game, one that he'd have an even chance of beating me on. I feel confident in this game, though. I manage a plunge right into the upper playfield, and then again, and get a multiball award out of this. The multiball jackpot on Title Fight is not obvious, but I know what it is: hit each of ten little standing targets in the lower playfield. And, for a wonder, I do this, getting myself started with about four million points, in a game where two million points normally wins. He tries, but he can't get the multiball, and can't get the upper-punch loop that would be a second-best strategy. I don't have to play my last ball.

And ... there it is. I've been to state championship several times, but I have never won my first round. Getting a first-round win has been my ambition, and now? The rest of the day is gravy.

So a thing about Title Fight. And many games from that era. It is possible to tilt-through, shake a game hard enough that the tilt bob does not stop swinging before the game starts the next player's ball, and thus giving the next player a tilt they have not earned. Or a warning that they're on the verge of tilting, unfair as shaking the game is the original method of controlling a pinball, and is part of the game's strategy. There are compensations for tilt-throughs, but they're clumsy. So on games of this era the two players start four games, playing as players one and three, and plunging off players two and four.

So bunny_hugger's first round. She's playing PH. He's a better player than her. But she's beaten him surprisingly often in Fremont tournaments. And, as he points out, he's the tournament director. He's going to be constantly distracted by people asking for rulings, for balls to be unstuck, for rules clarifications, everything. Her case is dire but far from hopeless.

And they go to Title Fight. bunny_hugger spent her precious morning hours measuring the skill shot, to get the shot that just goes into the upper playfield. The plunge is not there now. PH hasn't got it either. Except that as player two or player four? They hit it perfectly. You know, when it doesn't count for anything. bunny_hugger tosses off a casual plunge and hits the upper playfield perfectly, and waves her hand and yelps with delight at the absurdity.

PKS, playing next to her, flinches at the unexpected noise, and loses his ball.

bunny_hugger is mortified. PKS is furious. PH steps up, working out what precisely happened. PKS asserts that the noise caused him to lose the ball. This entitles him to a compensation ball. (If you wonder how we can take the word of someone about why he lost his ball, well, competitive pinball is still in the stage where people are trusted to assess their situation and report it honestly. There is not yet enough money to have referees watching each game.)

Still, bunny_hugger feels awful and she tells PH that he should give her a yellow card, a warning for unsporting conduct; multiple yellow cards can become a red card and eviction from the event. PH says he does not want to do that yet, and asks whether she's apologized to PKS. She has tried, but PKS is furious and yells at her for a moment's carelessness. It's shocking, completely out of character for him. She will avoid him the rest of the day, until he's able to accept an apology. This wouldn't be until shortly before he was leaving, when bunny_hugger thought would be her last chance. By then he's almost surprised to have the subject brought up again.

PKS would win the game, with the compensation ball. But he was already down by three games when the incident happened, which explains some of the intensity of his anger. He has a rough day, falling from 9th seed --- he had lost eighth seed, and a first-round bye, in one of the last tournaments of the year --- to, ultimately, 22nd place.

bunny_hugger wonders later about PH's declaration. He refused to give her a yellow card ``yet'', implying ... was it likely she would ever shout something at this or any pinball tournament again, ever? Maybe if she won Pinburgh, but that's it. His asking whether she had apologized; what would that matter, other than to prove to anyone who didn't know her that she knew what went wrong and was making amends for it? I think it might be as simple as he's friends with bunny_hugger and PKS and doesn't want them to fight, especially over an accident. But also ... it wasn't his place to make any ruling. He was in the midst of a series against bunny_hugger; any rulings should have been made by, or at least approved by, one of the backup officials, such as BIL. But why did he not declare that?

He tells her to take a minute and compose herself. She takes it. But she's devastated. She hasn't got any playing spirit in her. She goes on to lose the round, four games to one. She might have in any case. In 2019 she went 7-22 against him in events where they both competed. (This is not all head-to-head play; just, like, she finished 9th in a tournament where he finished 10th.) (Also, I note, in the last six months of 2019 their record was a much more competitive 5-8. I told her the start of 2019 was a slump. The last three months of 2019 they were 3-3.) It's devastating, though. I try to rally her spirits, as I always do, and I fail, as ever. The only person who can restore her spirits after something like this is HMZ, who brings this Socratic zen approach to her self-doubts. He isn't there. He's somewhere back in Lansing, possibly at work. I can ask myself what HMZ would do, but I don't know.

And there's no time. We're on to the next round.

Trivia: The 1882 proto-World's-Series between National League champion Chicago and American Association champion Cincinnati was abandoned after the teams split the first two games. More attention went to the contest between Chicago and the runner-sup in the National League, the Providence Grays. Source: A Game of Inches: The Story Behind the Innovations that Shaped Baseball, Peter Morris.

Currently Reading: Cataloging the World: Paul Otlet and the Birth of the Information Age, Alex Wright.

PS: Looking close at one Lakeside Park ride here.


Disused ticket booth outside the Loop-O-Plane ride.


And here's the Loop-O-Plane in full swing. NOte bunny_hugger not riding it. Also the Dragon coaster behind that.


Minimum height sign for the Loop-O-Plane. Most of the park's rides have these kinds of homemade (or at least looking-like-homemade) cartoon design.

Tags: denver dash, lakeside park, michigan state pinball championship

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