austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

You've got to play pinball

It's a good thing I have my first-round triumph at the pinball championship. My next round is against MSS, one of the eight players to have a first-round bye. He's better than me. In the 26 events we both played in 2019, his finish beat mine 22 times. (Again, this isn't all head-to-head play, just times we were both in the same competition.) I had not checked this record by last Saturday. I'm still thinking that I beat him often enough at Fremont that it's not a sure thing. He gets first pick, choosing Jack-Bot. I have a weak but all right first ball, and he has a house ball, or near enough. I have a chance. Then he puts up a billion points. This is a normal enough Jack-Bot score; play the game on location and you should find two billion, even three billion attainable. But this game is on tournament settings, set as hard as possible. I don't think I've ever broken a half-billion on it. I'll need to step up my game and oh that was not it. I finish at 183 million points and he doesn't have to plunge his last ball.

My pick. I choose Freedom, an electromechanical I got to know at Pinburgh. It's got a beautiful simplicity: shoot the ball up to a scoop atop the playfield, where you get one of a random set of special awards. It's a one-player game, and I go first, and need a couple balls (of the five that games of this era allow) to find the shots I need. I finish with a fair enough 64,980. MSS finds the shots right away; he beats my score on the first ball.

It's not yet dire, but I need to think of a game that I can possibly beat MSS on. I consider Title Fight, and mourn Hotdoggin' being gone again, but decide to make the stupid choice: Flash Gordon. This is an early solid state game. It's tricky. The winning strategy is to shoot the inline drop targets on the right, to build the bonus multiplier up to 3x. Then shoot the row of drop targets on the left to get 4x. Then this upper-playfield mess to get 5x. I can do this one game out of twenty. And ... what do you know; this is that one game. And better, it's not a game MSS has. I concede he might have figured, after the second ball where this really blew up, that he was going to just give me this win and pick something he could beat me on.

And yet what he picked was Dirty Harry. This is a modern game, from the mid-90s, which has a nice easy strategy: from the lower left flipper shoot the right orbit for the Magna-Force award. Then it comes down, and use the upper right flipper to shoot the side ramp. This delivers the ball to the right flipper, which you use to send the ball into the Headquarters scoop. That gives you a ransom award and sends the ball back to the left flipper. Repeat until you die of old age. Neither of us quite gets the hang of this, though, the side ramp particularly bedeviling us. He finishes at 280 million, formidable but hardly unbeatable, especially if I can get multiball going. I can't, but I do get the Car Chase mode going, and if I make some shots I can still win. I don't, though, and finish at 182 million. It doesn't sound like it, but this is close enough to worry MSS.

I'm on three losses. What can I possibly win? Well, Fathom is right there. If I can put up another half-million-point game, I could at least extend things a little. I can't, though; I have a dismal 148,990. Even another half-million-point game wouldn't help, though: MSS rolls up 1,625,120, better than I think I've ever done on this table, whatever the location. He's won, 4-1, and I will not be the state pinball champion. It's not likely I ever would be, but top eight is plausible. Now? I'm playing for 9th-through-16th.

bunny_hugger is up against JJH, someone we know a little from Chesterfield and increasingly from Fremont. She sweeps him in this best-of-three bracket. Everything not in contention for the championship is a best-of-three bracket, and we're playing out ties, so nobody has the dismal prospect of coming all this way to lose four games and go home. Me, I have to sit around a while and wait: I'll face the loser of the match between AND and CST.

This is not a happy prospect to me. AND is a two-time state champion. CST hasn't won, because his name doesn't start 'A', and because for years he coordinated these tournaments and that's universally agreed to be a handicap. AND finally wins their match, 4-2, and I have to face CST. He tells me I'm the higher seed and so it's my choice what we do. This ... sounds extremely wrong to me, but it's correct. In the last Fremont event of the year I had a mediocre and a strong finish and I finished the year ahead of CST, who plays better but less often than me.

Well, I pick Elvira and the Party Monsters. It's maybe not the best possible choice, but it's a fun game I haven't played yet today and, you know? CST can beat me on any game in this house. He might as well do it on something I like playing. And he sets to work at that, getting among other things the three-million-point jackpot. 5.7 million is a formidable score, but there's three ways I could beat that. There's multiball. There's looping the right ramp; like many late solid state games, a repeated ramp shot will build up to a million points a shot. There's also the left ramp, which builds more slowly but just as surely. I manage none of them, finishing at just over a million points, just as if I didn't know what I was doing.

My pick again. I choose Strikes and Spares. This is the early-solid-state game I'd thought I would do better on the night before. This time, I finally have my shots: I keep sending the ball into the scoop where it's valuable, or through the spinner that's lit for a thousand points a spin. I finish the game at something over 200,000 pounds, like triple CST's score.

He picks Transformers. And he has a lousy first ball, worse even than mine. This is anomalous, but, you know? It's not impossible that I could win. This Transformers is even more vulnerable to tilting than people think, and CST is never afraid to nudge the game. This could work out. I think of bunny_hugger's winning strategy and go for lit shots, rather than any particular mode. And this pays off, getting me the two-ball 'Mudflap and Skip' multiball that I can bring in to the tree-ball Megatron multiball. And all this leaves me with a 6.3 million total. CST, with one ball to go, is at 5.8 million. Or as I put it, this is a score he can beat only by trying. It's not impossible he won't have a lousy launch and not recover. The game has ball save turned off, as part of its tournament settings. But that would be a fluke event, and it doesn't happen. CST beats me, two games to one. At least I haven't been shut out. I'll be playing for 13th through 16th place.

bunny_hugger, having vanquished JJH, now faces DAD. And he beats her, 2-1. She'll have one more round, and it turns out to be against RED, who's emerged from Lansing League to bedevil her sometimes in Fremont and now in the state championship. RED is here after losing to SAM, beating PKS, and losing to KYL. And he goes on to sweep bunny_hugger, 2-0. Her competitive day is over. She finishes in 20th place, which still improves on her 22nd-place seed.

My next round. I'm facing SAM, first vanquisher of RED. And my pick; I'm not thrown by the idea I'm the top seed here. I decide to go back to Freedom. It failed for me against MSS, but MSS is a better player than SAM. I do not have as stron ga game as I did against MSS, and to pout at 41,520. Still, that might hold. I go off to the kitchen and snack on cheese rather than worry about it. SAM finishes at 45,150, and I've lost the first game.

So I decide it's time to fight dirty. And go to Title Fight. The sure, confident touch I had earlier? Does not extend this time. I have a lousy first ball, and so does SAM. The second ball, I plunge carefully and the ball rolls almost to this upper playfield. Not quite enough. It rolls back down, though, and rockets through the somehow still-open one-way gate, dropping back into the plunger lane. I laugh at this and SAM says yeah, for that, I win the game. But we have to legitimately play the game. I get a multiball started, finally, and am ready to repeat my strategy when oh, look at that: both balls drain, one down the right and one down the left outlane. I finish at an anemic 379,600. But SAM hasn't got much idea how to launch the ball, or what to do with it launched, and he finishes at 219,300. We're tied up.

He picks Grauniads of the Galaxy. I feel very good about this.

I go back to my original strategy: start Quill's Quest and hope to complete enough modes that my bonus alone carries me to victory. I get halfway through Quill's Quest, a meager result. But if I can finish it on the second ball I might be okay. I don't. More, SAM is on fire, finishing mode after mode. He gets to over 400 million points. There have been Grauniads games that I have beaten that on, even beaten that on a single ball. But they're not games set to state-championship-tournament settings. This will be extremely hard. This will require my not losing focus. This will require the ball not coming out of the pop bumpers down the left outlane. This is what happens. I finish, missing the need to make SAM play his last ball by a mere 450 million points.

He will go on to play, and lose to, PH. Me? ... As I read the brackets, I'm to play JRA, who was my second bet for state champion this year. Yes, his first name doesn't start with an A, but his last name does.

JRA is nowhere to be found. He and DAD --- guess their relationship --- have gone home. While we've been playing the snow has returned and players who've been knocked out of contention are taking their prize winnings and going home. So I log this on the big printed brackets as me getting a win over JRA by default, and bunny_hugger sulks that nobody went home and left her to win any brackets by default.

By my calculations this puts me in 15th place, sinking from my 12th-place seed a bit. But later PH says that I am in fact 14th place, finishing ahead of both JRA and AJG, who similarly went home rather than face the weather. Also possibly face MWS in the struggle for 9th-to-16th-place. (I may be wrong about this.)

I do not understand the reasoning here. But PH is a scrupulous student of rules and procedure. There is a reason he and AJH arrange events that provide the greatest rating-points-for-games-played ratio in the state. I do see where AJG and JRA were slated to play one another, and perhaps both had gone home so they were left with a tournament void. So there it is: I finish the tournament in 14th place.

The tournament is still going on, though.

Trivia: Between 1970 and the start of 1986 NASA trimmed 71 percent of the Safety, Reliability, and Quality Assurance staff. Source: The Challenger Launch Decision: Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA, Diane Vaughan.

Currently Reading: The Crowd and the Cosmos: Adventures in the Zooniverse, Chris Lintott.

PS: The start of another long ride at the Lakeside Park.


In the front, the tower for the Lakeshore Scenic Route railroad and a no-longer-true sign offering ride coupons. In the background, a tower that we at the time thought had been a radio transmitter. This is wrong: it was the tower for a captive-airship ride of some kind. My recollection is that Lakeside did used to have its own low-power radio and I think that the railroad tower here held the transmitter, but I can't find my source for that (and, really, the Tower of Jewels would be the more logical transmitting station, if that were architecturally feasible).


Hopping onto the train for its ride around Lake Rhonda, ehre.


Hey, look, everyone! It's your dad. He'll meet you when the train's done with the ride.

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

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