austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Signs in the street that say where you're going

We took our souvenir back to the car, and bunny_hugger grabbed her warm gloves which she'd left behind in the hurry not to miss the event. Then went back to buy general admission to the museum. There were several demonstrations going on for the Roger That! event, such as a couple of engineering majors from Grand Valley State University showing off their prototype for a contingency-sample-grabber in case astronauts return to the moon. We came in on the tail end of them explaining the design constraints and responses to someone else so we had to ask what exactly all this was for. Another demonstration was of iron cooled to the point of being diamagnetic, where it rejects all magnetic fields. This is the state that lets it levitate over a magnetic track, which they'd set up --- with a bit maybe too fussy to work reliably --- as a Möbius strip track. This only works at just the right speed, so it kept making a part of an orbit and dropping off. This in part because the presenter was so eager to have something to show he'd put the iron on the track before it had quite gotten cool enough.

We stuck mostly to the second floor of the museum, looking particularly at a display of ivory and related materials. This included talk about the ivory trade. One sign put forth the question about, granted that ivory is beautiful and can make beautiful things, but can't we have both ivory and the animals it's harvested from? bunny_hugger took a picture of the sign as a perfect example of framing questions about animals entirely in terms of human use of animals, that she might use in talking about environmental ethics classes sometime.

(This is as good a spot as any to mention a line I forgot in writing about Musgrave yesterday: in showing a picture of the tractor his family had when he was a kid, he asked if there were farm people here. And then answered, ``Of course there are, it's Michigan.'' Also apparently Musgrave has a position with the University of Michigan, Flint Campus?)

The last exhibit on the second floor, and the one that ate up more and more time, was Toys. We've been meaning to get to it for ages; it's been listed as a temporary exhibit, but that's gone on for years and ... oh, all right, they've just announced it will be closing this summer. Well, we got to it, then. The first room's a very abbreviated history of toys before the modern era. The ``oldest'' exhibit threatens to be a prank; it's just a Stick. Everyone who saw this was moved to photograph it, including me, who --- expecting to go to a pinball tournament --- had no real camera, just my iPod.

After this, though, it turned to a series of imitation recrooms, given date rooms and generations. Baby Boomers, 1946-64. Gen X, 1965-1980(or so). Millennials, 1980-199(?). Each room had a heap of toys, and a TV set playing a loop of commercials for the era. The attempt to divide the ages by generation and by date leads to some logical muddles. Like, the 80s G.I.Joe dolls get put under Millennial, and yeah, the dolls were still around and there's kids who grew up watching the cartoons. But they started coming out in 1982. There's a lot more Gen X kids who grew up playing with those. Granted that a discrete thing has to be put in one spot. But it did feel like both Millennials and Gen X were being cheated, Millennials by having their cohort represented with toys left over from the decade before them and Gen X by having their toys swiped by Millennials. On the other hand, this is also quite true. There's something a little weird that in 1990 you could get Transformers, G.I.Joe, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and My Little Pony toys, and you can do the same in 2020.

While the Gen X recroom seemed a little old-fashioned to my eyes, it also was the one that looked most like a place you actually would hang out and play. I don't know whether that's luck of the draw or what. Certainly helping is that they had a false stairway so it looked the most like going down into your friend's basement. Also it had a Sit-and-Spin, something I had not thought of for decades. It brought back many memories of sitting on it, and not getting to spin nearly enough to be interesting, until finally a sibling punched you. Their TV set never quite got to commercials that I particularly remembered, although we did find the amazingly narrow spot where you could actually hear the audio, as opposed to just reading the captions on a silent set. It's amazing how narrowly they could focus the audio on that.

Part of the exhibit, and something we had especially wanted to get there for, was the Arcade. This was meant to evoke the 80s video arcades and it was set up in a small room adjacent to the main hall. A couple video games, a change machine that it turns out was not just for show --- the games demanded quarters! --- and a juke box and a tabletop hockey game that seemed anachronistic to me. Also at least one of the video games was your modern multicade thing as opposed to something you could play in Circa 1983.

There was pinball, of course. The most glorious thing was a woodrail, a 1950s pinball game, which sadly had an Out of Order sign on it. This wasn't just our bad luck for the day; the game had lucite boxes around its flipper buttons, plunger, and coin slot. It was there to make sure you'd have the authentic arcade experience of the game that looks interesting but is out of order. Also out of order, apparently: Elektra, an early solid state pinball game. It wasn't signed as out of order, but it wouldn't take quarters --- it felt like the coinbox was jammed --- and people warned us not to waste our money, either because it wouldn't give credits or they didn't like the game. (Which I would understand; Elektra had a weird design.)

But there were two other games: Meteor and Whirlwind, both games that we like but also that we can play anytime. Well, not really anytime, but reasonably so: Meteor is one of the stalwarts of MJS's pole barn and often shows up at Pinball At The Zoo. Whirlwind they've just got in at the bowling alley on the west side of town. Still, no reason not to play them. We had a fine enough game on Meteor, and then on Whirlwind bunny_hugger was having a great time. The game, a late solid state, has a multiball mode that's incredibly hard to start; the ramp needed for it is harder than it looks. Yet she kept making it. Then the game made this harder still: the switches that are supposed to register the locked balls were sticky, not letting the ball settle into place. Despite this she got a three-ball multiball started and, as is traditional for Whirlwind, ended without a jackpot. It's a very difficult jackpot. Still, she got the two-ball multiball started. And tried the extremely hard plunge of the ball that, sometimes, on some machines, makes the ramp shot that scores the jackpot. And it did.

So she walked up to the machine and on her first game on it, put up seven million points and High Score #1. Pretty good playing.

And now somehow, first, it was past 4 pm and the museum was closing in less than an hour; and second, people were playing Spectrum. It even looked like they had 16 credits or some ludicrous number like that. Maybe there was a coin box avalanche? I'd also gone over and given someone a hand finding the 'start' button on Meteor, causing me to realize how weird it is that start button placement migrated for so very long before, after the early 80s, freezing in place. Not sure what's going on there.

Rather than wait for Elektra --- there is literally no guessing what a novice at a pinball table with over a dozen credits will do --- we went downstairs. We hadn't yet ridden the carousel. They have a 1928 Spillman carousel, set in a glass rotunda extended from the main building; it's in glorious shape and to ride that on a day that's still quite bright considering a fine misty snow has come out of nowhere ... well, that would be grand. And make for some good pictures for bunny_hugger's annual self-made carousel calendar for 2021.

It was closed.

For the day, the sign said, although a sign next to it thanked the donor who had paid for a major renovation. One expected to take six years to complete. We might not ride this again until 2027!

We would learn later things aren't that dire. The museum expects the ride to reopen this fall. Considering that when we were last here, a couple years ago, the carousel was not in bad shape it implies they must be keeping extraordinary care of it. No idea what all takes six years to finish. The signs did promise they would be replacing all the very many incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs. This ... mm. Well, it'll look different. It's probably a good change to make, since it'll demand less power, and less maintenance in replacing bulbs. And the lessened light bulb heat will strain the wooden mechanism less.

Still, it left us jabbed a bit. Not that we wouldn't have spent the rest of the day in the museum, had we known the carousel was closed, but that we had expected to get at least one ride in.

Rather than go back to Toys we looked at some of the projects that school teams had made as part of Roger That! After Story Musgrave's talk had finished, they'd announced prizes for various group projects; about half the teams had someone on-hand to accept an award and applause from the people lingering after the talk. Here, we saw a bunch of Science Fair-type posterboards and craft projects aimed at answering ... we weren't precisely sure. The projects seemed to circle around ``communities in space'' and also ``water in space'', with maybe a side of robots. The write-ups were almost iconically School Project, in endearing ways. Well, bunny_hugger was not endeared to the group whose card explained the methods they used to research their project was ``Google Scholar'', nothing further said. But I was endeared to the number of projects that explained the hardest part of the project was getting everyone in the group to know what they were supposed to be doing and what they were not.

Beside this was a small gallery of space-themed art projects, which we found the most interesting; they were all done by serious art students or working artists in celebration of particular astronauts or accomplishments and they had a nice variety of styles and iconography that even I could understand. And this brought us near enough to closing time; we huddled in the gift shop --- bunny_hugger bought some astronaut ice cream and some small fossils --- until we were ready to brave the weather again.

It was maybe 5:30 --- a half-hour past the museum close and there were still people hanging around the first-floor gallery so it's a very soft close --- and we debated whether to eat in town. We figured to. We tried to go to Stella's, the hipster bar, but it was dinnertime on a Saturday and the wait for a two-person table was already ``maybe an hour''. So we settled instead in Two Beards, the sandwich shop we'd usually get an easy lunch from when we were playing in Grand Rapids Pinball League regularly. They were almost full too; we got seats only by my tossing coats over a couple chairs when one couple left. And yet over the course of our early dinner the place mostly cleared out. Apparently the weekend dinner rush is quite tightly focused.

After this we stopped in the Pyramid Scheme, which we haven't been to much since we dropped out of the Grand Rapids Pinball League. It turns out they've replaced the Total Nuclear Annihilation, a great retro-style pinball game, and that's rather disappointed us. They did have a Pinball Magic, a mid-90s Capcom pinball game that's rare and weird and we were glad to see that. Less glad when it turned out the magnet gimmick that lets you lock balls --- by having them run along the end of a magic wand prop --- didn't work, so that multiball was inaccessible. But a couple games in we did get the hang of playing this, somewhat, at least. We also played a game of Twilight Zone --- one of the few tables they have there, now, that isn't also at the hipster bar in Lansing --- despite it being right next to the front door and so blasted with cold air intermittently. We both had amazingly good games. bunny_hugger had, if not her best, then certainly among her best ever games of it. And was quite cross with me for having a slightly better game. I started to have fancies of reaching Lost in the Zone, the game's wizard mode, which evaporated when the last ball did a Twilight Zone classic, jumping out of the pop bumpers into the right outlane.

And this was enough day for us. We got back to the parking garage, where we'd had to get nearly to the top to find a single open non-reserved space, and I drove us home, in bunny_hugger's car. She had to check on a minor crisis at work --- I'd brought the Mi-Fi, not being sure whether RLM's place had wireless --- and then getting confused about whether MWS had made it to that tournament after all. (He hadn't.) But apparently JTV, who we never see anymore, did and that's a shame to have missed.

And that was our Saturday expedition.

Trivia: oddy McDowell joined the panels for KTLA's Pantomime Quiz in 1947 by wandering into the studio and being fascinated by the proceedings, then asking if he could join in. Source: Quiz Craze, Thomas A DeLong.

Currently Reading: What Is Mathematics, Really?, Reuben Hersh.

PS: Taking a step back from the band organ at Santa's Workshop.


Sign explaining the carousel and some of its history; although it was a fair bit after the hour when we were here, it was still playing, suggesting a pretty long performance.


Here, just some of the landscape of the park. And the long slope downhill past the Skee-ball gallery.


More of the landscaping. It's surely the most off-level park we've visited.

Tags: denver dash, grand rapids, santa's workshop

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