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Sunday, January 17th, 2016

Time Event
12:10a
Wait for summertime

At the starting hour of the Silver Balls tournament, I noticed what was on the hipster bar's audio system. It was Walk The Moon's ``Anna Sun'', one of our favorite pieces, one of the things that defines the summer of 2012 and our fond memories of Conneaut Lake Park, among other things. I noticed it before bunny_hugger did, as is our custom. Somehow I recognize songs at much softer volumes and with many fewer notes than she does, even though she's the much better student of music. I took this coincidental appearance of a favorite song to be a good omen for the night.

And it was, by and large, a good night. People were still in a good mood from Christmas, certainly. The tournament and side tournament had people feeling optimistic. Most folks were either friends or pre-adapted to being friends. It was as reasonably low-stress a thing to run, for the most part.

But chaos continued seeping into things. Fish Tales, a wonderful and fun game, broke down early on. The table at our hipster bar has a tendency to get jammed going into multiball, and the operator has had no idea how to fix it. They had no idea again and we had to substitue a different table. World Cup USA, a fun soccer-themed game, had that scoop problem reappear shortly after I barely won a game on it, and had to be taken out. Austin Powers, an agonizing and painfully obnoxious game, also broke down after about two games, one of which I won. Losing Austin Powers was no great aesthetic loss, since as far as I can tell nobody likes it. But it also --- actually, didn't much delay gameplay.

After all, each round required waiting for all 13 matches to wrap up, and the next round couldn't begin until they were all done. Since we were already stacking players to start with, it doesn't take very much more time to stack one more pair of competitors. It may have made a difference around the sixth or seventh round, when people started to get their fourth strike and dropped out of the tournament. But that would be a small part of the night.

There would be a lot of waiting, though. We had a lot of great players. And modern pinball machines really let people turn their skills into a lot of playing time. Pinball's always rewarded skill, but modern games do a lot to allow for strategic play. Some of the games, like Medieval Madness, Attack From Mars, or particularly Lord of the Rings, will let people play pretty much forever if they're good enough and seriously try. Brackelope, the tournament-management app, kept track of how long the average play on each game was. (At least, from the time a pair was assigned to the time the outcome was reported. This is not exactly the same as how long they spent playing, but it's close.) Lord of the Rings, particularly, took nearly ten minutes longer than the quickest games like Getaway on average. Individual games could be much longer. And the progress of rounds was dominated by the slowest game of the previous round.

And there were bits where I just didn't know what I was doing. The biggest was that I didn't have some of the Brackelope settings right. While it would pick pairs of players at random, it wouldn't randomize their order, so that for example CST was named as Player 1 every one of the first five rounds or so. This delayed games too because, of course, Player 1 has to finish all three balls. Player 2 can kneel if in the lead at the start of ball three. And CST is a strong player; he'd probably have been in the lead at least one or two times by that point.

Could that setting be changed mid-tournament? I figured it was worth trying. And that did help; CST got to be player 2 after that. But some randomness-generated anomalies remained. One player got assigned to Lord of the Rings three rounds in a row, and while it is a fun game, that's a lot of the same game to play in a row.

After the tournament bunny_hugger got a bit of griping about the tournament settings. Apparently Brackelope allows for the game to preferentially pick opponents with the same number of strikes --- two strikes versus two, three strikes versus three --- in the hopes of getting people knocked out sooner. I didn't have that set, so we'd get people with zero or one strike battling people on the bubble. I'm not convinced this makes for faster elimination, but some folks strongly believe it does. bunny_hugger wasn't happy getting such critiques. I'm happy to take it, and asked her to direct comments to me, since I have thicker skin and no Facebook account. (Don't congratulate me for this. It's not a principled choice; I just never happened to start one.)

Still, the rounds took longer than we figured, and there were quite a few of them. CST suggested I start taking some of the longer-playing games out of the rotation, once we had enough people eliminated that we didn't need every game. It turned out I could do that without breaking the app's model of the tournament. Later on bunny_hugger explicitly told me to take out the longer-lasting games, and we started to concentrate on the faster games. But it was still taking a long time.

Trivia: Ferrous gluconate is used by the olive industry to make uniform jet-black olives. Source: The New York Public Library Desk Reference, Editors Paul Fargis, Sheree Bykofsky.

Currently Reading: The Utopia of Rules: On Technology, Stupidity, and the Secret Joys of Bureaucracy, David Graeber.

PS: Reading the Comics, January 15, 2015: Electric Brains and Klein Bottles Edition, with no Jumble puzzles. Sorry.

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