So, the main basement tournament: there'd be a qualifying period and a finals. To qualify groups of four players would be randomly drawn and assigned a table. Whoever scores highest got four points, second-highest two points, third-highest one point, and the bottom-scorer got nothing. Reaching fifteen points qualified one for the finals. Qualifying would carry on until the seeding spots were full.
So there's obviously always an advantage to winning your group. But anything besides losing the group gets you a little closer too. And the social side of pinball would produce some odd conflicts of desire. It's more fun to play with better friends, if nothing else for the fun of commiseration. Our closest pinball friends, though, are MWS and CST. They're not people we can't beat, mind you. But generically, if we're all playing at our average, that puts me and bunny_hugger in third and fourth place and that won't get us anywhere. So we both wanted to get paired up with each other, and with our friends; but we also wanted to get grouped with people we could beat.
If not a group we could beat, then, at least we might get a table we could win on. There was always Mars, God of War, for example, a 1981 solid-state table. That's much more a coin toss than, say, The Avengers, another boring modern Stern. And even moreso than would ordinarily be, too. Besides its sound being distractingly weird --- almost all silent except for low, angry growls --- its tilt was alarmingly tight. People got tilted without obvious warning or provocation. There was talk of taking it out of rotation, which never came to pass, and I'm glad for that. Or there'd be perfect mysteries of games, such as Pinball Magic. We had heard of this table, but never seen it. More on that one anon because it deserves some special attention.
We'd get assembled into groups and go off and play and come back together again. It felt like I kept getting paired up with MWS, although that surely happened less than we think. I kept not getting Mars, God of War, to my disappointment because I was pretty sure I'd be in tune with it. bunny_hugger leapt ahead in points pretty quickly. I think she was up to ten points before I was even at five. I seemed to keep getting assigned Road Show, over and over and over.
bunny_hugger would also get dropped onto Twilight Zone a lot. Twilight Zone is one of the beloved games of the 90s Golden Age of pinball. It's got a lot of modes. It's got some great blends of humor and strategy. It's got a wizard mode that's second to none. It's also brutal, particularly with a bumper field near the left outlane that is just death. You can make a skill shot perfectly, only to be sent into the bumpers and from there into the cornfield. If you are in tune with the game, it can be a masterpiece. If you're not, it's rapid death. And bunny_hugger got becalmed in a seemingly endless string of Road Show and Avengers and Twilight Zone games that would just not give her anything to do.
So in the later rounds of qualifying she'd rack up dreadfully few points. I would get a string of disappointing third-place finishes too. One that I remember burning me was a Metallica game in which I just could not hit anything for anything. After bombing out on that I took time between rounds to play it again (legitimate; many people were practicing between rounds, or getting in time on unusual games), and put up a perfectly crushing game, the sort that would've won my previous group if everyone else's scores were doubled. So it goes.
And so the afternoon went: us stuck just below the threshold fifteen points, increasingly desperate and struggling against ever-more-desperate competition, as the available slots in the finals filled up, one by one.
Trivia: The Report of the Consulting Engineers for the Panama Canal delivered to President Roosevelt on the 10th of January 1906 concluded that a sea-level canal would cost about $247 million and need twelve to thirteen years to complete. This would be about $100 million and three to four years more than a lock canal would. The report recommended the sea-level canal nevertheless. Source: The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870 - 1914, David McCullough.
Currently Reading: Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer, Editor Mary Frances Rhymer.
PS: A Leap Day 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Jacobian, in which I tackle a mathematical thing that's important but deep into vector calculus.