Here's how qualifying for the Pinball At The Zoo-style tournaments works. You play from a slate of games. You get a score for each game. You get a certain number of points for how high your score is compared to everyone else who's played the same game. The highest score on a table gets 100 points. Second-highest gets 94 points. Third-highest 91. Fourth-highest 90, then 89, then 88, and so on down to, I assume, zero, if there are enough people playing. Your points are added together for however many qualifying tables there are. And the top however-many-people in the tournament go on to play in the finals.
This has strategy implications. One is that while it helps to do great on a table, you really don't need to. You just need to be tolerably good on a variety of games. Another is that if you're trying to get above the cutoff for a tournament, or for a division within the tournament, you don't have to replay everything. You just have to replay the table you've got the worst score on. And not even that, really; you just need to replay the table you're most likely to improve on. That might be tricky. Scores can have gaps, sometimes big gaps, so that even putting up a score, say, fifty percent better than your last one might not actually move you up the ranks any --- at least not unless someone else comes in and puts in a score between your old and your new value.
And this left bunny_hugger and me at a strategic disadvantage. We don't have cell phones. We have iPods, but the expo center had no publicly available WiFi, and swore even the tournament organizers to secrecy about how to get on their system's WiFi. While the tournament had a computer screen rotating around the current results, so we could check where to best put our next games in, we would lose time in doing that. We could ask friends with cell phones to check too, but that requires nagging friends who're trying to do their best at qualifying too.
I put in my games on the four Classics games, and then poked around putting in some entries on the Main Tournament games and a couple on the Daily Tournament pinball machines. I started working on the Main Tournament games again and then remembered this was stupid. There would be time to qualify for the Main Tournament on Saturday too. But I was well below the cutoff to qualify for the Classics Tournament. I may have done tournaments like this before but there's still lessons on how to strategize that I have to learn.
I wouldn't qualify for the Friday daily tournament. I'd be down in a tie for 13th when the cutoff was the top eight players. NeverDrains.com keeps a stunning amount of data about the games, and that lets me confirm that I was right not to spend more time on the daily tournament. If I could have gotten 50 percent better than the scores I put up on both daily-tournament machines I would have just qualified, but the chance of doing that without wasting all my time on the games seems low. bunny_hugger would also miss out on the daily tournament, by farther than I did, but she also only played enough to be officially entered.
Classics, though: these we put our energy into. We figured we had a good chance at them. bunny_hugger had rolled Boomerang, one of the games there, at the Meijer State Games when we last played them, in September. I had got pretty good at Embryon in its venues. Genesis is a fantastically ugly table but with some pretty nice moves and we'd played it enough to start understanding what the scoring strategy was. Lucky Seven was a mystery to us, but I had one of those beginners-luck games and put up the third-highest score recorded in qualifying on it.
Nevertheless, we failed. Boomerang neither of us ever really got the hang of. We couldn't even get close to lighting the bonus multipliers which make a great score possible. Maybe nobody did; only 16 people would log a score above 100,000, and nobody would break the 200,000 maximum score threshold. Genesis similarly just kept clobbering me. bunny_hugger broke a million points, but then seventeen people broke three million on it. As the night came to a close my only chance would be getting on Embryon and trusting in one of those games where everything comes together. I had broken a million points on that specific table as recently as February; surely I could do better than my 300,570. If I just did 600,000, then I'd be in the tournament. And with a moderately familiar table, and a good attitude, and that gentle deadline pressure of the expo center turning off the lights for the night I could surely put together a fine game when I needed it.
That I could does not mean that I did.
I finished in 21st place, for a tournament taking the top 16 players. bunny_hugger had it worse, finishing 29th. That hurt, although she finished just barely behind our league's champion CST, and she finished ahead of several of top players or potential rivals.
Oh yeah, and our friend MWS ... he finished in a tie for 16th. PH offered him and COE the choice to tiebreak right there and then, or to come back in the morning and have their tiebreaker just before Classics Finals started. They picked right there and then, after some debate, and we watched MWS pull it out in the last ball. So at least in this circuit of so many of our friends, one of our friends would go in as the lowest seed.
MWS was glad to have it settled before his hour-long drive to the friend's place where he was crashing. And to not have to get up with the anxiety of doing a tiebreaker in the morning. But it was irrelevant anyway: one of the top-16 wouldn't make it to finals the next day, so both were in. They'd have at most had to play a tiebreaker for seeding instead.
Trivia: Edmond Halley argued that the freezing point of water would vary with location, that it would not be the same in London as it is in Paris. It would take to the 1730s to convince people the freezing point is reasonably constant. Source: Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold, Tom Shachtman.
Currently Reading: The Vulgar Tongue: Green's History of Slang, Jonathon Green.
PS: How Interesting Is A Baseball Score? Some Further Results. I work it out to be kind of like 7.