August 6th, 2016

krazy koati

All at once it happened, well, the prettiest in this world

We scouted out the pinball tables at our hipster bar. There's a lot of machines there. There were, I think, eighteen there when the tournament was held and two more have been added in the month since. But they're not always in good repair, or repair at all. We had a list of games we figured would certainly be working, ones we figured would likely be working, and ones we figured would be called in to service only if there were no possible alternative. And some test play showed we were about right. We could stick to the always-working games, most of them the newer tables that just haven't had time to break down, and we didn't have to resort to any of the more marginal games. Nice thing about the Rocket Robin format is you only need half as many tables as there are people playing, and there's a built-in queue that can in principle hold as many people as you need. We would do with a two-person queue and would turn out not to need ten games. Even if something went down we'd have a margin for breakdowns.

The tournament did draw fewer people than past ones, only sixteen people if I remember it right. That's a bit disappointing since the Rocket Robin format was one that couldn't run absurdly long. Four-Strikes and Amazing Race tournaments naturally run longer the more participants are there. We had one that was population-independent and not as many people showed up as might have. But then this was a tournament in the middle of summer, so that most of the students and university-related crowds wouldn't be there. And it was a weekday as well, one not on a holiday weekend or in that slow week between Christmas and New Year's.

A slightly weird heated debate, possibly a flame war technically speaking, broke out ahead of the tournament. One of the leading Michigan pinball players raised the obvious objections to the Rocket Robin format. If your standing is based on your won-loss percentage, then, what's to stop you from taking the lead in one game and then sitting on that? Or if you have a slight edge, to play a game slowly so as to eat up time and not risk a loss? Well, nothing but the rules of good sportsmanship. Competitive pinball generally has a high level of sportsmanship, but after all, nothing is perfect. The only answer to that is that if you can hold a flipper up with the ball trapped on Austin Powers for forty minutes while your friends mock you and the game plays Austin Powers music, good luck to you.

The other obvious and unanswerable objection was what if you, a power player, get stuck against other power players over and over again? Someone might win because they got to play easier opponents while you got stuck in a forty-minute death-match against an equally unstoppable power player. Odds are that wouldn't happen, you should get a mix across all skill levels but yes, there's no reason that can't happen and no guarantee that won't. All I could say was that in that case it might be strategically advantageous to take a dive rather than spend twenty more minutes fighting for a fifty-fifty chance at a win, and hope you can make up the loss by playing someone easier. And yes, that challenges the high level of sportsmanship that I assert exists in pinball circles. But we know there are people and tables, some of which we have at the hipster bar, that could play for two hours without a clear decision. We live in an imperfect world and sometimes we have to accept the flaws.

What we did not realize is the person worried about this had, in a tournament earlier this year, quit a game midway through when it looked hopeless. We don't believe he suspected we were snarking about that, but it's a weird coincidence. Who knew there'd be such drama?

Trivia: The Evangelis Zappas-inspired Olympic Games of 1870, held in the Panathenian stadium in Greece, were officially opened the 1st of November. Bad weather forced the postponing of all athletic competitions until the 15th, and the cancellation of all nautical events, horse races, and shooting events. Source: Encyclopedia of the Modern Olympic Movement, Editors John E Findling, Kimberly D Pelle.

Currently Reading: Walt Kelly's Fables and Funnies, Editor David W Tosh.

(I realize it sounds like ``forty minutes'' is thrown around a lot here. But that is a realistic length for some of the most skill-only games being played by the most skilled players. We have data!)