November 5th, 2016

krazy koati

Let's get them all in!

Most happy birthday, my darling bunny_hugger.

We went back to the convention center, after the rain and with the Trump supporters having vanished into the mist, while the Clinton line was still stretching off to infinity. Inside the center we were able to see more people in costume. Some I recognized like the kid from Where The Wild Things Are. Some I knew were some kind of video game or anime thing. I don't know.

The championships for the various divisions were going on. The A Division had their tables up on the main stage. B, C, and D divisions were set up in a U-shaped set of tables behind the stage. These were mostly the sets of games meant as backups, in case one of the games in the main banks was unplayable for some reason. bunny_hugger had had to play one of them, Rollergames, during one of her contests. There were forty people in each division's finals. D Division, I think, was finishing as we got there.

It's still thrilling to watch really tight, skillful play. There was maybe too much, with the B Division finals and the C Division Finals taking place on perpendicular legs of the U-shaped area. Where do you focus your attention? ... Well, on whoever seems to have the better game going, I suppose. I think C Division got the more interesting games, including titles like Faces (with a deeply psychedelic backglass) or Game Show.

I spotted the chair on which the B Division trophies were placed and coaxed bunny_hugger to do the slightly naughty thing of touching them. I touched them too. Wouldn't you?

B Division had a certifiable celebrity playing in its finals. Not just a pinball celebrity, but someone that a normal-type person might have heard of. Towering over everyone was Todd MacCulloch, a seven-foot-tall man who'd played in the National Basketball Association for several years. He'd played on Canadian national teams many times, including for the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But he had to retire early, due to an inherited neurological disorder. But he'd always been interested in pinball, and on retiring got to competing seriously. Wikipedia reports he won the 2011 Chicago Pinball Expo, which is an astounding thing to do. </p>

And a seven-foot-tall man standing at a pinball machine ... well ... it looks funny. It looks like he's twice as big as the machine, or any of his competitors. I believe he is able literally to look at the top of the backglass on a machine, and it does look like he has to lean dangerously over just to reach the flipper buttons. Honestly, it was hard to see his competitors. He finished second. The tournament official looked like a toy handing him an 8.5-by-11 plaque.

C Division would take even longer to finish than did B Division. I think at some point they deliberately stopped a while, perhaps to let B play through. I have the faint memory there was something awry with one of the tables too, so there might have been some pause while that was reevaluated. Among the games played would be many that we knew: The Addams Family, for example, which was one game that seemed to go on forever. Centigrade 37 was in the bank but I didn't see it played. Stern's Star Trek too. The Stern Stars, an early solid-state game we knew and loved well. That we saw played. It might've been the deciding game of the finals. It's one of those games with a simple design and simple rule set and nothing but fingernail-biting suspense; one good bounce can win or lose the game.

We missed the A Division finals, or nearly so. We stopped in for some of it, and then I think we figured we'd check on the lower division games and see how those were going. They were on stage, on the raised podium. The tables had cameras poised above them, and wide-screen TVs next to them, so that the audience could see what they were doing. Part of what they were doing was playing Doodle Bug, the hilarious game with the ball in a hidden playfield compartment that gets bounced up and down. We didn't get to see anyone playing that one, but it must have been glorious.

The A Divison players would go up on stage, solo, at least for the final rounds. They'd get to enter by walking up the long wheelchair-accessible ramp to stand alone on stage. It added this great suspense to the start of a ball. And great sadness, for the player, at the end of a ball.

We expected the contest would go on forever. Also that we'd get to see an old, old acquaintance of mine: Sean Joseph ``The Storm'' Grant. He went to Rutgers around the same time I did and I knew his SJG on the high score tables well. And knew when he was there; he was the one having awesome, outstanding, excellent games. And somehow he must have recognized me. I posted something in early 1994 to about how phenomenal it was watching him, and the next time we happened to be in the student center together he mentioned he saw what I'd said and thanked me for it. I have a hard enough time understanding people recognizing me after meeting me once. But he --- well, he must've recognized me from the initials I very rarely got to enter in a high score table back then. Imagine someone like that.

But their games didn't last forever, and I didn't see SJG that I recognized, and if he recognized me he didn't say anything. All that happened was one time we walked back past the stage and nobody was there but there was confetti on the surface.

The games were open to mere members of the public playing by then. So I took the chance to see what it might have felt like doing A Division Finals. The walk up onto the stage felt like being a champion, like the grand march into the stadium you see in bio-pics about sports superstars. It's eerie paying a game and glancing to the side and seeing your table there, live and direct. And actually playing ...

It's a little unsettling, actually. The stage is made up of those metal rods that can be easily assembled and disassembled, and they wobble a little. They transmit the movements of other people walking or nudging tables. Pinburgh organizers said later on that yeah, they heard people's complaints about this and they'd work on something for next year so it's a little more stable. I don't think anyone tilted or got a tilt warning because of it. But it's a weird feeling to play pinball on a noticeably unstable surface.

Definitely worth it, though.

Trivia: The Gunpowder Plotters settled on their scheme in May 1604, and acquired their first gunpowder that autumn. Source: Gunpowder: Alchemy, Bombards, and Pyrotechnics: The History Of The Explosive That Changed The World, Jack Kelly.

Currently Reading: The Lost Work of Will Eisner, Editors Andrew Carl, Josh O'Neill, Chris Stevens.

PS: The End 2016 Mathematics A To Z: Boundary Value Problems, which might almost be my old stomping grounds in mathematics, at least by training.