Second round of the day. For me, Draco. Also playing on this bank, but in the lofty heights of A Division, AJG. (Not the person who'd played with bunny_hugger Thursday; her husband, whom we only now realize has the same pinball initials.) Each bank has two or three groups of people playing, starting on different tables, the better to let eight hundred people play the finite number of tables possible, with as little wait as possible. AJG is one of the top players in the state, although he doesn't make it to the variety of tournaments needed to get him as high a world ranking as he should have. This year he's been playing the local points-mines hard; it's possible he won't be top-seed for Michigan's finals, but I wouldn't bet that way. He's been getting into squabbles with some of the people organizing the International Flipper Pinball Association about how they rank skilled players who don't get to many different things. He's gotten the challenge: win a major tournament, not these piddling little things in your backyard, and then you'll be listed as a top hundred player. He's answered: fine, I'll win Pinburgh. He doesn't win Pinburgh. At this point, I certainly think, oh, gosh, I hope he won't be crushed by not winning Pinburgh. Also: oh, gosh, it's going to be impossible being around him if he does win Pinburgh.
Meanwhile, though, I'm looking over at his group, to see what the A Division players are doing, and whether they have any strategies I can use to my advantage. It's of limited value. Top players have things that are easy to imitate, like, knowledge of rules and the ability to pick strategies that compound scoring chances. And the ability to shift if a strategy isn't working on this table. But they have things that are harder to imitate, like the ability to dial in a shot on an unfamiliar table with only a few attempts, and without fumbling the ball trying to learn where the left orbit is.
Our modern game is Williams's 1995 No Fear, based on the aggressive T-shirts. It's a bike-racing and stunts themed game. What I actually know about it is: shoot the skull for multiball. Shoot ramps for modes. And there's this combination thing, shooting into a ramp and then hitting a side ramp from an upper-flipper that's on the ramp, that pays off that nobody knows how to do. For that day, though, that game, I have it. It's my whole game, yes, but particularly the second and third balls: I just keep finding where to start modes, and where to bring multiball into it, and any time you can bring a mode --- which gives major points for some objective --- into multiball --- which gives you three or more balls moving --- you're doing well. When it's over AJG leans over asking my advice what to do. It's a flustering moment.
The electromechanical game is another old friend: Williams's 1976 Space Mission, perhaps the most prominent of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project-themed pinball machines out there. I know it from the Silverball Museum. Like many electromechanical games, the real objective is to light the spinner, then shoot the spinner. Also like many electromechanical games, you can almost let it play itself. Not just in the ``send it to the bumpers and wait'' mode. There are little scoops to either side of the flippers. The scoops will shoot the ball at a moving center target. If you can resist the urge to flip yourself, you can just hold the ball up, let the machine shoot it at the center target, and maybe collect a big points award, or maybe get a minor one. Keep the ball in control and repeat. It's the sort of boring but steady game that AJG has mastered. I break 100,000 --- not quite rolling; the machine has a light for people who do that, and the fourth player gets that too --- and get another first-place finish.
The late-solid-state game is FunHouse Bwah ha ha ha ha ha ha which everybody knows and loves well. If you have any pinball memories at all it's probably this table. It's the one that dominates so many people's memories of playing pinball that it might as well be The First Table. The game is set hard, surely compensation. I notice that Quick Multiball is the mirror award at the start of the game, so I skip trying to make the skill shot and soft-plunge instead, collecting that. The goal there is to hit Rudy's face, a tricky but always satisfying target. I don't manage at all. I end up with about two and a half million points, which is good enough for a second-place finish and relieves me of worrying about a perfect round again. One person finished under a million points. The table is playing hard.
The early-solid-state game is Bally's 1978 Six Million Dollar Man, one of the handful of attempts at a six-player game. There's no objective reason pinball tables settled on four-players as the ideal; they just did, and attempts to try out six players at a time somehow never take. The best strategy, per PinTips and what I get peeking over AJG's shoulder, is shoot up into the center scoop up top. Maybe hit banks of drop targets. You know, like every early-solid-state game. I can't find any of the shots, and go to a third-place finish.
So round two of the day: I get nine wins, three losses. Brings my record to a pretty good 18-6, and the four-way tie for ninth place. I've jumped from 19th-seeded to 10th-seeded for the next round.
bunny_hugger has not repeated her perfect round. (A few people had two perfect rounds, but it's hard to imagine.) On set 10, Tucana, she's gone 5-7. Someone in her group sucked up nearly all the points by going 10-2. She drops from third seed to 16th, her record of 17-7 part of a four-way tie for 15th.
Trivia: 22 million cubic yards of excavations from the Culebra Cut were deposited at Balboa, Panama, reclaiming 676 acres from the Pacific Ocean. Source: The Path Between The Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870 - 1914, David McCullough.
Currently Reading: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War Over The American Dollar, H W Brands.