May 29th, 2018

krazy koati

We drink to forget the coming storm

Since neither of us were in the Classic or Main tournaments, and bunny_hugger had nothing until 4 pm, it did mean we could actually see the Pinball At The Zoo expo. You know, the things we were nominally there for. Most of this would be pinball machines. A good number of new or well-regarded tables, since a lot of people have them and like to show them off. A lot of older or quirkier games. Checkpoint, the first dot-matrix-display pinball and one that fascinated me as a freshman in college because, well, dot-matrix-display. I have a great game, interrupted slightly by the couple on the next table and who remembered me and my wife from Pinburgh. Supersonic, a Concorde-themed early solid-state game. Secret Service, the game that first made pinball a source of endless fascination to me. Party Animal, a late-80s game with furry art that doesn't look like what a furry artist would draw, although it wasn't working. And, sad to say, Orbitor 1 was nowhere to be found, or at least we couldn't find it.

And some things weren't pinball machines. One was an arcade video game, Zoofari, that shocked everyone by looking like the theme was shooting zoo animals. Not so; the theme was that your guns were shooting food at hungry zoo animals. In that context, it's fun to see. ``Feed the Golden Roo for Bonus Points!'' It's a surprisingly fun, silly game. Everyone jokes about how the game must belong to CST, who's a veterinarian. After making this joke everyone checks the business card on it and sees, oh yeah, it does.

They also had two (count 'em) Bio-Rhythm computer gadgets. You know, where you enter your birthdate and pick a desired date and put in a quarter to get your reading.

And ... the guy who always brings a bunch of older woodrails and early-60s games has brought something special. It's a World's Series pinball. The game is from 1932. It's about half the length and width of a modern pinball. It doesn't have flippers. It's too old to have a scoring reel. It is ancient and charmingly so. It's a baseball-themed game, naturally. You plunge a ball into the table and it bounces off a set of pins, as in ``pin ball''. It falls into slots that register: a base hit, a double hit, maybe a triple. Maybe a home run. Maybe a strike. Maybe a ball. Maybe an out. There's an ``infield'' on a turntable that spins automatically with hits, or that clears out if you make outs. There is a tilt mechanism. Tilt doesn't make the game stop; it just slides out a 'TILTED' card in a little window in the metal frame if you shake the game too much.

This is compelling. It's not a deep game, naturally. If you can find the plunge you can drop the ball pretty reliably into the base hit. Especially if you find the little slapping nudge that shakes a ball out of a pin trough that would lead to a strike or an out.

It has problems. The spinning disc of the infield isn't quite level with the table's main surface, the sad result of age. This means the balls won't necessarily roll off the infield and into the column to count up one's runs. They don't nudge out into the score roll easily; we have to even pick up the very light table to get them out, an action that the owner takes with striking good grace and understanding. He's eager to tell us about the game, to sell us on such ancient pre-flipper pinball. He doesn't need to; bunny_hugger and I are predisposed to love this. But in an expo center filled with pinball machines that have electricity and flippers and lights and bells and buzzers and circuit boards and sound chips and computers and video screens it's understandable that he might think people need to be coaxed to pay attention to this light piece of old wood and old metal and slender nails pinned to a board.

But to look at the metal plate, the one that registers whether it was a ball or a strike or a hit just plunged, and watch this thing happen, real and tangible and present, was a wonder to us.

Jersey Jack had a representative there, showing off their newest pinball machine, the new Pirates of the Caribbean. It seems fun enough. It's got the Jersey Jack usual huge screen, and the option to pick any of dozens of movie characters, each with different advantages and drawback to the game. It's got an upper playfield that's a miniature sailing ship, rocking constantly and with targets you can shoot inside there. It does the free-game match at the end by picking characters and giving a game to anyone who had picked that character; weird, but why not that? The table had a trio of sometimes-spinning concentric circles in the lower middle playfield, a fascinating gimmick that rumor has it will not be in the production-run games as it's apparently a maintenance nightmare. It's a flashy and exciting game and one that'll surely be at many of our league venues soon, but I didn't feel lucky to have had the chance to play it.

Also being shown, and a rarity although because it's new: the Spooky Pinball-made Alice Cooper's Nightmare Castle. I get a game in on this; bunny_hugger misses the chance, as she's cutting down the opposition in the first round of the women's tournament. It seems all right. I'm not an Alice Cooper fan (nor detractor; I'm just ignorant of his work) so I trust there's references to things that make sense to fans. I can't get any shots together, though, and come away disappointed by the game. Other people I share notes with say it wasn't just me; the game was bad. Or at least set up to play too bad.

I keep coming back to World's Series, in my thoughts and, before the end of the expo and the strikingly fast removal of all the games, in person. I never have what I would say is a great game, like, more than four runs. But it feels so very good to touch pinball from 85 years ago and not be lost.

We stick around the expo. I have legitimate reasons at first, as bunny_hugger is playing in the women's finals and those run past the 5 pm close of the expo. Then we stick around to watch the main tournament finish; it takes only to about 7 pm. While AJH and PH and family pack things up we shrug and thank everyone for having us and take bunny_hugger's third-place women's division trophy.

We go to MJS's pole barn for the traditional after-party. We haven't seen it since New Year's Eve, and it's the first time since the state championship that the place was open. It has new banners for all the state champions since the modern era of the International Flipper Pinball Association began. bunny_hugger realizes I never got to see pictures of MJS's menu-board high score table, for older games that don't keep names themselves, from the two weeks that I held the building's championship on Grand Prix. It's a good time, though. We have another miniature amazing race, helping a small group of people play all the games in the solid-state room, and soaking up all kinds of fun gossip about the weird division in the state between an Eastside and a Westside pinball community.

The pole barn afterparty has come to feel like the moment when I can pause and reflect on how my role in competitive pinball has changed over the previous twelvemonth. Once more I'm not sure what I take from the past time. Except that the name we were then coming to accept for our downstairs rabbit was wildly popular, as it coincidentally happened to pun on the name of one of those pinball superstars who pops in for Pinball At The Zoo.

Anyway, all felt good, at this nice and happy place.

Trivia: The mid-March 1857 voting for membership in France's Academy of Sciences brought Louis Pasteur sixteen votes for membership. He needed thirty. Source: Louis Pasteur, Patrice Debré, Translated by Elborg Forster.

Currently Reading: The Complete Peanuts, 1999 - 2000, Charles Schulz. Editor Gary Groth.

PS: Coming up on the close of Keansburg Amusement Park.

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Evening-glow light of the Tornado, one of the thrill rides that we didn't get to but remembered quite well from past visits to, particularly, Casino Pier.


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The double-shot drop tower which was our last ride for the night. Also which got us high enough we could see the lights of New York City and, I believe, Coney Island for that magic of seeing one amusement park from ten miles away at another amusement park.


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Another picture of the drop tower, as well as some administrative building with --- you can just make out --- a person looking faintly concerned at the window.