January 16th, 2019

krazy koati

And Mister Lang is very old

Once more Michigan's final pinball event of the year was a tournament at MJS's pole barn. MJS figured to do a different style format this year. Qualifying would be ``Herb style'', based on playing up to two rounds of twelve different games. Your ten best-ranking scores would go to make your standing. This could include two good scores on the same table, a thing that's not novel, but that I didn't understand until I heard it explained like four times over. The top eight finishers would then go to a ``ladder style'' playoff. In this, the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth seeds play a game. Whoever comes in last is knocked out. The remaining three are joined by the fourth qualifying seed. That quartet plays a round, and whoever comes in last is knocked out. Then the remaining three are joined by the third qualifying seed, and so on. You see why it's called ladder-style. The style has fallen out of favor, despite the way it rewards a good qualifying seed and despite the way it encourages Cinderella-streak finishes. The International Flipper Pinball Association rates the value of a tournament on how many meaningful games the ultimate winner plays. If he's first-seeded and only plays one game to defend that position, then the tournament counted as only one game.

But MJS had thought this out. All ten of the qualifying games counted as meaningful. Four-player games count double, to the IFPA. And the tournament wouldn't end with a four-player group (credited as two meaningful games); among the final four, the loser would be knocked out, and then the three survivors would play (credited as 1.5 meaningful games). The loser gets knocked out again, and the two survivors play (one meaningful game). So the first seed would be rated as playing, at minimum, 14.5 meaningful games. And, if the number eight seed managed a run to the first, the tournament would have 22.5 meaningful games. It would be at minimum enough IFPA points to change anyone's rankings. It could be enough to catapult someone into a first-round bye in playoffs.

bunny_hugger and I went there, outside Kalamazoo, together. We'd thought about riding with MWS and RED --- who maintains the games in Lansing and who's barely played competitively outside Lansing --- but we needed to drop Sunshine off at bunny_hugger's parents. We were staying at a Red Roof Inn in Kalamazoo, the better to avoid an hour-plus drive home after midnight New Year's Eve, in perhaps uncertain weather. Our room was all right, but did have a bunch of little issues, like one of the bolts of the toilet seat being broken off so the seat wriggled around. And there somehow being an intact bus pass on the bowl. And there being no trash bin. Not sure what's going on there.

SMS --- MJS's daughter, and one of the top-ranked women in the world before her life took her away from competitive play --- was there, but somehow I kept missing the chance to say it was good to see her again.

We had the idea MJS wanted people to play in groups, the better to ensure honesty during play. But we encountered a few people playing lone games. Sometimes we teamed up with them. bunny_hugger and I played together, our reputation for good sportsmanship overcoming anyone who might ask whether husband and wife would refuse to fib for the other. There were twelve games to qualify on, four of them modern games, four of them solid-states, and four of them electromechanicals.

MJS asked people to play some games, then bring their scorecard back for entry, then play some more games. Not everyone understood this, and would try to play all the games. Two results of their mistake: nobody could be quite sure of their standing, since there were a lot of unreported scores. And after qualifying ended there was a long stretch while scores were entered. But there were some nice side effects too. For example, people who were diligently getting partial scores back in, like me and bunny_hugger, got to rest on top of the standings. For a while there bunny_hugger was top-seeded, and for most of the day she was positioned ahead of me. I was confident that if either of us qualified --- a dubious prospect, I thought, given things like my terrible play on Metallica --- it'd be her. She insisted I would finish higher than her, and made a $10 bet with me on it.

She had some good scores on the electromechanical games Grand Prix and Bronco, and two fantastic scores on the solid state Meteor, but otherwise not much on the older games she figured she had a relative advantage on. She did have several tables on which both her scores were within whiskers of each other, showing off her consistency if nothing else. And me, well, I had a surprising and crushingly good game of Banzai Run --- a late-80s table with two playfields, one of them a vertical thing on the backglass --- that was the best anyone had. And a really solid Whirlwind, and the fifth-best Funhouse and Deadpool games anyone put up. I qualified for playoffs as seventh seed. bunny_hugger took my ten bucks.

There was danger in the playoffs, besides the risk of bunny_hugger kicking my shins. Also making finals was TG. Who, if he finished high enough, could overtake bunny_hugger in the state rankings and bump her out of 24th place, outside of earning her spot in the 24-player state championship. (There were people we were confident wouldn't play, but it always feels better not to have to rely on that.) So now bunny_hugger had a mission for me to knock TG out, as soon as possible.

Couldn't do it the first game, which was, I think, Pop-A-Card. Pop-A-Card is a 1960s single-player electromechanical game, with a feature that lets you earn extra balls that, from the game's design, you have to play. I got in one of those rhythms where I could not stop earning extra balls. It was a fantastic game for me, better play than I really needed. It didn't knock TG out, though. The next game, also on an electromechanical, I played more normal on. But TG had a bad game, and got knocked out. So his threat to bunny_hugger's ranking was over, at least unless the tournament turned out to be worth even more than we expected. It would have been more sure had he lost the first round. But, well, it was the best we could do.

I made it through one more round of playoffs, and got to feeling pretty good about myself. If I avoided finishing in last place one more time I'd be a top-four finisher, earning enough IFPA points to maybe advance to a better seed for state championships. And to get a bit of the cash payout given to the top four finishers. I didn't just have a lousy game. I had a lousy game while playing MSS, who managed to put up 10 points on his first ball. And another 10 points on his second ball. But who managed, on the remaining three balls of this electromechanical (which, like most of its vintage, are set on three-ball play) to beat me. He would go on to finish the tournament in third place. I would go on to eating things before the ball drop in Times Square.

As midnight neared MJS's family passed out noisemakers and plastic flutes of champagne and party hats and costume jewelry, and we made a good noise in-between people asking why the three clocks in the room (if you include the TV's countdown) didn't agree. MJS said the Nixie tube clock atop one of the games was the one getting its time from WWV and so was the trustworthy one. And after midnight we huddled outside to watch their fireworks.

Afterwards, the crowd dispersed fairly quickly. The final pairing were CST and MWS, and it finally ended with CST --- who'd been the number one seed anyway --- winning, taking home for the year more points than he would have gotten for winning Lansing Pinball League. The IFPA rules really make tournaments more valuable than leagues, especially leagues with long seasons.

Still, we got to congratulations all around, and then a couple rounds of dollar games, including my traditional post-midnight creaming of everybody on Centaur. I can't explain why, but that game, at the end of the night, is one I master every time. Now that I've said this, it'll never happen again.

When everything finally wound down, MWS and RED were still a bit hungry. So they drove to a McDonald's nearby, one of the handful of things open after 2 am New Year's Day. So did everyone else in Kalamazoo, and there were weird long-line events like people honking at the unmoving line. Or someone having an impossibly complicated problem with their credit card payment. You know how it is.

Anyway, we got back to the hotel and went to bed. The next morning MWS and RED were woken at 11 am by a housekeeping staff that wanted them to know it was check-out time and they should be gone by now. We got no such wake-up call. The signs on the doors said check-out was at noon. And we turned our key cards in to the front desk at noon, with the clerk saying nothing about that choice. bunny_hugger got a coffee and I tried to get a tea from the lobby, although somehow the hot water in their thermos had cooled off. I don't know. The clerk offered to get fresh hot water but I didn't want tea that much.

We drove out to a Cracker Barrel on the way back from Kalamazoo for our traditional quite late New Year's brunch. The place was packed, as it usually is New Year's Day. bunny_hugger had worried that we spent so much time in the hotel lobby trying to check out that MWS and RED would be annoyed; I was right in predicting that they'd still be waiting to be seated. The staff apologized that they were out of biscuits, but said they might have some more made before too long. Turned out, yes, they were able to. So we got to eat everything we'd planned to. I took home the remainder of the tiny bottle of blueberry syrup from my pancakes, as it seemed wasteful to leave the rest of it to ... whatever its fate would have been. So apparently I'm starting out 2018 by being rather old. I can accept that.

And there was another footnote. TG had come to the event with his wife, something he often does. She doesn't play. She sat, mostly, looking respectable and dignified and occasionally talking to anyone nearby, but not participating in the event. She seemed all right with that. She left behind her makeup case. Nobody noticed until the end of the night. Considerable negotiations worked out that bunny_hugger and I would be the ones passing closest to TG and his wife, in that we would drive through the town where they lived. At least it wouldn't be far off the Interstate. But we kept failing to make phone contact with them to learn their exact address. But CST lives in the same town, and he and TG see each other all the time. We had his address. And couldn't make contact with him either. But we got to his house, wondering if it was the right place before we noticed a lot of turtle sculptures (he's a turtle fan), including one with his name on it. There we knocked, several times, and got no response. The makeup case wouldn't fit in his mailbox either. So we set it between his screen and main door, left a message explaining it all, and two minutes later got a text that oh, yes, CST had been there, just napping, and must have missed hearing us. But that all got sorted out, at least.

Trivia: No point in England is more than 70 miles from sea. Source: A Splendid Exchange: How Trade Shaped The World, William J Bernstein.

Currently Reading: The One-Cent Magenta: Inside the Quest to own the Most Valuable Stamp in the World, James Barron.

PS: Reading the Comics, January 12, 2019: A Edition and that's not a typo, that's me gently bating grammar nerds.

PPS: Let's see more of Conneaut Lake Park's carousel.


And now entering the Kiddieland. The green bin seemed to be some kind of theater, perhaps. Those certainly look like replica crayon tips at the top of the structure, although a bunch of them had fallen over.


Picture standees of nominal mascots (I don't know that there's any representation of them besides this). Connie Otter was, on our first trip, our first hint of how to pronounce the name of the park. We didn't take pictures of our faces as the otters' noses this time and it's probably best not to think too hard about that prospect.


The Kiddieland carousel, a Herschell-model ride that I believe dates to the 40s. Our first visit, in 2013, it was turned by hand, but every visit since the motor's been working.