August 29th, 2019

krazy koati

Passion burning

The Drury is so close to the convention center, where Anthrocon and Pinburgh are held, that we had time for breakfast. The hotel used to be the local branch of the Federal Reserve, dating back to when bank architecture tried to convey grandeur and antiquity to communicate reliability. So that's a beautiful setting with some nice murals of Industrious Pittsburgh wherein to eat a great whomping load of eggs. Also to try finding forks, which it turns out were set out, we just didn't know where at first.

At Pinburgh we enjoyed the traditional Michigan Pinball Group Photo Fiasco. Fiasco overstates it. But every year the Michigan Pinball contingent plans to get together for a group photo and every year an appreciable number of people aren't there in time or are there but in the wrong place. The right place seems to be with bunny_hugger and me. Right after the photo a bunch of people came in, annoyed that the photo wasn't at the convention hall entrance where apparently the Facebook group had agreed it should be.

Pinburgh in past years has opened with an introductory speech by Bowen Kerins, who as I write this is one of the top-ten players in four states (three in New England, one of them New York). Also it looks like he just went tearing through the Queensland scene. His talk was probably inspirational and instructive but I could never hear it. This time around they showed a video, a spoof of The A Team opening, showing some of the people who organize and run Pinburgh putting together the convention. This was also inaudible, although they had closed captioning turned on the screens so what dialogue there was could be read. By me, because I'm tall. Not by bunny_hugger who couldn't see over the nine hundred people between her and the TV screens up front. Instructions about how to play Pinburgh were posted in cute animated videos ahead of time, so that in theory everyone should have known what to do, or been in a group with people who did know what to do. And with that we were off.

Pinburgh play is five rounds on each of two days. The first day to figure out which division, from the top-tier A through the bottom-tier E, you belong in. Because of my world ranking I'm restricted to division D or higher. Which is not necessarily a good thing: making finals in D or above is based on your record over both days, so if I play lousy the first day, I'll have that much harder a time the second day making playoffs. MWS is similarly restricted, to C and above. Each round is four games, played in a group of typically four people. (Three is possible.) The games are meant to cover the spread of all pinball games: a pure electromechanical game, an early solid state game, a late solid state game, and a modern game. The banks don't always catch this spread perfectly, but that's what they go for. Your score is the total number of wins and losses: if you finish in first place on one game, you have three wins and zero losses for that game. Second place? Two wins, you beat two people, and one loss, you lost to one person. Third place? One win, two losses. Last place? Four losses. (In a three-player group, second place counts as 1.5 wins and 1.5 losses; third place, zero wins and three losses. In a two-player group, if that impossibility came to pass, first place is three wins and second place three losses.) And we're off!

My first bank is number 64, named Wuchereria. After last year's whimsical bank names this year the banks are all constellations or weird vocabulary words from the end of the alphabet. My first game is Super Orbit, an early solid state with cool outer-space theme. We all have pretty good games; I finish second, not by much. It's a good start. The next game is Wheel Of Fortune, a modern Stern game from the era they were getting licenses at random. It's a weird game, with a dangerously large gap between flippers but center posts that let you save the ball if you stay cool. I know the game from a yearlong stretch it was at Fremont. Simply getting a multiball started will be enough to win, and one player gets it. I'm not that one. My experience is useless and I take last place, by a whisker. That's disappointing. I make up for it on the electromechanical, Captain Fantastic and the Dirt Brown Cowboy, a 1976 game themed to the Pinball Wizard sequence in the movie version of Tommy. I have a pretty solid game, not a runaway but good for first place. This sets me up well in the standings, but also makes me the first player for Black Belt, our late-solid-state game. After the first game, in which order is assigned by the Pinburgh computers, order is based on the last round, with the last-place finisher having the first pick of whether to be player one, two, three, or four the next game. People typically pick to go as late as possible, which is how I got stuck as player one. This gets me in trouble. While I've played Black Belt before and remember liking it, I've forgotten: this karate-theme game has a set of upper flippers. If you don't use them fast when you launch the ball, you're going to drain the ball. Everyone else learns from my sad experience. I come in last, by far, and while I probably couldn't have gotten first place, I could have gotten third, if I'd had my first ball to play.

So for the first round I have five wins, seven losses. Weak start, but if I can manage about as many wins as losses the first day I'll be in B Division, the best I could plausibly hope to compete in. Right now I'm 636th of the thousand players. bunny_hugger, on bank 67, Zephyrean, has played 24 (licensed from the show and a game she's never touched or even clearly heard of before), Wizard (an old electromechanical friend), Party Zone (a late solid-state friend), and Gorgar, to get eight wins and four losses. She's 277th of the thousand. MWS, on bank 63, Achernar, has had to play Pirates of the Caribbean; he's been worrying the past week about having to play the Jersey Jack Pirates of the Caribbean game. He doesn't; he's playing the Stern pinball game. He's also played 2001, an electromechanical game; and Party Zone (not the one bunny_hugger played) and Cyclopes, a fantastically ugly game. He's had an ugly round, getting three wins and nine losses. He's 839th of the thousand.

Round two. I'm on bank 52, Triangulum. The modern game is Jersey Jack's Wizard of Oz, which I've always loved. It's set up hard, of course. But I've figured how to get the Emerald City Multiball going, and cruise to an easy first-place win. Our electromechanical is Williams's 1974 Star Pool, a game about hitting a little spinning disc in the center of the playfield. I love its feel but take last place. Next is The Shadow, a modern game serving as the late solid state. Bizarrely, everyone playing does really well at starting modes, which you do by shooting this scoop that on every other Shadow I have ever played on is so hard to shoot everybody ignores it. All right. Other people even get Khan Multiball started; this is lucrative but very hard to shoot on purpose. So I put up 235 million, a respectable score considering this is a Pinburgh-tournament-settings game, but it's only good for third place. Last game, the early solid state, is Gottleib's 1981 Volcano, which will always hold a place for me as one of the games of my perfect-failure, 0-12, round from Pinburgh 2016. This time around, I just ... have everything working right, including one ball in which I get the multiball started repeatedly. Another player makes a good charge at my 677,010 score, but he finishes at only 549,040.

My round is seven wins, five losses, bringing my record to 12-12. This is exactly the pace I want for the day. It brings me to 457th in the field. bunny_hugger was playing Zootherium, bank 34: the modern KISS which she hates, Time Zone, Addams Family which she likes, and Solar Ride. She's gone 3-9, bringing her record to 11-13, which I'd still take. She's at 579th now. MWS has played bank 67, Zephyrean, so can commiserate with bunny_hugger. He goes 4-8, dropping his record to 7-17 and putting himself in 917th place. And, y'know, this is someone who's (as I write this) 296th-ranked in the world.

Round three. The last before lunch. I'm on bank 42, Youngster. We start on the early solid state, Bally's 1981 Flash (Ah-Ahhh) Gordon. I know it from many Classics tournaments in Fremont. This knowledge does not communicate well to this table, which gives me two near-house-balls (I got to hit the ball a couple times). But I do get within striking range of second place anyway. Next is the modern game, Sega's 1996 Goldeneye, which I also kind of know from Fremont games. The game has a special conditions sign: the Satellite Ramp is disabled. The Satellite ramp is used to start the easiest multiball; does this mean that that multiball's disabled or does it mean we'll get the multiball started by making some alternate shot? Nobody's willing to quite risk trying either way. I have game that's just a mess, but I hold on to take another third-place finish. Pfaugh, but at least I can finish strong.

The electromechanical game is Williams's 1971 Doodle Bug, a semi-ironic Pinburgh favorite since it was an A Division Finals game a couple years ago. The gimmick of the game is the Doodle Bug, a captive ball which you can set bouncing infinitely between two targets, which will score points each bounce. The catch is a lot of switches on the playfield turn this off, spoiling the fun. Also that the score starts out petty so it's a lot of noise and motion to little end. Also the game has a gap between the kickers and the flippers, so that if you obey pinball player reflex and hold the flipper up to trap the ball, you'll drain the ball, and it'll be your fault. I avoid doing this, although the game does rocket the ball into the gap between flipper and kicker some, and I have a last-place finish. By 400 points, too.

Well. The last game, the late-solid-state, is Williams's 1988 Taxi, I know and remember well. This is a game that if you can make the skill shot three times you're likely going to win. Nobody's quite good at the skill shot, but, you know? I put together 1.4 million points, not bad for failing to do anything with multiball. The only disappointing part is everybody else did better, including one person who collected the jackpot.

I finish with two wins, ten losses. This is not my worst finish in a Pinburgh round, but it's bad. My record is now 14-22 and while I'm not sunk, yet, I am in a hole. That round dropped me to 797th. bunny_hugger, on bank 45, Youthlikeness, has played Stern's NBA (remembered as part of my perfect round from 2017), Hokus Pokus, Freddy: Nightmare on Elm Street (everyone hates this game as it's confusing and sluggish and weird), and Xenon. She went 8-4, bringing her record to a respectable 19-17 and bouncing her up to 426th place in the tournament. MWS, on bank 71, Yieldance (see what I mean about vocabulary words?), has played Medieval Madness (everybody's good at this game), Space Race, The Shadow (not the same physical table that I played), and Power Play. He's gone 7-5, bringing him to the same 14-22 that I had, although he's now seeded 785th. (There's 65 of us tied at 14-22, and so far as I'm aware the seeding within that was arbitrarily assigned.)

MWS and I had to get out of there. bunny_hugger was willing to go eat, too.

Trivia: Between 1801 and 1811 Glasgow, Scotland's population grew about 30 percent each year. Source: How The Scots Invented The Modern World, Arthur Herman.

Currently Reading: Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, Mike Wallace.

PS: Now finally we get to February 2018! The Meridian Mall always has a Chinese New Year festival, with a parade and a talent show, and we try to get to it every year. Please enjoy pictures of this through to about ... oh ... looks like Sunday.


The Chinese Dragon performers gathering ahead of the parade.


Dragon and Lion performers gathering to hear their instructions.


And they load the drum up for the parade.