December 12th, 2019

krazy koati

You've got to believe in your gut you'll never get caught in a rut

This past Saturday had the last of the really high-value tournaments for the year. There's still some good pinball opportunities ahead. But nothing like Frosty Fest, which last year gave the top four finishers more than ten International Flipper Pinball Association points --- enough to make a position --- and gave the top fifteen finishers more than two points, enough to at least count for most people. It's forty people, playing progressive strikes. It would always draw a lot of the people who expect to make the state championship series. More, this year, since host AND is also hosting the state championship series. This would be the first chance in a year that many of us would have to play the games that'll be so important the third weekend in January.

bunny_hugger and I went, of course. So did MWS. ADM, who's decided this month to try and make state after not really competing all year, and just might do it, I had thought was attending but did not. COE, who's suspiciously vocal about how the system allows bunny_hugger to be in the state championship series year after year when he is never close, said he would attend and then didn't show up.

The Progressive Strikes format is simple enough. You play in groups of four or three people (or, at the very end, two). If you win a match you take zero strikes. Come in second --- lose to one person --- you take one strike. Come in third --- lose to two people --- you take two strikes. Guess what happens if you come in third, as I did on the first game, Transformers? That's all right, though; you get to accumulate, in this case, fifteen strikes total before you're knocked out. It's just one game. You can recover. My second game was Title Fight, a weird early-90s Gottleib, but I repeat myself. I played it some last year and learned the basic trick --- shoot it into the ring of this boxing-themed game over and over --- and house-balled three times. One time I plunged and the ball hit something and rocketed down the right outlane before I or anyone could even see what happened. Another last.

The next game was Dirty Harry, a mid-90s Williams game with a strategy I know and can follow easily: shoot the headquarters scoop at left, which feeds to shoot the Magnum Force lane on the right, which feeds to the side flipper that sends the ball to a ramp which brings it to the right flipper, ready for the headquarter scoop again. Do this regularly and you'll win, at the slight risk of playing a boring game. That's fine; boring is good. I don't play a boring game. I barely play a game at all. I don't get last place, but by a whisker-thin margin. After three rounds I'm halfway to being knocked out. The next round for me is a three-player group, mercifully; I can't get more than two strikes. The mercy doesn't last: I'm up against bunny_hugger. It's on the Data East Jurassic Park pinball game from the 90s, which is one of those games you either get the flow of (shoot the scoop in the middle that starts a mode, shoot the right ramp to relight that scoop, and then shoot that scoop again) or you don't. I never do. bunny_hugger is fussing her way towards getting it, but makes a mistake at the end of the second ball, wasting the valuable Smart Missile that she could have used third ball to collect multiball jackpots instead. No matter; she still beats me. She and I both lose to MSS, though, and I'm on ten strikes of the fifteen allowed.

bunny_hugger is meanwhile in a lousy mood. She sees this correctly as a chance to secure her position for state. If she does as well as she did last year --- tenth place --- she'll earn something like three and a half IFPA points, helping her fend off ADM's surge. She can do that if she takes about one strike a round. She won her first round, took one strike in the second, but came in last place in the third, on Transformers. Her second-place finish on Jurassic Park leaves her with five strikes, still doing well and in the top eight of people playing. If she can hold this pace she might even make final four, which would leave ADM in the dust. But things get worse for her. The next game, the single-player electromechanical (her traditional strength!) is Neptune, and she takes last place. Next round, Aerobatics, a European single-player electromechanical, brutally punishes her, with another last-place finish after three house balls.

Me? I got put in Graunaids of the Galaxy, against MWS, DAD, and WS2, a guy I barely know. The game was a disaster for me the day before. Today? It's magnificent. The goal is to complete modes for each of the main characters of the first movie. Everyone starts with the most lucrative, but challenging, of them, Quill's Quest. I'm the only one to finish this, and on the first ball. Which is powerful because if you finish a mode, you get a bonus, based on how much of the mode you completed and how quickly you did it, every ball from then on. When I finished Quill's Quest, I won the game, although we wouldn't know it until everyone else finished their third balls.

This is almost a moment of destinies changing. MWS has had good rounds so far, accumulating three strikes in four rounds. This round is his first last-place finish. He has last-place finishes each of the next three rounds, too, knocking him out after such a strong start. He goes out to his car to sulk it off, and leaves instead, apologizing the next day for his foul mood.

Me, though? This promises to be a new start. The next game is Hotdoggin', a ski-themed early solid state. I'm in a group with AJG, but also with two people who aren't so comfortable with early solid state games. And I can poach from AJG the key strategy. This is a bonus-heavy game. There's a set of targets that increase the bonus multiplier. I learn from AJG how to shoot those targets. I don't manage to overtake AJG, but I do pretty darned good, considering. One strike is not ideal, but if I can hang out in first or second place a few rounds? I'll have a good day.

My next game is Jackbot, which I know extremely well. I do absolutely nothing on it, and come in a distant last place. I have fourteen strikes; every game is now win-or-go-home. The next game: Barracora, which I know tolerably well from Fremont. My opponents: AJR, who's most likely going to win state, GRV, who can win any early solid state game if he doesn't lose his temper and tilt it out, and RC, who's at least as good as me but just doesn't play much anymore. Doesn't matter. AJR and GRV put up incredible games, ones that go on forever and that reach three million points on a game that's usually won with a half-million. Not that I come near a half-million; I play a lousy game and am knocked out, finishing at 32nd in a field of 38. MWS, by the way, finished 31st.

bunny_hugger, meanwhile? After two last-place finishes in a row she manages a first-place finish on the early-solid-state Playboy (helping MWS get another last place). She makes a shot that's supposed to earn an extra ball, which isn't awarded, and other players point out how unfair this is until she's ready to kick something. On Flash Gordon she takes second place, in a three-player group, but doesn't feel good about this finish as she's still averaging 1.5 strikes per round. She needs some wins to get her target of one per round. On another Aerobatic round, this against AJR, she takes second place again. She nearly takes third; the gap between her and AJR is so tiny that at first we misread the results and think he edged her out. On Attack From Mars, playing MJS --- who up to this point I hadn't realized was there, making me wonder if I missed ADM and COE after all --- she has a middling score that holds out for second place. This is her fourteenth strike. Her next game: Hotdoggin'. Win or go home.

I take her to the table and explain what I know, including where on the right flipper to shoot to get the bonus-multiplier targets. The game starts. GRV's player one. He loses the ball early, and shakes the game, tilting, as he'll do. RLM, the second player, starts to play but tilts almost right away. The game's sensitive but he hadn't been doing that much. My suspicion is the tilt bob was still swaying from GRV's first ball, and RLM was punished for not waiting long enough to start play. (But you can't wait forever, either, even after someone tilts.) And then it gets really weird. VR, another player we vaguely know, plunges but the flippers are dead. He has a tilt. He's anxious about this. It looks like a tilt-through, where one player tilted the machine so hard that the tilt bob was still swaying when the next player's turn started. Modern games are designed not to do this, mostly. But an early solid state? It can happen. The penalties are clear. RLM will take a last place for the match. VR will get a full game, played after everyone else's. This cheats bunny_hugger of her coveted player-four position; going last is usually an advantage, since you can better calibrate what risky shots to take.

Still, she has a great game, one that would have ... nearly beaten AJG in the round I played. Plenty to crush GRV, who gives up, plunging and walking away himself. RLM is awarded a game score of zero, giving him three strikes and ending the tournament for him. VR takes his turn, at the end, and ... gads but he just has a fantastic game. It's as though he learned everything I had communicated to bunny_hugger, and with the experience of everyone else's play, was able to beat her score. Also AJG's. It's an amazing performance, but it also knocks bunny_hugger out. She finishes in a six-way tie for 14th place (which the IFPA will rate as 16th place). And goes out in a fowl mood.

GRV will be knocked out next round. VR makes it through four more rounds and ends in a tie for fifth place. I try to spend some time consoling bunny_hugger, which I can never do, while nursing my own hurt feelings, and frustration that even playing these games afterward on my own isn't revealing anything that good. I can see disaster ahead in the state championship series, unless I can play Grauniads four times each round, which I can't.

There's some consolations. JJ has provided food, much of it vegetarian, through the day, including vegetarian taco filling that's so good bunny_hugger makes one between each round for a while there. JJ packs what's left over for us to take home, and we forget to do so. They have cupcakes with animal rings, so I get one with a little plastic raccoon figure. There's a raffle, and in it I win a translite, the backglass art from a pinball game. It's World Poker Tour, an early-2000s Stern game that they printed up 7.8 billion backglasses for. Anyone who's entered, run, or walked past a pinball tournament has been awarded one. And JJ (who with AND keeps chickens) brought one in, just before she was to bed down for the night, giving bunny_hugger the chance to pet her head and shake her claw. bunny_hugger loves chickens, and fantasizes some about having a couple. The serious fantasy is keeping a turkey, but a couple chickens could nest in our garage pretty well. And, really, getting to fuss over a chicken for a little while without any of the responsibilities of ownership is maybe best of all.

And there's still IFPA points. Based on last year's results, bunny_hugger will probably earn around two points. Not a big help, but something at least. And since ADM didn't compete, this is his missed chance. She is at least not falling behind.

Except.

The person finishing in second place this tournament? (First place is AJG, the person anyone would guess if they had to say 'anyone but AJR'. AND didn't compete.) TY, a guy who plays in some tournaments in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and not much else. These are low-value things, but they've come together to put him in 28th place, about ten IFPA points behind bunny_hugger. Second-place finish in FrostyFest, based on last year's result, is something like 18 points. This one day brought him from being last of the alternates to being around 20th place. It's a great story for him. It squeezes bunny_hugger all the harder.

It's not impossible for her to make state, even yet. But there's no more high-value tournaments in the year. There's two medium-value tournaments, in Fremont, and if she finishes top-four in both she's in, but that's asking a lot. There's several low-value tournaments that would help if she won, such as Silver Bells or the New Year's Eve tournament. But going down to the last hours of the year, having to pull out a win or else? That's miserable.

We drove home feeling rotten, and thinking over how we didn't make ourselves any worse off for all this time and trouble. But we sure didn't make a single thing better for us.

Trivia: In May 2008 alone one in every 96 Las Vegas householders had received a foreclosure filing against them. Source: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, John Cassidy.

Currently Reading: Apollo: The Lost And Forgotten Missions, David J Shayler.


PS: Walking around Elitch Gardens some more.

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Back towards the midway up front of Elitch Gardens. That's the Trocadero theater on the left again.


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More of the midway, and a pizza place that looks impressively large and that we didn't eat at. We were there a bit ahead of any of the bands that rate posters, too.


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The entrance to Elitch Gardens's KiddieLand.