austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

Everybody, if you can, do the Bartman

Weekend before last (I'm falling behind, but because we're doing stuff) we went to Kalamazoo, for what seems to be the first time either bunny_hugger or I made it to that famous town, other than riding through it on the train. Our objective: Pinball At The Zoo, a three-day Pinball-based convention which inexplicably ran Thursday through Saturday. Well, some merchants mentioned the long drives they had to get to to get back home or to their next affair, so maybe Sunday is a conventional travel day. Unfortunately we set out late, because we thought the thing ran longer into the evening than it did, so we missed almost all of the last day of the contests we'd hoped to see.

Since we did get there for the last hours of the show the gathering was slowly dissipating, with vendors packing stuff up and people who'd brought their machines in starting to take them down and move them out. There was still plenty to wander about, though, and the chance to sample many pinball machines we'd not seen in a long while --- Rocky and Bullwinkle, for example, which was as great a use of theming for a mediocre game as I'd remembered from the late 90s when the Latham Circle Mall had an arcade and, for that matter, tenants --- or had heard about but never seen --- Hurricane, last of the roller-coaster-themed game sequence that brought us Comet and Cyclone and a fantastic game in its own --- or had never imagined --- Raven, whose backglass photo somehow isn't Internet famous; the game is mediocre but I loved its Trapper Keeper.

And then there were oddities: cocktail table pinball games, for example, which were turned off by the time we got to them but still looked like a fascinating experiment. Or Orbitor 1, a game we did get to play, that's several fascinating kinds of experiments none of which seemed to lead anywhere: the 1982 game has a distinctly non-level playfield, to go with its cratered-moon theme, so that the ball would not move in straight lines even if it weren't for the several magnetic blocks on the field. The result is an unnervingly strange game, not least because the ball rolling behind the flippers doesn't mean you're anywhere near the end of your turn, and that the playfield slowly changes color just makes it the more wondrous. It's probably not surprising there aren't many games like this --- there's very few targets and strategy has to be completely rethought since aiming is nearly futile --- but it is surprising that more of its gimmicks haven't been used somewhere. It's a fascinating outlier, one of those machines that comes from a Martian view of pinball.

We got to see some of our friends from the pinball league, including our league wizard, who won the Pinball Classics tournament shortly afte we arrived. (We may also have inadvertently helped him win, as we apparently distracted one of his opponents by encroaching too closely to his line of sight during a game, but if this produced any competitive pinball scandals we were shielded from the drama.) And at the snacks table the quirky selection included refrigerated Moxie, so, bonus points for that.

We didn't buy any serious pinball merchandise, even though vendors were selling (for example) a playfield from the Roller Coaster Tycoon pinball game that somehow exists, but I did manage to get my name on a high score table: that of the disappointing 1990 Simpsons pinball game. That game dates from a time when The Simpsons were so new they only had three catchphrases each, repeated endlessly, and in which Bart ended every single thing he said with ``man''. It's honestly kind of an annoying game to play, purely because of the sound effects, especially in pristine condition, where the ramp shots that would ordinarily often fail and punish you with a ball-drain don't do that. So, that's the machine I snuck briefly onto the high score table for.

Trivia: The first news of the attack on Fort Sumter (12 April 1861) reached London on the 25th of April. (It was telegraphed by a Reuters agent in Londonerry, who received the news from the Nova Scotian, bringing the unconfirmed report from Portland, Maine.) Source: The Power Of News: The History of Reuters, Donald Read.

Currently Reading: What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton.


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