And now, this week, I had something remarkable happen: I beat the Lord of the Rings pinball. I've never done that on a real pinball machine (as opposed to the Pinball Arcade app on iPad) before.
This probably needs some context, since most folks likely don't realize ``beating the machine'' is even a definable concept. In modern (post-1990) pinballs, normally, there are various modes, started by hitting some target or other. During these modes the scoring rules change, and various shots such as hitting a certain target a number of times, or hitting other targets within a set number of seconds, or similar special challenges are worth more. If you complete all the modes in a game, you get to the Wizard Mode, which is often very analogous to a Boss Battle: a challenge to complete a series of tricky shots often in a limited time.
And this Wednesday, while playing with bunny_hugger and her father, and being watched by her mother, I had an extraordinary game of Lord of the Rings in which I got to one of its Wizard Modes --- Destroy The Ring. I've been eligible for it before --- you get there by completing three multiball modes (named for each of the books) and then managing a couple of ramp shots --- but never got it because those ramp shots are hard and, to actually destroy the ring, you have to shoot the pinball to the most dangerous shot on the board, into a Ring prop, that I'm terrible at and that has a very high risk of draining if you don't get it just right. And then you have to shoot the Ring again, only harder, because normally the Ring prop has a magnet that catches the ball if you get close enough, but for the second destroy-the-ring shot the magnet is off and you have to hit the ball even harder and even more directly at the target.
But this time, I managed it. All the shots leading up to it, and then that dangerous shot into the Ring, and then the even-more-dangerous second shot into the Ring.
Beating a Wizard Mode is a pretty dramatic thing, and the more modern pinball machines make even more of it, with the field and with animation on the dot-matrix score display and music playing and all that, and the Lord of the Rings pinball has a really satisfying resolution. The animation shows the ring being tossed into the volcano, the board lights up and goes dark and flashes, all the targets that can be automated flick and snap, the flippers flip themselves to great sound, and the game --- goes silent and dark, a triumphant break in the game flow that just feels so very enormous.
Naturally, bunny_hugger's father had wandered off, possibly to the bathroom, possibly to a bathroom in a completely different bar in another town, and missed all of this. Also naturally this wasn't anywhere near Pinball League Night or anyone from it. Some of the best people in our pinball league haven't destroyed the ring, not for want of trying. It was stunning.
The game continued --- telling me there was ``more work to be done''  --- and I actually had a fair rest of the ball after that, despite the sloshing about of nerves and anxiety and adrenaline from all this. And it turns out there are even more advanced Wizard Modes that I could in theory reach, but I'll need to be a rather better player to realistically hope to see them.
I came out with a score of 66,520,710, by far my best, and about a third of what I'd need to be on the high score table.
 The first time we ever saw someone Destroy The Ring, he also got this message. bunny_hugger wondered what it could mean. I quipped, ``Well, that Shire isn't going to Scour itself,'' which is a pretty good sick joke for someone who hasn't read the books or seen the movies.
Trivia: A 1985 study by Amos Tversky found that, on the basis of the 1980-81 Philadelphia 76ers performance, a basketball player was less likely to make a shot if the made the last one than he is if he missed the last one. Source: How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities, John Cassidy.
Currently Reading: What Makes This Book So Great, Jo Walton.