[ Sorry to be late. Had an emergency night of playing pinball at our hipster bar. They got in an Attack From Mars. ]
So, back to Kings Island: while the lines for the biggest rides, including Beast, the 1979 wooden roller coaster that's just insane and that the park in a little memorial plaza tries to credit with bringing back the thrill ride, remained enormous, you don't actually have to go on huge lines for the biggest rides. The park's lovely and even features stuff like roving performers; we saw a five-man band entertaining the people at the train ride station and reminding folks they'd be around the park later. (We didn't see them again.) bunny_hugger also showed and explained to me the location of The Crypt, a ride that's gone now because it started life as Tomb Raider: The Ride and after the change of ownership there was no way to remove the Lara Croft elements so as to make sense --- apparently they just covered stuff and turned off the sound so nobody knew what was going on --- it lingered a little while and then was given up on, though the building's used for a Halloween museum of oddities. Wikipedia says it was one of the park's costliest rides ever.
We looked for pinball in the arcade, of course, but saw none, as expected. They did have a Pac Man-themed air hockey table, which had a fun twist on the game: after playing a while with the normal-size puck, the table drops dozens of mini-pucks on the table, producing a spectacular madness of action. The mini-pucks are worth fewer points than the normal-sized ones, but there's enough of them you don't feel any shame at own goals. We were skeptical of the thing but on playing it were pretty much hooked.
Along the way we saw a Troika ride (Shake, Rattle, and Roll) which was closed for repair. And this was really, seriously closed: the center post was removed and the ride supported by bases underneath the cars. It looked like it was hovering in midair. We were delighted enough it made us almost not notice that the Vortex roller coaster had a line about twelve days long in front of it.
So we diverted to The Racer, a wooden racing coaster that was one of the park's original rides (and apparently an occasional star on TV shows I didn't watch like The Brady Bunch. This also had an annoyingly long line, but it moved at a tolerable clip --- the great thing about racing coasters is they carry a lot of people off --- and the ride itself is a lot of fun. In particular, since the two tracks follow a pretty much out-and-back style, when you're at the top of the hills you see four nearly parallel rows of roller coaster tracks, almost like you'd see in the good old days. This is in a part of the park called Coney Mall, meant to look like an old-fashioned amusement park, and the scene of The Racer from atop any of its hills is just perfect.
By now our energy was flagging so we went looking for coffee, to find that there is a Starbucks near the front, and it had a line about six hours long in front of it. I imagined someone else, somewhere, would also have coffee and we found it at an ice cream shop. At least they offered coffee, but didn't have any made just then, but they were happy to brew a pot and this all seemed surprisingly complicated. The staff also seemed not quite sure --- I could swear one of the people insisted to another that yes, that was coffee, there --- since they apparently forgot to put grounds in the coffee maker. The liquid came out transparent, like a weak tea, but by then bunny_hugger just accepted it as better than falling asleep rather than wait for a coffee-based coffee to be made. We sat by the big water fountain and a bit away from a statue of Don Quixote which emerges from one of the buildings --- this is in the International Plaza area, which almost explains it --- and enjoyed the location.
Another park we stopped in for not so long was one of the dedicated smoking sections. Back when this was a Paramount park apparently it had a statue of the starship Enterprise. Nowadays it's got what sure looks like it had been a waterfall and a bunch of pools, all dry, and that lingering mildewed smell of old cigarettes.
This is nearby the Eiffel Tower, a one-third-scale replica, which marks the end of the International Plaza area by the front of the park and the dominant element of the entrance way's skyline. bunny_hugger didn't feel up to the height, but I did, and I took the elevator to the top. It's a fantastic view, the sort I rarely have at amusement parks since we don't tend to go to ones with observation towers this tall. But to look noticeably down on every roller coaster in the park, to be able to see three hundred-plus feet straight down, to discover that they have not just a floral clock (that keeps the actual time, including with a second hand) but a floral calendar --- well, that's beautiful stuff. The ride operator mentioned that until only a couple years ago --- she wasn't sure but thought it about a decade --- the observation platform didn't have the vertical bars too narrow for a human head to fit through, so someone visiting back then would have a view not just spectacular but really, really awful for someone with even a modest fear of heights. While I was up bunny_hugger saw some people sticking their cameras out past the bars; there's a good chance one of them was me.
We believed the line for The Beast to have shrunk a bit, and at any rate had to ride that at least, so we braved it. The Beast is a curious roller coaster that in many ways ought to have been a fiasco: the park gave its construction to a guy who'd never built a roller coaster before, who kept just ordering more and more elements be added, and the construction company didn't question his orders since management kept paying for it, and management didn't pay attention, apparently, when the budget just kept growing. But the result was a magnificent roller coaster, one that's paced a little weirdly --- notably, it's got a second lift hill just to set up the last twenty seconds or so of ride --- but one that wanders off into the uncharted-looking forest as if it were the only thing in the world. It also really feels like it's on the verge of going out of control --- arguably the greatest selling point of wooden roller coasters --- at many points in the ride. It was annoying there should be such a wait, but The Beast is worth it.
The other ride we had to wait for was Diamondback, a roller coaster built since bunny_hugger last visited. This is a steel roller coaster that reaches about eighty miles per hour, and 230 feet in height, and it's got a satisfyingly twisty path. Its big gimmick is its splashdown: the roller coaster crosses the Swan Lake, and drops into it. There's a hole in the lake so the cars don't actually get wet, but baffles reaching from the cars do hit the water and produce an enormous splash. Also a feature: just before the station there's a big plastic bin with smashed cell phones, warning what happens if you don't put your phone somewhere secure like inside your pocket for the ride. (Also while on the ride I noticed on the TV screens the park's put up to entertain people in line a mention about Community being picked up for a sixth season by something or other; I'd forget to actually look up what happened for about a week.)
If you believed the wait times for roller coasters we couldn't ride more than maybe Diamondback before the park would close. But we figured to take advantage of the advancing hour --- so people would clear out --- and that parks tend to overstate how long the lines will take --- for obvious reasons, or if you prefer to be sinister, for the obvious sinister reasons  --- and supposed that, what the heck, why not try Vortex? This is a mid-80s ride, an Arrow mega-looper, from the time when Arrow Dynamics was making a lot of steel roller coasters built on the premise that riders should be turned upside-down as often as possible. They were really big for a while, and then Arrow went out of business, and Arrow mega-loopers are a vanishing breed.
Vortex's launch station is a belfry, the sort where you might find bats, as the original early-80s Bat roller coaster launched from there. The Bat 1981 didn't last long, but the lift station survived because that sort of thing just happens in amusement parks with plenty of room, and in 1987 it became the curiously-themed launch station. The wait was not so bad as the queue estimate promised, a good sign for getting to other roller coasters, and at the launch station the crew was racing one another to get trains unloaded, loaded, safety-checked, and dispatched in record time. They aimed to get us going in thirty seconds, and came pretty darned close. When we got off they were settling for forty-five seconds.
As promised the Vortex had a lot of loops. Lots of loops. The thing about Arrow coasters of the era is they weren't really good at making smooth transitions from, say, a straight piece of track to one banked to the side. The natural smoothness of metal tracks is interrupted by being beaten against the roller coaster cars. It's a very airy, very loopy ride, as one might hope.
We did get out in enough time to maybe jump into the queue of one other attraction. We ran for The Beast, which we'd get to ride at night. It was a huge line. It was also a line that stopped about a quarter-hour before the park closed, in order that the fireworks for the evening could be safely fired. They promised to reopen the ride after the fireworks were done --- which would be when the park closed --- but it also meant that we wouldn't ride anything but The Beast, at night. Which is fantastic.
But the queue did come to a stop for the fireworks, and we could see them from ... a crouching position, since we were underneath a covered roof, and obstructed by trees. For the second night running we were seeing Kings Island's fireworks show, but one that would only let us see bits of the program. But seeing a fireworks show from the waiting area of a roller coaster is still great; only while riding a roller coaster might be better.
And then the fireworks passed, and the park closed, and the ride resumed. The Beast is an amazing roller coaster, and magnificent fun, and then at night --- well. It ventures out not just into the woods, but into the dark woods, for an experience of being rattled and thrown around at high speed without the visual cues that you're actually going somewhere. It was a great ride already but bunny_hugger was right: The Beast at night is one for the ages.
When our ride was done, though, that meant we were done for the night: the busier roller coasters were still letting their queues ride, but there wasn't anything to go on, and all the concession stands were long closed up, and the arcades shut down or shutting down, and even the lights in the park were being turned off because we had been that long in going. The park was even putting announcements out over the speakers that while they appreciated our visit, the park was closed, and we should come back when they're open. It was about 11:00, an hour after the park's closing. For the Fourth of July, and the weekend after, the park would be open to midnight, but we wouldn't be there for the Fourth of July. We had an appointment.
 The sinister reason a park might overstate its ride times, if you feel sinister: the deal to buy Fast Pass, or whatever line-cutting program the park has, looks better if you believe you're avoiding a 45-minute wait instead of avoiding a 15-minute wait. I take the non-sinister view that a park sees only happy patrons if the actual waits are a less than the warning signs indicate.
Trivia: Reuters incorrectly reported a German declaration of war against the United Kingdom for the 4th of August, 1914, the result of the British Admiralty misinterpreting radio messages to German shipping to prepare for war. The next day Reuters (correctly) reported that it was the British government which declared the state of war. Source: The Power of News: The History of Reuters, Donald Read.
Currently Reading: Dangerous Rhythm: Why Movie Musicals Matter, Richard Barrios.