Pinball is fluourishing in Portland, which is a good thing. It seems like every time I go out, tables that were usually idle except at peak times are being played more and more often, by people of various skill levels– but most importantly, even the beginners and casual players seem to be taking their games more seriously. I often see people concentrating, checking out rule sheets, and playing multiple games trying to improve their scores.
That seems like good news for the pinball industry in general, the scene in PDX, and for competition levels. It’s good to be pushed by other local players, and to have scores up around town to gun for. Unfortunately it seems like there’s something of a glass ceiling for players that for whatever reason find themselves becoming serious enough to want to take their skills to the next level– namely, inconsistency of playing conditions that makes it much more difficult to practice particular skills and improve on particular games.
Some amount of inconsistency is the nature of the beast with pinball– there’s a huge number of moving parts in every game. There’s constant friction from a fairly heavy metal ball bearing flying at decent velocities along a sheet of waxed plywood. Many players probably notice the conditions of the same table change over the course of a single session, as heat from lights and coils builds up and changes the temperature and humidity inside the game, just slightly enough to make the game behave differently from ball to ball. Maybe that sounds like mumbo-jumbo, but I see it all the time on guitars– you can have it in tune backstage, and as soon as it’s under the heat of stage lights, see it go out of tune again– and that’s a much smaller chunk of wood and metal with a lot less going on than a pinball machine!
Most players just come to accept that the same table can be playing differently from day to day, that there’s going to be wear-and-tear, that even two identical games can feel radically differently on different sites, and etc; but is it too much to expect that the games we play seriously be kept tuned up at least as well as possible for what that particular game is capable of? I for one am a long way from being a competitive tournament player. But I still feel serious enough about my game that I would like to get there, sooner rather than later. It takes years of practice to become an A player– but if you’ve ever done anything seriously, from sports to music to cooking to art, you know that the tools you use and the environment you practice in makes all the difference in how and how quickly you develop. Read the rest of this entry »
Tiffany’s Diner is located in a small, blue-collar suburb of Saint Louis named Maplewood. My Grandmother used to live down the street from Tiffany’s back when it was called Morgan’s. It’s a classic 50’s diner, not some modern throwback, and the only 24-hour restaurant within a huge radius. It is, and always has been, employed by an army of trash-talking no-bullshit-taking kick-your-face-in Grandma’s.
This dialogue is typical of a trip to Tiffany’s:
Grandma: Sit your ass down and get your order ready before I kick-the-bucket and take you with me. And don’t you goddamn dare order the special.
Customer: Where should I sit?
Grandma: You think I give a shit where you sit? Don’t make me jump over this bar and beat you with a spatula. I may look old but I’ll still knock some teeth out before you get a hold of me.
Customer: Okay, sorry. I’ll have a slinger with a hamburger patty.
Grandma: You’ll get whatever I goddamn give you. Don’t think I won’t rip this ticket up. Keep your goddamn mouth shut while you wait, too, I’m sick of hearing every asshole in this city run their stupid jabberjaw.
Customer: Okay, sorry.
This goes on all day and night. People keep coming back for more abuse to their egos and large intestines. The only thing meaner than the service at Tiffany’s Diner is the pinball machine in the corner: a 1980 Bally Viking. Legend has it that the owners bought this solid state machine new and it hasn’t moved since. I’m not sure if it is an epoxy job or just softening linoleum, but Viking is glued to the floor. In the twelve or so years that I’ve been playing Viking I have never managed to slide it even a meager centimeter.
What makes this game the most ruthless pin alive is the tilt sensor. It cannot be bumped, shaken, swayed or prodded in any way, shape or form without the flippers going flatline, the lights going out, the ball draining and the speakers playing a monotone noise like a dialtone. It has always had the same high score: 787,000 without initials; no doubt the work of some unknown ripper who faded into the night. The replay is 270,000, a feat which I have accomplished less than five times in over a thousand games. That same statistic applies to extra balls, too.
Viking is also one of the only machines I’ve played where it is common to play an entire game without hitting the metal ball with a flipper. When you plunge the ball it bounces around some bumpers at the top before it falls into a saucer. On the wrong day, at the wrong time, this saucer will kick the ball out, it will fall through a spinner and b-line straight down the toilet every single time. Try to save it with a slap save and a nudge: Tilt. Playing Viking on a day like this is maddening.
Viking’s saving grace is its discounted rate. For 50 cents Viking will offer you not 2, but 3 credits, thus making it the world’s cheapest pinball machine. It has a beautiful backglass full of crazy fighting Norseman, beer, weapons and busty wenches. And it has some really difficult shots, like a lane above the left flipper with four drop targets and bullseye at the end of it, and another playfield target worth fifty-thousand only when a random siren is going off.
Maplewood is somewhat of a haven for pinball, there is a perfect Shadow at the Laundromat next to a nice Roadshow. The bowling alley has a really loose and fun World Cup Soccer, and another Laundromat has Harlem Globetrotters and Addam’s Family. The pool hall has a nice No Good Gophers, too. But somehow, when I visit home, I always find myself back at Tiffany’s diner, taking a one load of bullshit from some geriatric hooker working a flattop grill, and another, bigger load of bullshit from Viking.
Herb “Orbit” Belrose