“Dipping” into a new pinball spot

The Little Dipper on Main Street in downtown Houston had been on my list of pinball places to check out for some time. The last time I was in the area, though, there was a rainstorm blowing through the city. Instead of hanging back to get in a few games of pinball I decided to just go home and return another day. I didn’t realize “another day” would be a few months later, though…

The first order of business was to get in a few rounds of pinball. To my amazement someone left a couple of credits on The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, a Williams classic from 1991. I ran into two main problems: a missing diverter/gate on the spinner lane, and a non-functional right slingshot. The missing diverter/gate leads to much shorter ball times and less satisfying games (though to be fair, the tilt is loose enough to save almost anything if you’re willing to play that rough); the dead slingshot is honestly more help than hindrance given the rather steep playfield pitch.

Next there was just enough time for a few games of Spider-Man. This one played a lot better. It took me a while to get the hang of the upper ramp shot, but I was able to benefit from my prior experience playing this game during league nights. In the end I was able to squeeze five plays out of one paid credit for 50 cents–not too shabby, if I say so myself.

Coinciding with my visit Monday night was the monthly trivia night. I’ve never really tried my hand at bar trivia. I found my way onto a team with a couple of women. One of those women came up with the incredibly wacky team name of “Scam Likely”. And with that, trivia night was on. We got a lot of questions right, and in the end we wound up winning by a point. Both teams still playing at the end–mine and the opposing team–missed a very tough question about state mottos.

Trivia ended at around 9:15 pm. That left  just enough time to get in a few quick games of Family Guy and The Walking Dead. Family Guy played comparatively well but did kind of show its age as there were a couple of burnt out bulbs and the plunger was inconsistent. As for The Walking Dead, I never really liked this game as much compared to other games released around the same time. However, this one played flawlessly and may well be my first choice when I return here to play more pinball.

Highest scores on the night:

  • The Machine: Bride of Pinbot, 1.15M+
  • Spider-Man: 27.13M+
  • The Walking Dead: 28.21M+
  • Family Guy: 20.99M+

Odds and ends from the past month and change

I’ve gotten in the occasional round of pinball and arcade games here and there over the past couple of months, just haven’t had any time to post until today. I will be checking out a new local venue in the next few days and I wanted to get these up before then.

In rough order: July 21 at Darkhorse Tavern (Mr. and Mrs. Pac-Man), August 4 at Little Woodrow’s (World’s Largest Pac-Man/Galaga), August 18 and 25 at Speedy’s Fast Track (The Munsters, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, TMNT, Batman, Iron Maiden).

I know I’ve done better on Galaga (actually, I’ve done better on all of these). I’m still out there playing and do not intend to give up pinball any time soon.

A brief stopover at Big Star Bar

So I just happened to pass by Big Star Bar this past Tuesday. This location has just a Ripley’s Believe it or Not (Stern, 2004) which at one time was one of my favorite games (back when there was still a Tilt arcade in the lower level of The Galleria). This particular machine was a bit dirty but reportedly still played well. I tried my hand at it, failing to reach the replay score of 6M both times. The scoreboard photo represents the better of the two attempts.

Regrettably, during the third ball of the second game the lower right flipper began failing completely. Rather than take my chances with a third game I decided to call it a day.

On competition, judgment, fairness, decency, respect, honesty, citizenship, hopes, dreams, and the current situation

Hopefully you can forgive the rather obtuse post title, but I couldn’t think of anything better. The original title, the one I came up with for the original four-part series (that this post is replacing), was a heck of a lot worse. Nevertheless, this is a very difficult post to make, and one I had hoped to go my entire time as a blogger in competitive pinball and arcade gaming without having to make, but nevertheless, here we are.

I’m just going to cut right to the point. I set out to name as few names as needed to get my point across; thankfully, that meant I didn’t have to name any. I mean, if you guys want Rant Roulette, go read it. That’s not what this blog is, and unless there’s a major political/current events tie-in I’m not going to blog about pinball and arcade scene stuff over there. I don’t need two of the same blog; it would be silly.

The first things I have to say are about fairness, decency, respect, and honesty. If you have a problem with someone or what they did, it is best to raise it sooner rather than later. If you don’t communicate, it’s possible the other person doesn’t even realize there’s a problem. Some bloggers don’t care, and don’t have an easily accessible contact form. I do, but it’s been sitting there gathering dust for quite some time. I don’t know how much more available I can make myself for concerns and feedback.

The second is related to the above, but has to do a bit more about privacy. Specifically, it’s about the privacy of minor children, but it actually extends to everyone. Most tournament directors (TDs henceforth) don’t make this clear when signing up for a pinball tournament, but it needs to be more widely known: names as entered into the IFPA’s website or (most) tournament platforms (Matchplay, for example) are public. This means if you do not want your real legal name connected with your pinball playing history (for whatever reason), you should be playing under an alias. This means if you don’t want your child’s real name on the web, including blogs like this one, he/she should be registered under an alias. It is legal under the First Amendment to post names and even pictures of minor children for legitimate purposes under freedom of the press. If this is an issue for you as a TD, president, event host, etc, then this needs to be brought up and addressed under the rules in place for that league or tournament before it begins. (Honestly, in this case, it’s still censorship and it’s no less tedious or odious, but at least everyone is on the same page.) It certainly should not wait months (or longer) after the tournament has ended.

Also, the location where the tournament was held is also often public, particularly when it is a public venue. This is made available via the tournament platform long before it’s going to hit any blogs like this one. If you absolutely are that paranoid, that is where you should be looking to stop the predators going after your children.

Related to these, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be a publicity sponge under your real legal name and then scream when your “privacy” is being invaded by the mere mention of your name on a blog you don’t like. And it’s the same for your children if you are a parent. It’s upsetting to me that somehow there’s an issue with a post that triggers one Google result way down on page 3, yet there are at least 20 mentions of the same name above it all around the web, including the IFPA website and Matchplay, and probably more than that if I were to look hard enough.

The third has to do with competition, judgment, and fairness. If you’re going to penalize one player for something, then the rule needs to be applied equally to everyone, especially those who do the same thing in a more egregious or blatant fashion. You can’t have so-called “teacher’s pets” and expect everyone to think you’re running a fair pinball league (or for that matter, any other type of competitive game or sport league). It just doesn’t work like that. This is especially true when warning or sanctioning a player in what may appear to be a retaliatory fashion.

Next on the list is an item I’m going to touch on has to do with citizenship, but theoretically also decency and respect as well. Pinball, for many years, has had a rather unsavory reputation as a game of delinquents and rebels of all ages, from juveniles all the way up to adult gangsters. I would like to think, at least towards the end of the late 1990s, we were finally on our way to closing that chapter of history and re-establishing pinball as a game played by law-abiding citizens. For the vast majority of players who play for amusement only, this is not an issue. Unfortunately, that’s not everyone.

Gambling in a public place, in Texas, is a crime. If you do it, you are a criminal. I’m saying this in general terms and without naming names for a reason. Further, the amount of the wager, whether $100, $1, or 1¢, or any other amount, does not matter. If you want to play games for small wagers (“dollar games” or even “fiver games” or “tenner games” etc), then find someone with a well-maintained private collection and play there. It is bad enough in the nicer bars to have this kind of thing going on (in seedier ones it might be expected). It is especially tacky in a family arcade, or other places with pinball machines like laundromats. (If you have to use a laundromat, why aren’t you saving those dollars you’re wagering towards your own washer/dryer versus blowing them on silly pinball wagers?) Anyway, that little, say, $1 wager can easily wind up costing you $500 plus court costs and/or possibly uncomfortably negative publicity in the news media. Not worth it. (The law varies in other states; in some, gambling of any sort is illegal no matter what.)

I should clarify here that this refers to wagers on single games, and not to “bona fide contests to determine skill” such as tournaments; gambling as mentioned above is referring to the single-game “hustler” style bets as typically made on pinball games, arcade video games, pool tables, etc. (Of course, not everyone making these bets is necessarily a “hustler”.) For better or worse, Texas doesn’t specifically define what constitutes a pinball tournament in the law. (Sidenote: at least Indiana and Iowa do, however; Indiana’s definition appears to be aimed solely at high score “tournaments” a la TOPS, while Iowa’s is open-ended.)

Finally, I need to touch on the other elements in the post title, namely hopes, dreams, and the current situation, but a lot of other things like citizenship and honesty come into play here too. This is one of the more painful parts of this post, but it needs to be said so I can be more at peace with what happens going forward.

To say the least, I acknowledge my less-than-perfect past, that I have not always been a perfect law-abiding citizen nor exhibited perfect conduct at every pinball tournament. At some points in the past I have deviated from that standard much more than others and exhibited conduct that is unacceptable to me now looking back on it. This includes both conduct at competitive pinball events and outside of those events, going back many years before I even thought a meaningful competitive pinball scene in Houston would happen.

Specifically, I would like to take this opportunity to express my regrets for any outbursts that have made others feel uncomfortable at tournaments and league events, and I decisively condemn this past conduct of mine. My standards are higher than that. Going forward, I commit to being a better player who brings joy when I enter the pinball room as opposed to when I leave.

Of equal if not greater importance, however, is the person I am today, in the wake of all that; the responsibility of leading by example is a surprisingly effective motivator to be a better person, both as a pinball player and elsewhere in my life.

Like the rest of us, I cannot change the past. However, I am making a best effort to improve the present and thus the future. No matter how bad it gets, no matter what kind of mud people throw at my reputation, and no matter how many times people throw the past back into my face, I will never give up on growing and becoming a better person, and I will never give up on my hopes and dreams. If I were to give up, I would not be true to myself.

Among my mistakes during my time in competitive pinball, however, the biggest has to be the mistake I made letting someone else step up instead of jumping in and saying “I want to start running tournaments in the Houston area” back in 2014 or 2015, when we first started having pinball tournaments. In fact, it’s probably one of my five worst mistakes in my entire life. It’s going to be a tough one to overcome, but I believe I can do it for the good of the community.

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” Starting a pinball league, or any other similar endeavor, is a lot like planting a tree. I realize it hasn’t been 20 years (though at times it has felt like it), but the principle definitely carries over. I started laying down the roots for the Bayou City Pinball League about a year ago. I want to do something to provide some kind of choice for the players, to hopefully ensure those who want to play competitive pinball are not entirely subject to the whims of an elite few in power in order to do so.

There are a lot of things I want to do with the new league that I could never do under the auspices of another organization founded and administered by others. I will write more about those on the Bayou City Pinball League website linked above as the league grows. I will continue to write about my pinball and video game play here, including future tournaments, as I have done for 5½ years and counting.

[Edit 2021-08-25: fix typo so a sentence actually makes sense]

A site about one man's quests for record videogame highscores, pinball tournament championships, fame, and stardom.

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