Cidercade Houston Valentine’s Day 2024

So, this past Wednesday, I returned once again to Cidercade for this year’s installment of the annual Valentine’s Day Stoplight Party. Overall it was a pretty good evening. I put up quite a few good scores and got to play a few games I don’t get to play that often.

While I didn’t score quite as highly on the other reason I attended this event, there did seem to be more women, and specifically more women I found at least somewhat attractive, wearing green wristbands. I did make some small talk and did my best to be at least amicable.

Yes, I do plan to attend next year. I feel like this was time well spent, even if some of the results weren’t what I had hoped.

Little Dipper January 29

Another trivia night at Little Dipper, another post-trivia pinball session. Actually a couple of these were from before trivia started.

Of note, Stranger Things replaces Spiderman in the lineup. My score on Stranger Things would be the highlight of the evening; the other best scores range from “pretty good” (T2) to “bleh” (Creature).

The Great Onesie Bar Crawl 2024: Return of the racoon

This year’s event was on January 20. Football fans will remember this as the first day of the NFL Divisional Round playoff weekend, specifically the day the Texans played the Ravens (and lost). I really tried my best not to let this kill whatever good vibes I still had going into the event. I feel overall I still had a good time, though I didn’t socialize nearly as much as I had hoped to. So, this is going to be a bit light on details, and also light on other things like the slide video from last year. For better or worse there was no professional photographer this time around. I did get a quick selfie on arrival.

I hung around at Front Porch Pub until about the end of the game (6:30 pm). I followed the largest group to Dogwood first, then Electric Feelgood. This is where I played my first games of the night: someone had left a good $20 or so worth of credits on one of the Skee Ball alleys. Of course, I also got in on the slide a couple of times, neither of them on video this year.

Then it was onto FAO for a bit more hanging out, Skee Ball, Pac-Man Battle Royale  (not pictured), and Crossy Road. I also got some food here as I did on the last couple of bar crawls.

Finally, time to wrap up the night at Playground, as before. I didn’t keep track of most of the times when I changed venues but I remember leaving Playground around 11:20 pm.

I am still looking forward to returning next year. I still feel like it was time well spent even if my socialite/party animal personality wasn’t firing on all cylinders on this evening.

January 4: Back to face the lizard at Del Mar

This was pretty much a typical visit to Del Mar to start off the year. While waiting for Godzilla to become available, I got in a quick game of Pac-Man Battle Royale Chompionship. This was one of my better runs; unlike the original Battle Royale this is a continuously running game which does keep score. Unfortunately the final score does not get shown unless you make the high score board, which on this particular machine is usually pretty easy.

Once I got to Godzilla I had what I felt was a pretty good run, with my best score being 193.8M+. I definitely feel like I’m getting the hang of multiball and getting better at saving balls from draining as they happen on this particular title.

December 29 and 31: Cidercade and Little Dipper

The year 2023 concluded with two final arcade trips. The first was Friday, December 29, at Cidercade. I had a good feeling about this night the moment I got lucky and had someone leave giving me a decent parking space in a mostly full lot.

Dinner tonight was from the food truck that was on-site, Lovebird Hot Chicken. This is easily one of the better food trucks I’ve ever ordered from. I had the chicken tenders basket. I opted to go ahead and get the house sauce, which is something I don’t do often.

For better or worse, I didn’t get pictures of my food. However, I did get my usual score pictures. Among the more notable highlights of the night: 80.4M+ on Monster Bash (trying my best to do the “spam the Mosh Pit lane” strategy I saw on stream at last year’s IFPA Texas championships between Colin MacAlpine and Phil Grimaldi); 149.5M+ on Cactus Canyon, notable because the game had rather weak flippers yet I was still able to reliably make shots (and the start button bounced a lot, so it was a two-player game, and my initials were mis-entered as “SKK”); 17,650 on Zaxxon, which may well be a personal best (not one of the games I’m all that good at); 3.63M+ on Heavy Metal; and 53.5M+ on The Walking Dead.

A couple nights later, it was New Year’s Eve (December 31) at Little Dipper. I spent maybe $10 on pinball coin drop and about $5 on a beer after tip. Most of it was on Terminator 2, a game I remember fondly from my days playing pinball as a teenager (though I may have seen this game around a couple of times after I hit my twenties). At first, T2 was a drain monster. Finally, though, I hit my stride and put up a solid 127.7M+ for high score #2. Also notable (arguably the better achievement) was a 38.4M+ on Scared Stiff for high score #1, during which I made it to Monster Multiball for the very first time. What a great way to end the year!

The road to becoming world pinball champion

This post will be a bit different from most of the others I have made here. I’ve spent the last eight years posting mainly about various arcade visits, tournaments, and league nights. This post, however, is strictly for the players and fans who don’t understand the process of getting to a world championship. This is primarily from my perspective, as a Texas player, except where otherwise noted.

There are actually two different world championships. One is the IFPA Open, held each year as part of INDISC in California. (INDISC originally stood for It Never Drains In Sunny California, but today is no longer officially an acronym as far as I can tell.) The only requirement to play in the IFPA Open is to make the trip and buy the qualifying entries. Those who score high enough make the playoffs, and the winner of those playoffs becomes the IFPA Open champion for that year.

The other is the original IFPA World Championship, which alternates between North America and Europe each year. The 2024 championship, which players qualified for last year (2023), will be in the US, the 2025 championship will be in Europe, and then the 2026 championship will be somewhere in North America again. There are two ways to qualify for the (original) IFPA World Championship. One way is via the open world ranking, with two slots guaranteed to each eligible country, then the highest ranked players remaining. The players qualifying that way will fill 77 of the 80 slots. The other way is via the three remaining slots, which go to the winner of the North American Pinball Championship, the European Pinball Championship, and the Women’s World Pinball Championship. Being a male in North America with exclusively domestic travel plans for the immediate future, it is the first of these that are most relevant to me.

The only way into the North American Pinball Championship is to win a State, Provincial, or District (of Columbia) Championship. (The European one is different as it’s done primarily from an at-large field of 52 qualifiers from tournaments in Europe, with the 12 other slots going to the highest country-level finishers who haven’t already qualified via the at-large field, more like a miniature version of the World Championship.)

For me, sitting here in Texas, I would most likely have to qualify for and win the Texas State Championship. I say “most likely” as it is possible in theory for me to travel to another state (or province or DC), qualify for that championship, and win it, and make it into the North American tournament that way. There is nothing in the IFPA rules prohibiting one from going to a qualifier outside the state one lives in. Given past events, however, it would feel extremely awkward to qualify for and win, say, the Oklahoma championship or the Louisiana championship and advance that way. If it’s my only option, sure, that’s what I’ll do, and I’ll just deal with the awkwardness.

So what does it typically take to qualify for an IFPA state-level championship? The top qualifier in Texas did this:

I’ll explain what each tournament was, since the names are obscured.

1, 3, 5, 10, 14, 19 are monthly 4X (four strikes) tournaments. 2 is a major annual tournament. 4 and 17 are major max matchplay tournaments. 9 is an annual pin-golf tournament. 6,15 are major quarterly tournaments. 7 is part of a week-long series of tournaments leading up to a major classic arcade/pinball show. 8 and 13 are monthly 3X tournaments. 11 appears to be a one-off 4X tournament held on someone’s private home collection. 12 and 18 are weekly 3X tournaments held at a well-known local arcade. 16 is another one-off group matchplay tournament held at someone’s private collection (different host than 11). 20 is yet another one-off tournament at yet another private home collection (different from 16 or 11), of which I can find out absolutely nothing as the Facebook event has either been deleted or was marked private.

Number of players in each tournament, in order: 48, 56, 34, 48, 64, 68, 35, 86, 50, 31, 31, 28, 35, 48, 32, 49, 30, 51, 44. Finishing rank for this player in each tournament, in order: 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 3, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 1, 2, 1, 2, 1, 1, 1, 2.

That’s a total of 601.70 ranking points, with an average of 30.09 points per tournament in that top 20.

The player just above the cutline (24th) did this:

This player is based in a different area than the top qualifier, so most of these are different tournaments. I’ll try to explain these as well, using roughly the same format. I’m not finding a lot of information on these, and I’m not as familiar with this area’s typical tournaments.

1 is a classics only holiday tournament (the tournament name ends with “Christmas”). 2 is a 4X tournament. 3 is a target matchplay tournament. 4,13,18 are one-off/special occasion tournaments, but I can’t find out much more information on them. 5,20 are two instances of the same local monthly tournament. 6 is a major annual tournament outside this player’s area (approximately a 3-4 hour drive). 7 is a weekly tournament in the same area as 6. 8,9,10,16 are in the same area as 7, with 9 and 10 being part of a major quarterly weekend series of tournaments, and 8 being a monthly 4X tournament the following weekend. 12 is another tournament in the same series as 8. 14 is a 4X tournament, even though it is named the same as 2. 15 is part of a quarterly tournament series (similar to 9 and 10). 17 is an annual pin-golf tournament. 19, I have uncensored just as a point of reference: the Texas Pinball Festival Classics tournament (not the one I played in, which is Wizards, but the side tournament in the same room).

Some of these overlap between the two players. With the top qualifier’s number first: 1 and 8 are the same tournament; 3 and 12; 6 and 15; 9 and 17.

Number of players in each tournament, in order: 47, 10, 13, 42, 20, 111, 48, 48, 56, 30, 20, 34, 45, 10, 64, 43. Finishing rank for this player in each tournament, in order: 1, 1, 2, 4, 3, 43, 12 (3-way tie), 2, 12, 4 (2-way tie), 1, 3, 7 (3-way tie), 1, 26, 9, 8, 2, 76, 6 (4-way tie).

Now I’ll post one completely uncensored, as he’s not a Texas player, but I have mentioned him before here. Escher Lefkoff is currently the #2 ranked player in the world (he was #1 for a while), and played in all three TPF tournaments (Texas Pinball League, Classics, and Wizards) this past year. Those were the only Texas tournaments he played:

Note that Escher lives in Colorado. However, these three tournaments put together were almost enough points to qualify in Texas; Escher wound up in 26th, two places below the cutline, a mere 4.96 ranking points short.

(TPF Wizards had 158 players, Classics had 208, and the TPL tournament had 60.)

And Escher didn’t even win two of these tournaments. He did win TPF Classics, but came in tied for second in the Texas Pinball League and tied for seventh in TPF Wizards. One place higher in Wizards would have put him in the top 24 for Texas.

While the year-end standings put Escher just below the cutline for Colorado (which I’m not going to dissect the same way here), there are at least two out-of-state players in the top 24 (one from Oregon, one from Kentucky) who may not fancy a return trip to Colorado to play in that state’s championship. Not all of the players who make the top 24 are always able to make it, so then the 25th, 26th, etc ranked players are invited in order. This is the same in Texas as well, so it’s not inconceivable for two Texas players to drop out and give Escher a chance to play in the Texas championship.

Anyway, so that’s what it takes to qualify for a state championship (the first step in making it to the world championships by way of the state-North America-world route): plenty of high finishes in tournaments with high player counts, with the top 20 tournaments played in the state in the year counting towards state championship qualifying. Not easy by far, but I have proven in the past that I can make it to the top. Just qualifying for a state championship is only the beginning, the first of four parts of the road to world champion via that route. Winning the state championship is the second part, then winning the North America championship is the third part.

I may take a more in-depth look at INDISC and the IFPA North America and World Championships, as well as what it takes to actually win an IFPA state championship, in later posts.

[Posted as part of Matt Mullenweg’s Birthday Gift wishes.]