All Articles by Shawn K. Quinn

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Einstein’s Draniacs 2017 December: The video mode strikes back

I had been waiting for this tournament for most of the previous month. One of the reasons for it was that this tournament is my first time showing off my butterfly necklace (as I somewhat obtusely alluded to in my previous post “The dawn of a new era”), the first picture in the gallery. Yes, the initials are kind of jumbled in that picture, which I didn’t realize at the time. I may take a better one later.

My attendance at this tournament served the additional purpose of an opportunity to finally get my trophy won at the end of the previous SCPL season which tournament organizer Matt Quantz was kind enough to bring down to Einstein’s Pub.

With that out of the way, on to the narrative of the tournament’s events. There were a total of 15 players, many of them well-known in the Houston area pinball/classic arcade community, and a few I had not seen before but who have played in the monthly tournaments at The Game Preserve. The format of the tournament is a four-strikes knockout tournament. Players finishing in third or fourth place receive a strike, with four strikes resulting in elimination. (Later in the tournament, second place finishers in the necessary two-player groups would receive a strike.) The games were the same line-up from my visit on November 24: Attack from Mars, The Champion Pub, Iron Man, Star Trek, The Walking Dead, Theatre of Magic, Ghostbusters, and Game of Thrones.

My tournament experience would begin innocently enough with a game on The Champion Pub, grouped with Jamie Jenkins, Matt Quantz, and Chris Palis. I last played this on Pinball Arcade some months ago, and the only other place I’ve played a real table of this title was at the Costa house back in 2016. My inexperience with this particular game showed straight through. I was barely able to put up a 3.4M+ good enough for third next to Chris’s 5.5M+ and Matt’s absolutely amazing 18.6M+. One ball ended when the ball save stopper dropped about one-tenth of a second before the ball got to it (I think this was ball 2). So, strike one, and on to…

The draw for round 2 would group me with Raleigh Palis, Chris Gonzales, and Laurie Bender, on Star Trek. The funniest thing happened here, I made a joke about the “Star Wreck” games back in SCPL Season 5 (Week 7 and the playoffs if you want to re-live those farces). And then I completely bungle ball 1 with a whopping 516K+. I joke to Raleigh, “I think I might have jinxed myself.” I would sign off with an otherwise decent 11.6M+, but that too would only be good for third place behind Raleigh’s 21.2M+ and Chris’s 32.0M+. Strike two, and we move on.

Round 3 is where things would finally start to come together; they definitely needed to, because otherwise, my time in this tournament would be short indeed. I was grouped with Laurie Bender and Jamie Jenkins on Attack from Mars. After a relatively uneventful first two balls where I squeak out 1.02B+, everything comes together: an extra ball (which, in this tournament, gets played, not plunged), a normal multiball, a Total Annihilation, a Strobe Multiball, and probably some other miscellaneous high-scoring shots in there as well. I would sign off with a 6.94B+ good for a crushing first place over Jamie’s 1.51B+ and Laurie’s 1.25B+. I finally feel like I have my groove back.

Round 4 is probably the unluckiest thing to happen to poor Laurie in the entire tournament. She would be grouped with me for the third game in a row, this time with Chris Gonzales joining us, on Iron Man. And I would do just well enough to squeak out a second place with 4.16M+ to her 3.19M+ (Chris, of course, crushed us both with a 14.27M+). I know I’m capable of better than that, and I hate just getting by with barely enough points to not get another strike. Not much to really say on this one, as other than my multiball it was a relatively uneventful game for everyone.

And on we go to round 5: Ghostbusters with Joe Cuellar, Chris Palis, and Craig Squires. For those of you reading this long after Stern has updated the code for this game, this is the version that allows you to get a video mode off of the skill shot, which is an easy 59.9M+. I caught on to this and was able to make this skill shot twice in this game, resulting in a win. It’s an incredibly cheap win, and I don’t like to win games cheaply, but this is how the other players were putting up scores in the range they were. I started ball 3 with 65.2M+ and needed to beat Chris’s 106.7M+ to avoid getting another strike (which I did), thanks in part to a second play of the Don’t Cross The Streams video mode.

Round 6 was another game of Attack from Mars with Craig Squires and Jamie Jenkins. I pretty much ran away with this one with a score of 3.3B+, leaving the real battle between Craig and Jamie for who would get the strike. (It wound up being Craig, for the terminally curious.)

Round 7 would find me grouped up with Chris Gonzales, Chris Palis, and Jamie Jenkins on Theatre of Magic. I would only put up 309.7M+, most of it from multiball on the third ball, but this would be more than enough to win. (Decent scores for this game start at around 400M, with the replay level on this machine, set to 600M as of whenever I checked that day.)

And we would move on to round 8, another game of Iron Man, this time against Jeff Mleynek and Cory Westfahl. Jeff put up just short of 11M on his first ball, leaving me with the daunting task of catching up. My first ball was nothing short of abysmal, with a paltry 825K+. My second ball wasn’t much better, so by ball 3 I was looking at closing in on Cory’s 8.77M+ with a score of only 2.19M+ from the previous two balls, so a margin of around 6.57M. In tournaments past, I would get too nervous in situations like this and make a dumb mistake. Given that I didn’t even know the rules to Iron Man that well, I feel I did rather well by starting a multiball and making a decent run at Jeff’s score of 15.08M+. I wouldn’t quite score that high, but I would sign off with a 10.71M+ good for second place, avoiding the third strike for yet another round.

Round 9 was Star Wr–I mean, Star Trek again, this time against Matt Quantz, Jeff Mleynek, and Frankie Griffin. Again, I had an absolutely disastrous first ball, piling up all of 1,003,090 points. (Hey, with a score that small, every point counts.) By the time I was up to play ball 2, Matt had put up 40.79M+ and Jeff had wound it up to 33.30M+. By the time my third ball started, I was looking at having to beat Jeff’s 37.91M+ score to avoid a strike, and beating Matt was more or less out of the question as he had signed off with 115.4M+. I had already locked in second place with 44.73M+ before plunging my extra ball and would sign off with 51.52M+, way short of Matt’s score but enough to take second and avoid a strike.

We would move on to round 10 on Game of Thrones with Jeff Mleynek and Matt Quantz. Again, Matt ran away with this one early, with his score after the first ball over 100M (I don’t have an exact score, the picture I took shows Matt with 125M+ sometime during ball 2). It was going to be hard enough to catch Jeff with his 22.74M+. I had a paltry 658,720 from two disastrous balls going into ball 3. I didn’t even come close, signing off with 5,335,640. That meant a third strike, with one more meaning I’d be done for the night.

Round 11 would be a two-player game of Ghostbusters with Cory Westfahl. I was doing good to try to keep this one close. Unfortunately, I have no intermediate scores in this game (Ghostbusters is notorious for making it difficult to see scores between balls). I do remember not being able to start the video mode from the skill shot on ball 3 (to be fair, neither did Cory). It did not help that the video mode I was able to play on ball 2 was impossible to get the full value from (too many ghosts too quickly on one side). I dislike video modes enough as it is, but making the entire game and my entire tournament life depend on one is outrageous. I signed off with 63.1M+, normally a good score but Cory had 98.1M+. That’s strike four and the end of the road for me. You could say I got busted like a ghost, I guess…

I finished fifth, with Matt in fourth, then Frankie in third, Cory in second, and Jeff eventually taking it all. (I did not stick around to watch the rest of the tournament, I simply went to close out my tab, then got my trophy from Matt after he finished his first ball on Attack from Mars.) Fifth place is a bit disappointing, especially given how it happened. If I had played against Cory on just about any other game there, I felt like I would have had a better shot or at least a fairer shot at winning. But it does feel good to have won games I know I would have lost in prior tournaments.

Einstein’s Pub: Taking the plunge for the first time

I haven’t done one of these in a while. The opportunity landed in front of me to experience Einstein’s Pub first-hand (in advance of the approaching tournament on Sunday, December 10).

Earlier in the week, I had loaded the PayRange app (and added $10) onto one of my phones in anticipation of this possibility. Earlier in the day, I was a gallery host at FotoFest for one of the last days of the exhibition entitled Re/thinking Photography (which has since closed). After a couple of stops on the way home, I set back out to Einstein’s Pub in Katy.

I arrived shortly after 7:45 pm. All eight machines were powered up: The Champion Pub, Theatre of Magic, Star Trek, Attack from Mars (remake), The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Ghostbusters, and Iron Man. I wound up playing Attack from Mars, Star Trek, and Game of Thrones, with the majority of my time on Star Trek (the replay score was a touch under 21M, with a 100% boost).

My best scores on the night were, in order: Star Trek, 55.4M+; Game of Thrones, 254.8M+; Attack from Mars, 4.290B+. Looking at league nights past, they measure up fairly nicely, though not of the caliber that triggers the initials entry mode, and nowhere near triggering a wizard mode at any point. (Though to be fair about it, I was not constrained by only being able to play one extra ball were I to win multiple extra balls in one game. I might have had two extra balls in one of the games of Attack from Mars, though if I did, the additional extra ball didn’t affect the score that much.)

I did get to play one two-player game in the course of the night. Turns out Star Trek was her favorite game and before I asked her to join me in a two-player game, she played The Walking Dead and Theatre of Magic. Not surprisingly, I had a pretty good first ball (somewhere around 36M if I remember right, I didn’t keep records after each ball the way I did for the playoffs), so much so that she took to playing another game of The Walking Dead while waiting for me to finish. The final score of 51.7M+ was a bit short of my best on the night, but way more than enough to win over Ms. “Oops I So Didn’t Realize I Challenged A Pinball Wizard” and her 7.1M+ score.

It’s not that I was even trying to win by such a large margin; it just sort of happened. I guess some of it could be attributed to pent-up frustration from the “Star Wreck” games at the end of SCPL Season 5. Maybe I’m a bit different than most others in this respect, but I just play; I don’t have a separate “casual” play mode versus a “competitive” play mode. It’s all the same to me. To some, it may seem like I’m always in “competitive” mode. I hope this doesn’t cost me too many potential friendships. (Or, for that matter, dating opportunities!)

Overall, I had a great time getting in some much-needed practice, with the added bonus of getting some much-needed familiarity with Einstein’s prior to the tournament.

The dawn of a new era

Yes, save one other post, I’ve been quiet after the end of the Space City Pinball League season. In seasons past, I haven’t been up to much. This time, I have been planning something truly different. Something that will hopefully set apart my identity as a pinball and video game competitor a bit, and give the fans I have something to unite behind when cheering me on. Something that can only be described as the most radical personal branding effort I have made to date.

That something is my new personal tagline and hashtag: Rock the Butterfly (or #rockthebutterfly as a hashtag).

As of the evening of Friday, 2017 November 17, I registered and both the bare domain name and the “www” hostname under it redirect to this blog (lest someone rushes out and grabs it right after I make this announcement and tries to sell it back to me for some FSM-damned obscene amount). I am working on a T-shirt design for #rockthebutterfly (alongside a possible T-shirt design for the B division win).

So you’re probably asking, “Why butterflies? And, why ‘rock’ the butterfly?”

I chose the butterfly as a symbol based on two separate but equally important meanings: transcendence (metamorphosis) and the magic of believing.

The transcendence part is pretty obvious. The caterpillar transforms into a butterfly and in the process, sets aside everything that it once knew to take on an entirely different means of existence. This symbolic meaning of the butterfly draws a direct parallel to the journey I have taken in my own life, in particular, the journey from who I was about 25 years ago to the person I am today. I’m not going to go into detail here, but 25 years ago I was a person you didn’t want to be around and, for that matter, that you didn’t want your friends or family members around either. It has been a slow, deliberate, painful, emotional, and indirect journey, but today I can truthfully say I can look back at who I was then and be proud of the person I have become since.

One of the final pieces of the puzzle was missing until 2008 when I started doing some volunteering and charity fundraising-related efforts. Oddly enough, it wasn’t a part of my life I knew was missing until I volunteered a couple of times and reflected back on the experience once it was over. It did take me a while to find out what I got the most satisfaction from; in the beginning, I was not nearly as picky about when and where I volunteered. Fast forward to about a year ago, and at that time I decided to formally shift my focus to primarily arts-related organizations (though there are a few other events and campaigns, most notably Extra Life, that are outside of that focus that I am continuing with or taking on anew for other reasons). A more detailed explanation is beyond the scope of this post, and possibly even this blog, though I may bend the rules and post it later anyway. (Incidentally, I wrote the majority of this post a few hours after completing a short arts-related volunteer assignment and before going to bed to get ready for another arts-related volunteer assignment tomorrow morning, which is atypical for me but it just so happens that these two events are on the same weekend every year.)

As important as transcendence is in the butterfly’s symbolism (at least as it relates to me), the magic of believing cannot be ignored. And yet again, it goes back to my game 3 (Medieval Madness) in the semifinals of the just-completed season of the Space City Pinball League. Before I plunged ball 3 (the final ball of the game) into play, I took a brief moment to think to myself “this is not over, you can win this, you have to believe in yourself.” I was down by a margin that, usually, meant the game was effectively over: 3.2M+ versus a first-place score of 11.7M+. I had never put up anywhere near 25 million points in one ball on Medieval Madness. Ever. Certainly not in the semifinals of a tournament where it meant the difference between making the finals and going home early. And it was the magic of believing in myself that was the first step in making it a reality. That magic carried over through all three games of the finals, and I became the B division champion for the 2017 Fall season. That brought satisfaction for the immediate moment, but of course, I want more than that.

The “rock” in “Rock the Butterfly” means to wear or display, particularly with pride (definition 4 in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as of this writing). As a male pinball player who has had his (hetero-)sexuality questioned on more than one occasion, I have no reservations about my selection of the butterfly as a personal symbol despite its feminine connotations and at least one interpretation that says the butterfly represents feminine energy. Like a lot of other things needlessly associated with gender, I’m not a fan of this “butterflies are for girls” thing. It is, as the British might say, a bleeding pile of rubbish. The first step in challenging such a raging dumpster fire of a gender label is to buck the trend. Someone has to be first to step over the line, to be the change one wishes to see in the world. And thus I step. I’ve taken some challenging volunteer assignments in the past; it remains to be seen just how big of a challenge I’ve bitten off this time. But I have learned to thrive on challenges and competition instead of shying away from them. I am willing to accept this one and see where it goes.

And that’s why I rock the butterfly.

Looking ahead and other miscellaneous post-season thoughts

Okay, so it’s been a good five days (give or take a few hours) since my historic first place in the B division playoffs. I still have a hard time believing it’s for real, and I don’t think it has anything to do with not having the trophy yet (the cash portion of the prize has been in the bank and is already partially spent).

I don’t know when the next season will start until it’s announced, but sometime in 2018 March is a possibility. So it’s too soon to think about that. The only definite things coming up are the tournaments at The Game Preserve (which I may be able to start attending again in early 2018) and Einstein’s Drainiacs (at, obviously, Einstein’s in Katy) due to resume in December. There is also the Texas Pinball Festival Wizards tournament, which for me is also not guaranteed as I did not have enough room to comfortably afford the $70 before entries sold out. I am, however, on the waiting list as of whenever my “purchase” of a waitlist spot is processed. (“Purchase” is in quotes because it’s using the shopping cart software but the waitlist spot is priced as a $0.00 item.)

I do want to make it to another big tournament besides the TPF Wizards tournament, especially if I never make it far enough down the waitlist. The most likely candidates are Cactus Jack’s in Oklahoma City in late April and the Bat City Open in Austin in June, not necessarily in that order. At this point though, finances permitting, I’d take just about any trip to play in just about any tournament outside of at least Houston, if not outside of Texas, just to see how I measure up with people I know nothing about with regard to pinball skill.

The next couple of weeks (weekends in particular) I’ve got a relatively full schedule, either with various volunteer shifts or family affairs. I do need to find time to play some pinball, even if it’s just whatever is at Hay Merchant or Poison Girl. I don’t practice nearly as much as I should. I don’t think any amount of practice would have prepared me for being in the spot I was in game 3 of the semifinals, needing some 8.5M points on Medieval Madness just to be able to catch up in a game where I absolutely, positively needed to win to stay in the tournament, and then coming through with enough to put me at over 28M with a commanding lead.

That (game 3 of the semifinals) was really the game of the tournament for me. Yes, I did need to win the two games in the finals, and at least a third place in the final game, to bring home first place. But none of that even happens without what I did on ball 3 on Medieval Madness in the semifinals. A game, I might add, that for a long time I hated because of the terrible luck I had; for a while it was an accomplishment to get through a whole game without tilting.

Medieval Madness is still not my favorite game of those we have recently played in the league; that honor would go to Dialed In, with Batman 66 and Ghostbusters not far behind. (I do miss The Hobbit and Game of Thrones, though.) But I’ve learned to make the most of it no matter what game I wind up on in any given round or on any given league night. That’s something I had trouble with as recently as two seasons ago (and arguably during the playoffs last season as well).

I will update with my next planned appearances as I know more information. To my fans and followers, thanks for being a part of this. I do appreciate it.