It Never Drains In Southern California - Banning, CA, USA - Museum of Pinball - 12-14/01/2018

We had actually planned on attending INDISC last year, but with new travelling restrictions to the US popping up daily, I felt a bit uneasy burning a lot of cash into flights that might end up being useless. On the more positive side, that decision gave us the trip to Osaka, so no complaints there. This year however we were a bit more trusting and the trip to California finally materialized.

This trip wasn't just all business. We had planned spending couple of days in Nevada, venturing into Arizona and possibly Utah as well. We also had plans to get a tolerable convertible sports car, as there would be lots of miles to cover.

Somewhere over the Greenland.

Everything was looking good, we boarded our flight from Helsinki to New York, with plans to have connecting flight to Los Angeles from there. An hour before arriving New York my Finnair app went haywire. For some reason it was showing I was to fly to Dallas the next morning instead of Los Angeles today. The flight from JFK to LAX had been cancelled couple of times that week and after we finally landed it was just as bad as we had feared. First of all me and Olli-Mikko were put on separate flights, with me going to LAX through Dallas the next morning from Laguardia and Olli-Mikko taking a direct flight from JFK somewhere around next afternoon. Since I had the hotels booked and Olli-Mikko had the car, this was rather inconvenient for both of us.

Sorry guys, no AA35 today!

Oneworld alliance had their service agent to meet us and for a moment everything looked good. Then they learned we weren't flying American Airways here, so end of service. We however did get a new set of tickets, with us on the same flight this time. The new flight was 22 hours from that point and there was no luxuries as free hotels from the airline for having our flight cancelled. We were told to go to the hotel service desk at the airport, where one very uninterested lady quoted us outrageous prices for hotels tonight. Olli-Mikko however found some dump near the airport and off we went to wait for a shuttle to the hotel.

Welcome to the sunny New York!

I had packed away my long undies on the plane, which turned out to be a very bad decision as New York had a lot more snow than Helsinki. Cold as hell too. I wasn't apparently the only one abandoned by the airlines and surprised by the weather; with us were people in shorts and summer clothes, freezing out there waiting for the hotel shuttles.

The hotel turned out to be a real gem. A gem as in "I didn't get killed in here, woohoo!". I was dead tired, hungry as hell and freezing when we finally entered the weed smelling dump. Some of the hilights of our room was the stolen fire alarm and a sign that reminded us that any item such as the clock radio etc. were all $120 a piece should they go missing. The AC was noisy as hell and the cold was radiating from the single glass sheet window. There was a huge gap in the wall where the AC unit was installed, leaking outside air in. A previous guest had plugged that hole with a plastic bag. Kudos to them.

The plastic bag kept us warm, as long as it didn't catch fire!

After checking the place for bed bugs, we set out to hit the local 7-11 for some grub. Before that I however needed my long undies back and taking off my pants the zipper made this odd creaking sound, before disintegrating. I stood there tired, hungry, cold and now torn pants in my hands not knowing if I should laugh or cry at that point. Since the other option was just my shorts, Olli-Mikko left out alone to find us something to eat and something to fix my pants with. He returned with one of those mini sewing kits and a baloney sandwich. After some head scratching, I tried refreshing my memory of sewing and hacked my pants enough to keep them in one piece, hopefully until tomorrow when I could switch to shorts.

Good thing I have at least passable sewing skills!

One badly slept night later we headed towards downtown for a T-mobile store. We were met with the same lack of interest as at the airport. They refused to sell me a data-only SIM and sold Olli-Mikko a rather expensive prepaid compared to what we normally got here in the states.

After that we were off to the airport again. This time we actually got to our flight and flew the most pimped out Airbus A321 I've ever seen. I've gotten used to the Finnair's very bare bones A320-series planes, but this thing had displays on the seats and all. I think this 6 hour flight was also the longest haul I've ever taken with a A320. I could get any sleep on the plane, being still pretty jetlagged. From the LAX we headed towards Hertz rental center, where we hit the first lucky break on this trip!

For some reason they didn't have the basic model of Chevrolet Camaro we were supposed to have, so they gave us the Camaro SS with 6.3L v8 engine. I just loved the pure excitement Olli-Mikko had over this car! This was definitely a big boys' dream toy!

Our wheels for this trip!

We were originally supposed to stay the first night in Los Angeles, but since we were over a day late at this point, we had to head out for Las Vegas to catch our time table and not lose another hotel reservation fee. I dozed off several times during the trip, waking up only after we were closing Las Vegas to put on the relevant sound track!

The next morning I headed out for a breakfast and to get myself the data SIM. While waiting the T-mobile store to open, I walked the strip from end to end, it was kind of surreal to see all the iconic casinos and hotels normally seen in movies and TV-series! I couldn't help myself taking a closer look at the ostentatious facades and true enough, all the stone and marble structures were either plastic or fibre glass. So much for that illusion.

Sure, it's all fake, but still, god damn!

I eventually wandered into the cellular carrier store and boy, did I get a different kind of service than in NY! I immediately attracted three sales persons, who made note of my phone, after which it was all "yes sir". While they were finishing paperwork for my SIM card, I had my own assistant showing me the latest headsets and other accessories. I know it's all artificial, but still, it was nice for someone to at least pretend to give a shit. I got what I wanted and we were ready for our next stop: the Pinball hall of fame!

Pinball Hall of Fame

I've been wanting to see Tim Arnold's place for a long time. One of the many reasons was that it housed the extremely rare Pinball Circus game, the only WPC platform pinball game I have never played before. 

Pinball Hall of Fame's facade was actually refreshingly honest one!

And here it is, the Pinball Circus! This Python Anghelo's oddball game never made it to production, but it sure is one of a kind! Now, anyone with even basic knowledge of pinball history is probably itching to know how it played. Let me tell you: like shit. This game is a one trick pony in a true sense of the expression: it has 4 level playfield, where you progress from a level to another by making one specific shot. No need to qualify your progression in any way, just shoot for the left ramp on the first level, ramp up to the second, another ramp to the third and through the Banzai Run-styled magnetic lift to the fourth level, where you need to defeat the clown by punching out his teeth, then make him eat the ball.

The brain clown is going to be in my nightmares for a long time!

Here's the main playfield. It's as wide as a normal pinball machine, but less than half the length. Your eyes aren't deceiving you, the flippers aren't lined up, which plays havoc for reflex slaps for sure. There's not much to do here score wise, except gun for the rather steep left ramp which leads you to...

The main playfield, or "ring 1".

...the ring 2! Now, I can guess many sharp-eyed readers are going to go like "hey, there's no targets or switches there at all!" and they're absolutely right! There's absolutely nothing to do here, except maybe spin the ball around in the "pinbo" loop, which doesn't really give you anything. If you drain here, you end up back in ring 1 and the only meaningful shot is for the ring 3. The ramp shot leads to the elephant, which raises the ball with its trunk onto a habirail.

The utterly useless Ring 2.

The next level actually has couple of stand-up targets and a loop to litting the video mode. I have no idea where the video mode actually is as this playfield has nothing to catch the ball. Litting the video mode however is completely optional and the only worthwhile shot here is for the ramp which leads to ring 4.

Ring 3 with at least something to do.

Next up is the last level and oh boy is it a nightmare! The lobotomized clown level starts with player movable habitrail, where you need to drop the ball at the right spot to select the jackpot's value. You'll be hammering the poor clown's teeth until they're all out and then one final shot for the jackpot. And as with other levels, draining leads to (via a very elaborate habitrail) back to ring 1.

Ring 4. This thing is going to haunt me in my nightmares for years to come!

After making the clown mouth shot you're awarded the jackpot and go back to the first ring. For someone with at least an average playing skills this game doesn't take too many tried to finish. There's some stuff, like making the right ramp on the first level that scores some points, but repeatedly finishing the last ring scores an obscene amount of points, making everything else pretty much pointless.

I can see why this mechanical nightmare didn't make it into production, but I'm glad nevertheless that I got to play it.

Hall of Fame has over 200 games to explore, including many rarities and prototypes. I had personally never seen the toy Transformers before and was glad to get that off my to-do -list!

This thing was sold as a toy for $1490. It sure looks like a toy, but it has real game's mechanics and it played surprisingly well. The sad part was that it wasn't obviously meant for long term use and talking to one of the pinball mechanics confirmed my suspicions, the game was mostly made to be ditched after any major component failed. Such a waste.

Another rarity we got to play was Gottlieb's Goin' Nuts. This is an oddball protype game, that begins with a multiball and plays normally as long as you have at least two balls in the play. After you're down to one, a count down begins after which you lose the flippers. The game object is to add seconds to the clock during multiball and try to restart the multiball when you're back to single ball play. 

Olli-Mikko goin' nuts with this thing.

We had very little expectations of the game, I have it on Pinball Arcade, but haven't played it much. As a two player game it however was rather entertaining, especially with so many last second multiball restarts. We got to play two rounds until it broke.

With 200 pins to play with, the day just disappeared and we headed towards Boulder city for our next stop on this trip: the Hoover dam. Before leaving we still did a last cruise through the strip. A 2017 convertible Camaro was pretty much spot on for that sort of activity. Then again, we saw so many other pony cars that we didn't exactly stand out from the crowd!

Hoover dam

While not exactly pinball related thing, I can't go on without having a word about American spirit that went into building this insanely cool engineering marvel. We originally meant just to stop for an hour or two, but ended up spending the most of the day with so many cool things to explore. 

Arizona side water intake towers and the nearly dry water reservoir.

I've heard about the drought in this area, but visiting the dam was the first time I could see it for my own eyes. In the picture above you can see the white line in the rock going to the horizon. The water is supposed to be up there. Water flow from the mountains to the water reservoir is slowing, which again is threatening both, water availability and power generation in the area.

We also got to see one of the four generator rooms. The dam has a total of 17 generators, split between Nevada and Arizona sides. The state line goes actually right between the middle of the dam, making this the first time I've walked between two states. Arizona was also the 12th state I've been to!

The size of this thing is really breath taking! Those little dots down there are cars!

After we were done with the dam, we headed out towards Banning in California. Next up was the main course: INDISC!

It Quite Often Drains In Southern California

Much to my surprise the hotel here actually had a semi-decent breakfast, which was a huge upgrade to having nothing at all or having individually packaged old donuts and stuff.

Banning's Museum of Pinball was located in rather rough looking neighbourhood, with half standing houses and abandoned cars littering the scene. The building itself was rather nondescript (pretty much like Pinball Hall of Fame was!), but seeing all the pinball related bumper stickers on the cars parked there we knew we were in the right place! 

The main event hall

The tournament had two series I was planning to attend: main tournament which was best score on 7 machines out of 14 and classic, which was best 5 out of 7. The tournament was pretty much a pump and dump: all the players had unlimited amount of entries within the time limit. The entries cost $20/7 (one "entry" here being a one play on one game). You could play just the minimum of 7 games, or play all 14 of them, all it mattered you had decent enough score in 7. The classics side worked the same way, except for fewer number of games.

Only your best score mattered in one game and you got points for having a score between 1st and 93th position. 1st position gave 100 points, 2nd 94, 3rd 91 and from there onwards 1 point less per position. So theoretically maximum qualification score would be 700 points for setting a high score on all your games.

The games in main were:

  • Junkyard
  • Game of Thrones
  • Robowar
  • Taxi
  • Monopoly
  • Total Nuclear Annihilation
  • Barb Wire
  • Pool Sharks
  • Lady Luck
  • Theatre of Magic
  • Metallica LE
  • Who Dunnit
  • Paragon
  • Dracula

The classics lineup:

  • Aztec
  • Eight Ball Deluxe
  • Magic
  • Monaco
  • Nine Ball
  • Star Light
  • Supersonic

I totally approved of these lineups! Choosing 7 games out of the main was a bit difficult, as I generally avoid playing well known games like 00/10's Sterns and WPCs. I wasn't sure about the very latest game here, Total Nuclear Annihilation as a tournament game, but I played it nevertheless because it looked so damn awesome! Just look at this thing!

This is so retro-80s I was pissing myself. It has a large TFT screen and 7-segment displays for scores and the on-screen graphics work really well for the theme. The playfield itself is rather barren, but the software seems to have lots of moving parts in it. It's also extremely fast playing game. The slingshots alone make me think about Ironman's Warmachine kicker, once you let the ball pick up speed you're in trouble with this one. I'd so love it spend a night with this thing, learning what's there to do!

But that's not all™! The Pinball Museum itself has a humble lineup of around 500 pins. That's right. 500.

The museum curator came to chat with us when we arrived and we got to have a private tour of some of the rare games out there. Naturally they had the original Big Bang Bar, but some really odd games as well, like EM versions of Evel Knievel and Blackjack, Gottlieb's Spirit, Alvin G games, two Williams Jousts and much, much more!

After playing some of the rarities at the museum, it was time to start the grind!

Qualification, main and classics

Total Nuclear Annihilation was too random for anything serious, so I just played it for fun. For more serious games, I picked Robowar, Lady luck, Who Dunnit, Taxi, Pool Sharks, Junk Yard, Monopoly, Paragon and Barb Wire.

After trying out TNA, I played Who Dunnit and got a mediocre score of 2.8B on it. I didn't think much of it, but in the end it was the 20th best score in the whole tournament and worth lots of points. I never played another round of it.

With closer to 200 players, things got pretty hectic at times!

After Who Dunnit I went to Junkyard. My target score was around 20M but after numerous attempts I never got there. My first try was 7.5M and the very last 11.4M, which got me 65 points and it was the weakest of the games that made it into my recorded scores. I came back to it near the closing time on Saturday, but managed to kill the fridge upkicker and the game had to be pulled off the lineup for repairs.

Robowar is a Gottlieb system 80b game that keeps on popping up in tournaments. For me there's a very simple strategy of immediately going for the left ramp to lock one ball, then hitting under the ramp to start the multiball and then just trying to hit the spinner. The spinner scores very well when it's lit. I started with a couple of near 1M games, and it wasn't untill saturday when I finally reached my target score of 5M+ with a 6.8M entry, netting me 85 points and being my best entry in the whole tournament.

I've played Lady Luck couple of times before and it's pretty much what the name promises. There's insane scores to be made, if you keep on knocking down the center drop targets, then the four joker stand-up targets behind them. You'll add a playfield scoring multiplier each time and after the 4th things get really interesting! I started with 276k and 724k, but towards the end on Saturday I finally beat my 1M target score with a 2.2M game for 80 points.

I love playing Taxi, but it never worked really well for me here. Most of my multiballs in it lasted for 10 seconds or less and I had to leave it at 3.2M game where I got the jackpot once. The game had modified software that maxed out the jackpot at 1.5M and started it with 1M.

The playfield displays were really cool thing to have. It was curious to see various strategies in each game.

I had high(er) hopes for Monopoly, but got very little done with it. All I had for it was to start the easy train multiball from the center ramp, then go for the main multiball. I however never got to get jackpots from the both at the same time and couldn't make an entry that would have mattered.

I played couple of rounds of Paragon, but it was more of a lesson of futility than real playing.

Barb Wire is a system 3 gem(?) that I haven't played that much. From what I know, it's more about starting modes and grinding them than anything else. I played couple of games on it during Saturday afternoon, getting 200M and 643M. Much to my surprise the latter was actually a decent one, although I was aiming for 1B on it. With 2 hours of game time left, I came back to it and started a serious grind. I managed to squeeze 5 games in, until I all the sudden couldn't add myself to the line any more. Turns out I had misunderstood the time table and the very last hour on Saturday was for the scorekeepers only. That was kind of a bummer, as I still had 6 entries left, almost $20 worth of games!

The classics was being played at the same time as the main tournament. I played couple of entries into them, but decided to concentrate on the main as I noticed I actually had a shot there.

Behind the scenes shot of the broadcast team!

During the day I also attended pingolf, which was played on the museum's side. It was completely score based, instead of objectives. After finishing the course near the closing time I was 3rd. Only the winner got a trophy.

When the time ran out, I was 53 points behind the cut line. This wasn't really that bad, I had 3 games: Taxi, Pool Sharks and Junkyard where I could have made easy points by just getting one game right on each.

However after the initial disappointment, I took a closer look at the divisions and realized I passed the division B qualification with flying colors, being 8th out of 16 to qualify!

Division B playoffs

I went against Mark Pawlak, David Taylor and Brian Krivonak in the first round on Monopoly, Total Nuclear Annihilation, Paragon and Dracula.

I had high hopes for Monopoly. It was very unforgiving machine, so getting the easy center ramp multiball could mean fighting for the first place. Monopoly however wasn't having any of that and I got two really embarrassing house balls, and one very short one, leaving me at 448k. David and Mark were close, but Brian put 5.1M on it easily. 0 points for this one, not exactly a great start.

Next up was Total Nuclear Annihilation. I had been watching people playing this game for some time now and I had learned you can steal locks, so getting that multiball running once you lock 'em is paramount. I started with a strong ball, locked two balls right from the get go and multiball on the first try. I repeated this feat on my second ball and was in an easy lead after that. Things only turned sour on the last ball, when I got to steal Brian's lock, locked another one myself and got a center drain from an attempt to start the multiball. Mark stole the locks and scored over 1M. I was left with 778k, David with 928k and Brian with 276k. 1 point here.

After the apocalyptic scenes of TNA we went to Paragon. I played a high risk game here, nothing but the multipliers for the first two balls. After the second ball the scores were all still at 50k or below, which made me look for less riskier options, so I started to gun for the passage next to right side drop targets. Couple of shots got in, and I ended my last ball with 92k for an easy win. 3 points.

Last was the Dracula. Mark was already in the next round with 2+4+2 points. I had 4 points, David 3 points and Brian 4 points, which meant this was a three way battle for that 2nd position and way to the second round. I knew this Dracula was really hard one, and I got very little done on it until the last ball. The others weren't doing that much better, but I only got the free Mist Multiball on my last ball. I was 3rd with my 32M and got 1 point.

Mark won the round with 7 points. I was last with 5 points, with David and Brian trying at 6 points. I could have so used at least one point from that Monopoly in the beginning!

Still, after the initial disappointment had mostly faded, the fact was that I had qualified in INDISC, which is after IFPA the second major tournament where I qualify.

The outcome

I was 35th out of 189 players in main tournament, 8th in Division B and qualified.

I didn't qualify in classics. 

I was 3rd in Pingolf, which wasn't WPPR ranked.

This is the first time ever I've walked away with an envelope in my playing history!

OMG! Cash! So worth after dropping $200+ on the entries!

Final thought

After we were done with Banning, we headed out to Long Beach in Los Angeles. We had absolutely nothing important on our agenda, just checking out places, bar hopping, cruising around with the roof down in Hollywood and so forth.

Our last hotel on this trip was Hyatt Regency and oh man was it something else compared to the crackhouse we spent the first night in. But don't just take my word for it!

First night's view

Last night's view
Long beach was such a beautiful area, but at the same time I was already starting to dread what was waiting for me back in Finland after leaving my car at the airport park for a week and a half.

In addition to bar hopping, we went to check out the Pacific ocean beach, where the water was still warm enough for a Finn to swim in!

Somewhere over there is Japan!
And as before, the trip wouldn't be complete without a dinner with out New Zealander friends, David, Fiona and of course the women's series winner, Danielle!

Since we had a street credible car for a Hollywood tour, we just had to go there on the final day! Got to see so many landmarks there, including the huge Hollywood sign (although from a distance), Kat Von D's place and many others.

All in all, this might have been the best pinball related holiday trip I've ever done before. Despite the pretty rough start, we still managed to squeeze so many things in and both yours truly and Olli-Mikko did alright in the tournament. So many rare pinball machines off my to-do -list as well. What's not to like?!

Until the next time!

P.S. My pants lasted back to Finland. Am I good or what?!

1 comment:

  1. Your trip reports are always a joy to read! Thank you for giving a glimpse of pinballa alla over the world, keep it up!