It Never Drains In Southern California - Banning, CA, USA - Museum of Pinball - 11-13/01/2019

My last year's trip to INDISC was my debut to the tournament and also the longest ever tournament trip I've ever done. Escaping the freezing cold and endless snow of Finland was a welcome break last year and when the opportunity to make the trip again raised, I didn't need to think twice. This time we however decided to skip the stop at a sketchy hotel in NY and flew straight to Los Angeles instead. I was a bit hesitant about flying Delta with their recent development in having their passengers assaulted by security officers when the airline themselves overbooked the flight. We typically always fly Finnair and their alliance, but the ticket prices had risen into obscene figures, so we had to get creative and book a KLM-Delta combo there and Air France-Finnair back.

As always, these longer trips also serve as a mini-vacation for me, so in addition to just playing, we reserved a lot of time to just roam around, check out the barcades, go to an NBA match and hopefully hit a movie studio as well.

As much as I love flying, I'm really bummed that I just can't get any sleep on the plane. With 2.5 + 11.5 hour in the air, I was hoping to work on some FreeCAD tutorials I had taken with me, but the person in in front of me decided to tilt their seat all the way back, leaving me just watching the movies instead.

I'm super envious about Marble's ability to just fall asleep the second he hits the plane seat.

That however paled in comparison of what expected us when we finally reached Los Angeles. Thanks to the US government shutdown they had only a handful of immigration and customs workers there, with literally hundreds of people per line. We thought we'd cut some waiting time by using the ESTA terminals, which first seemed to work, but then we got just directed back at the end of the line. I was almost dozing off at that point, with 20+ hours of being awake. When it was finally my time to be interviewed by the immigration officer, I probably came off as being high or something. Fortunately he wasn't too interested in his job and after two questions and a stamp in my passport we were ready to head for Banning.

Our ride for this trip.
This time we got ourself a convertible Ford Mustang, but it was way too cold and rainy to drive around with the roof down. I was pretty much out cold the second we arrived at Banning and I could finally fall face first into the bed.


The tournament was entry based, with 6 games per entry for the main tournament, 4 games per entry for the classics tournament and high stakes tournament. Main entries were $20 a piece, classics $15 and high stakes $50. They also had combo packages available, I took one with one high stakes, two main and two classic entries. I probably wouldn't have otherwise bothered with the whole high stakes tournament, the whole concept felt a bit (or a lot) rip-offish since it probably didn't even get that many players to be really valuable WPPR point wise. Friday and Saturday had their own, separate classic tournaments, which was a new thing for this year.

The tournament area

The main bank was really awesome. It had couple of new machines, some classic WPCs and the mandatory Gottlieb System 3 surprise. The whole lineup was:

  • Safecracker
  • Cheetah
  • Mousin' Around
  • Iron Man
  • Warlok
  • Excalibur
  • Iron Maiden
  • Bally Harley Davidson
  • Cue Ball Wizard
  • Jersey Jack's Pirates of the Caribbean
  • Monster Bash
  • Banzai Run (was never powered on)
  • Stargazer
  • Baywatch

Now, the trick here was to find 6 games where I could pull at least a tolerable game with maybe one or two real good ones in there. Popular modern games like Iron Maiden and Monster Bash were out of the equation right from the start. Safe Cracker was really interesting find, I don't think I've ever seen it in a major tournament line-up before.

I gave the Friday classics tournament a try but couldn't go jack with them. I next tried my luck with the high stakes tournament. I started out with Argosy, which was about to turn into a complete house party, except for one lucky ball, which netted me 470k. Next Godzilla. I know the game, but couldn't do much with it. To add to the insult, it had a pity multiball lit for the last ball and I couldn't even get that going. 25M. Barracora was a bit hit'n'miss game for me usually, today was a "miss" day. I couldn't get the drop targets down in order and had to walk away with 150k. At this point I had already pretty much given up, so I played Paragon as a last game. It was surprisingly well playing game and I got my best game of this entry on it, 174k.

It came very clear to me that at $50 a pop, I wasn't interested in dropping more money into this tournament. After checking out the free play area for new additions, we decided to call it a night. The jetlag was getting to me bad and I didn't waste any more entries.

We returned the next day for more serious try.

Yours truly, feat. Danni

Looking at the game list, I needed to find games that I could do well enough, but weren't super popular. Some strong contenders were Safe Cracker, Bally's Harley Davidson, Cue Ball Wizard and Baywatch.

On my first entry I included Jersey Jack's Pirates of the Caribbean just to get some game time on it. For a first timer it was an awfully confusing and complex game. I also tried Mousin' Around, on which I got my all time personal worst - 396k. I also played Baywatch, which played reasonably well but didn't go into my following entries.

Stern's latest: The Beatles
Between the entries I gave the set high score games couple of tries. They had Primus, The Beatles and a reaction tester modded Tron. This was my very first time playing the Beatles. Much to my surprise it wasn't all bad. Kind of odd combination to see a modern platform like Stern's Spike 2 being used for a classic one level playfield, but it was relatively fun game, although no way worth the diamond edition's price. I set the GC of 4.1M on it, which was up there for almost to the end.

The reaction tester Tron
The reaction tester Tron was a really cool oddball concept. It had three buttons each side with one of the buttons lit. If you pressed the lit button, it behaved as a normal flipper button. If you pressed a button that wasn't lit, it disabled that flipper for a second. The lit button changed after each press, making you constantly look at the buttons while trying to follow the ball. Pretty fun thing.

Primus, which was just another Whoa! Nellie retheme.
Primus was just a rethemed Whoa! Nellie and save the soundtrack and graphics, it was nothing special.

After a some tries, I finally had an entry that had some potential: Safe cracker, Warlok, Cue Ball Wizard and Harley Davidson all had decent games in them. With four good games, I needed one more strong game and looking at what was available I took the one remaining game that I knew well: Monster Bash. Boy was that a disappointment! I had very rough start, but I was setting the game up for two monsters during Frankie boy's multiball. I wasted two balls on that, but on my last ball I started the modes, show up the ramp and ... it didn't sink in. It stopped right at the spot where it would have started to roll in and then came back and went straight down the middle. Sigh.

Even with a completely failed Monster Bash my score was above the cut line for some time. Naturally it wasn't enough but it gave me with some confidence for the upcoming entries.

The streaming studio, in the middle of the tournament area

Unfortunately rest of the day didn't yield any better scores, with Safe Cracker being one of the most random games. I was still jetlagged as hell and made a point to have at least two days to recover the next time I'd fly to the other side of the world.

I gave the Saturday classics tournament a try but nothing came out of that. When the time finally ran out, I was out of the main tournament but just like last year, qualified for the B playoffs. I wonder if I could out-do my last year's 9-16th position.

B Playoffs, round 1

The playoffs were four player games with 3-2-1-0 point system. Each round would eliminate two players until four players were left for the final.

We started off with Mousin' Around. I played it for laughs during the qualification to learn just how much it was bastardized. It was. A lot. Our group was pretty even at first, until one player managed to nail a 2M jackpot on their last ball. I gave up with the multiball and looped the left orbit instead to pull some headspace. As a played 4 I was trying to catch the 5.9M best score, but drained at 1.9M. The rest were 1M and 800k, so 2nd position for this game.

Next up was Star Gazer. I know the game but hadn't played this one during the qualification. I got my ass completely handed to me and thanks to two different players winning the previous games, I was now in back against the wall position to win the next game.

The next game was Cue Ball Wizard, which had fortunately worked pretty well for me during the qualification. It wasn't until the last ball that I got the multiball going, but it was easily enough to win this game.

One in our group had enough points for a clear victory, but I was tied for the second place so we had to do a tie breaker, with me picking the game. I put on my troll face and picked Baywatch, even if I hadn't played it here this weekend. I was hoping it was random enough game for my opponent not to know it well and my gamble paid off from the get go when I got the hoped "oh no" face from him. I didn't do anything spectacular with the game, but my 350M was enough against his 180M, although he did get his game on during the last ball.

Winning this tiebreak meant I had outdone my last year's positions 9-16 place and was now on my way towards the B finals!

B playoffs, round 2

Star Gazer returned to haunt me as the first game and I outdid myself with a 38k score when everyone else had closer to 1M. The spinner shot just didn't want to sink in.

Next up was Gottlieb's Excalibur. I couldn't get much done on the two first balls, but on the last ball I managed to pull a one ball wonder and score the jackpot. I won the game easily with 3M score which meant I wasn't necessarily out from this round either, but I'd need one decent game after this.

Our last game was Warlok. I was somewhat confident with this one as it had worked well for me in the qualification, but this time it wasn't that easy. I ended up with 100k points, which was enough for 3rd place, which again meant I was out.

Last year this would have been a shared 5-8 place, but by some magic I ranked first in that slot. 

The outcome

I qualified in main tournament for B playoffs.

I did not qualify from either of the classics tournaments or the high stakes tournament.

I was 5th in B group, which translated into 36th position in the final results out of 236 players.

This was the second time in my life when I walk away with an envelope.

600€ for the plane tickets, 700€ for the hotels, 350€ for the car and fuel, then food, boozing etc. Totally worth it!

Final thoughts

This was the first time I got to play Total Nuclear Annihilation as much as I wanted. Museum of Pinball had all the new pins, most notably Thunderbirds and latest Spooky's pins. The Thunderbirds was a truckload of diarrhea, which prompted me to give TNA another go. After a frustrating start I started to get a hang of it. It works so good with my chaotic playing style, especially during the multiball.

Honestly, I tried to have something good to say about this thing. My favorite moment however was draining the last ball.
Even when I was a bit hesitant about the tournament's format last year, I quickly fell in love with the idea of hunting for the winning combo of qualification games and being able to retry as much as I liked within the qualification time frame. I'm also happy I can still hang in there even in the big boys' tournaments and that the last year's moderate success wasn't just a fluke.

The Golden Cue was Sega's last pin, which was in late stage of development cycle when Sega gave up on pinball. Stern later reused it as their 2nd pin, Sharkey's Shootout. If you've played Sharkey, you'll probably recognize the layout.
This time the Sharkey's Shootout prototype, Golden cue was in good playing order so I gave it couple of serious rounds. 5 minutes into my first ball I had the feeling someone was observing me. The game was extremely easy to play and I may have played a single have for over 15 minutes. When I finally finished, I noticed an older gentleman watching me. As I was about to walk away, he approached and said, "that was really impressive playing!". He introduced himself and asked where I was from and so forth, then introduced me to his wife, his son who was about my age and his grandson. This was rather "what's going on?!" moment for a socially shy Finn but I played along as they kept wondering just how far away I had travelled there.

After the Museum of pinball closed its doors, we headed back to Los Angeles to continue our incursion into the city's barcade scene. So many cool places, we checked out Bar 82, Button Mash and Ayce Gogi. I wish my home town had some decent bars with so many pins, back in the days I often went for a pint or ten and play pinball all night long, nowdays my arcade is the only public place to play pinball around here.

Ayce Gogi's pinball room. Pretty typical LA area Barcade setup
Everyone seemed to have Total Nuclear Annihilation, so I could finally put on some serious game time on it on location as well. It is now the top of my "no brain and all action" pins. I also played Munsters now that it had production software, but I'm still not sold on it.

We also dedicated one day to visit the Universal Studios with the New Zealand's wonder, Miss Peck. I finally got checking out a movie studio off my bucket list!

We also went to see Lakers vs. Bulls NBA game and saw their Finnish player, Lauri Markkanen playing.

My first NBA match, Bulls vs. Lakers. Lauri was awesome!
We took one day to just drive around and investigate the forest fire area from just week before we arrived. We drove for a long time seeing nothing but burn down forest and homes. It was raining heavily, which probably in a part helped out stamping out the remaining fires and gave the new growth a jump start. Still, it was an unnerving sight to see all those things burned down.

Me and Marble dedicated one day to go check out the LA city center. No plans, just roam around on foot and public transportation. This was my first time there and I was expecting something like New York. Instead of the super busy, noisy and a bit in-your-face mega city, Los Angeles was clean, relatively orderly and clean. We hit the downtown area in the middle of a demonstration by teachers, but even then it was civil. 

One of the most memorable random moments on this trip involves a conversation, or at least an attempt at that at a Mexican food truck. I wanted to sample almost everything they had, but the woman running the till spoke very little English. In the end I couldn't get the message across and just ordered a couple of burritos. Things like this leave me feeling stupid and I don't like feeling stupid. I kept wondering the whole way back home just how hard can it be learning Spanish? The next week after arriving home I took it as my next self-betterment project to learn at least conversational level Spanish by the time I return to the US.

I don't know when I get to make my next long distance tourney trip. There will be some local tournaments and we'll hit Borås in March.

Until then.