PPL League Update – December 2013

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The following was written and / or photographed by league members of the Pittsburgh Pinball League.


Pittsburgh Pinball League



DSC_0027All of the scenarios had played out in my mind. Do I try to save the girl? Or should I go the left ramp creature route. Get control at the start of the multiball would be key. It is so easy to think about the steps ahead, and forget about the first required step. But how did the journey get to this point?

I was excited about the team the PPL had put together. I felt I had a skilled team. Everyone seemed to be making shots in warmups and I felt very good about being able to put the right players in the right places. The FSPA team looked very strong, but my team seemed relaxed. I hoped that having league finals earlier in the day would help get any competitive jitters out.

The first round was on the game that I knew best – Champion Pub. Initially, the plan was going with the door prize for every skill shot in the hopes of getting multiple spitting galleries. But during the warm-up time, I managed to get my players to intentionally drain enough times so that we could verify that the mystery award was always “Lite All Jackpots”. This changed our strategy to go the smart punch/fight route. We would start the game with shadow boxing, since it was points and the smart punch. Initially, I told my players to always push the launch button when hitting the bag in the hopes of getting bar flies. But I realized if I stood close enough, I could hear the fly and let the players know when to hit the launch button. When enough smart punches were collected, the option moved to lighting the jackpots if enough others had been collected, or the million points. I didn’t consider the 5x multiplier until after Ty’s game.

Choosing Matt to lead off was an easy choice, since he had put in so much effort to drive and learn the game the night before, and he rewarded that decision with a great game. Ty played well on a game he didn’t know well. Fortunately, DJ came through with some good nudges and pulled out the third game.

DSC_0005The change from Aerobatics to Captain Fantastic was a good one for us. I had to play it during league finals, and had a feel for the bounces and shots. The plan was to be very careful with the upper flipper. The feed down that side was somewhat controllable if the player didn’t flip.

Sarah played smart, learning from her ball one scissor. Her tilt seemed weird, but when I play I often get what has been dubbed as “Pete tilts” – a tilt from flipping too hard. I wondered if Sarah had done the same thing. Fortunately, it only came into play one more time for Adam. When watching the replay, I’m glad to see that I wasn’t the only one shocked by DJ’s low bonus count on the ball he collected double bonus. If I hadn’t seen the replay, I would still find it hard to believe that he never advanced his bonus that ball. Thankfully, Matt was able to pull out some solid balls in game 3 to get us the 2-0 lead.

For the draft round, I wanted to have my best players going in the single games, and take my chances with Ty and Sarah in the split flipper. The strategy for Taxi was to be careful – maximize the skill shots and don’t leave balls in the locks. Matt played it perfectly.

Next was DJ on Metallica, who I knew was the most familiar player on that game and had the best recovery skills. Unfortunately, he ended up one shot short of starting his Sparky, and Adam played a great game.

This brought up the deciding game on Creature. While the FSPA still had their top players for this, I had faith in Ty on the right flipper, as he could hit the left ramp clean and backhand the right ramp. But all the practice went for naught when Doug changed the game to Tales of the Arabian Nights. Our hope with the new game was to build up a big bonus by timing out early lightning lamps. Ty and Sarah did well adjusting to the game change, but Dave & Jake worked very well together to cut our lead in half.

In the pre-game, there was a question if Doug Polka would be unbiased. One could question that after he put me at a disadvantage of having to always pick my player first for round 4. As the announcers noted, Captain Fantastic was going to be a coin flip. Sarah was to just try to make safe shots and be very careful with the flippers. She did that and grabbed the early lead. One ball on Champion Pub was about getting to the spitting gallery and hoping for the extra ball. But Adam continued his great play and tied things up. After Matt’s earlier success on Taxi, I felt comfortable letting him go for it again. And he played a great ball. But unlike his earlier game, he left a ball in the lock that Joe turned into his beautiful pinch hit walk-off jackpot that was truly amazing. Ty pulled off a good win on TOTAN against Dave, but we gave the point right back after Matt’s fast drain on Scorpion.

Down 3-2, I knew DJ would be playing the last two for us. While watching the tournament coverage of Expo, I had saw DJ put together a great string of ramp combos on Spiderman, so the hope was that he could duplicate it on Metallica. He put enough together to get the win and bring himself up in a best vs best battle against Dave on Creature. While it wasn’t a thing of beauty, DJ pulled it out and put us up 3-1.

Needing one win, I felt pretty good. Because it was split flipper, the plan was to split Matt & DJ up for the first two games and let them serve as extra leadership for Ty and Sarah. While I knew about the locks and the bonus multipliers, I wasn’t the most familiar with the Scorpion rules. I wanted them to get at least one lock so it would be more difficult for Jake and Adam. The players quickly learned how to get control off the plunge and get as much play in the upper left drops as possible. But when Sarah accidently backhanded the unlit spinner for a good score, we realized that a new strategy was in order. But fate had other plans, and the game broke before we could try it in the later games.

Another round of Paper/Rock/Scissors was used to decide the replacement game. Someone must have clued Joe in that the name Peter literally means “Rock”, so paper was going to win this for him. This brought up more Tales. In the second game, DJ was masterful on the right flipper backhand to make a wish and give us a close win. Needing just to win one game to take home the victory, I went for the kill and sent up my best two players in a split flipper game instead of saving them for Metallica. This backfired when Jake and Dave took the game with solid multiball play.

I went into Round 6 knowing I would have to play Sarah first and Ty second. But I still had all three of my pinch hits. I knew Ty wasn’t super familiar with all of the rules to the game, so I thought I would use them during his game. In the first game, Sarah was playing well, and I believed she could run Rich down, but it wasn’t meant to be when she couldn’t feed the snake. This set up Ty vs Dave. I am very proud of how Ty played this game. He did a great job in getting to the first Sparky. My plan was to jump in at that point, get the double scoring and add a ball, and pass it back. I jumped the gun in getting in though. For some reason, I thought I could cancel the animation at the start of multiball. When this didn’t happen, I wasted many valuable seconds watching a jiggling toy. I rushed at that point, but never did get the add-a-ball. We did get a super jackpot, and control was passed back smoothly. Ty started working his way to the next multiball. Dave’s monster second ball made the hole huge, but Ty kept battling, playing in control and steady and getting to the next Sparky. When he was finished with that, he was 5 hits short of coffin and two away from Snake. So we gambled and went after the coffin as I figured this was the best hope in catching Dave. But he came up a couple of captive balls short and we moved on to the last round.

DSC_0009When I set up my lineup for Creature, I was hoping for two multiball opportunities. I put DJ first in the hope that he could get the easy one on his own. Then all of the other players could strategicly work towards the second. I hoped if it got to me, I would have options – slide modes, ramp modes, or maybe even moving some cars. Looking back, I should have flipped myself and DJ. I was cold and he had been making shots for hours. We spelled FILM by ball 3, but it came to me on ball 5. The path was set.

All the steps were planned. But the execution wasn’t…  A brick and a flail and we were defeated.

While we ended up losing, the experience was remarkable. I had a great time working with my players. Both crowds were spectacular, making for a very fun atmosphere, and the commentators did a wonderful job. (Jon was right – if I started the multiball, it would have taken me all three shots to find the girl). I am very proud of how my team and the FSPA team represented themselves. The PAPA staff put together a unique and fun event and I hope everyone enjoyed viewing it as we did playing in it.

My team took some time to jot down their thoughts about the experience:

DJ Riel: First off, hats off to PAPA, and everyone involved in getting this charity event together. It was very well put together for a first time event, and I hope that more will continue to happen. It’s a great thing for pinball!

I liked the mix of games, and the way the games were played. I thought the options for play were really good and kept it interesting. A great line up of games and a great way to run it.

To review the team’s play, my status in pinball competition this year as ‘bubble boy’ seemed to carry over; the competition went down to the last game and the last ball. Unfortunately we lost, but I’m glad to have had some great players on my team, with a great coach who was really knowledgeable on the games to keep us in the games and the competition through the end.
The crowd; ROCKED. Big ups to the PPL and the support throughout the long tournament! You kept us alive when we were down and didn’t quit until the end.

FSPA – it was great playing against a team of top notch players and great sports to the game. But you now have a bull’s-eye on you come Pinburgh.

Ty Konopasek: The PPL vs. FSPA match was my most fun competition that I have ever taken part in. I had a great time playing against the FSPA team and their amazing players in a long, nerve racking, and breath taking tournament. I have all respect for both teams even though FSPA stole our close but out of reach win. I appreciate being picked for the team and had the greatest pinball experience I’ve had in a long time.

Sarah Cunniff: I was honored to be picked for the team and was very pleasantly surprised to face off against our former Polish Hill neighbor, Jake from FSPA.

And finally, with some inspiration from his mentor – Matt Schwab: There was some talk of how it would be boring to watch non-A players compete, but I think from watching the video of the Challenge, it was nothing of the sort. There are already plenty of events to watch the very top level of competition and was honored in being able to represent PPL in the first PAPA League Challenge event.

It’s one thing to play on your own and crush it, another to play head to head and put up points, another to play under the lights and cameras of PAPA events, and it’s a whole other experience to have a crowd yelling and chanting, kazoo’s going off behind you and trying to concentrate. I don’t know how you adequately prepare for that and don’t see that in any of that in other PAPA event videos.

Most Memorable Game notes:

With Mark publishing the game list a couple days before the event, I did drive out to Stonehenge in Akron, Ohio to get some practice on Champions Pub as I’ve never played it before. Just to clarify, Stonehenge also had a CFTBL and Metallica, so figured by the time I’d drive around Pittsburgh playing 3 games, it’s only 1.5 hours to Akron and easier to stay in one, quiet location.

The Champion’s Pub – Pete had good coaching on the skill shot picks and we noticed in warm-ups that the Lite All Jackpots was coming up every time in the mystery award. No need to pick it more than once. I tried to avoid shooting any ramp combos in the fights, I didn’t want to miss and brick-drain (like I did on Scorpion) but I felt that shooting the green ramps and straight shots returned the ball more safely and can make head shots to beat the first two fights without smart punches. I figured having enough smart punches would advance through the rest of the fights and completing spitting gallery would beenough points. That right outlane nudge was a bit harder than it looked, after seeing Dave from FSPA tilt trying to nudge that out, I figured I’d let it go instead of forcing it out and risk losing bonus.

Lesson #1 – Never ease up or even let any thoughts of victory enter your head when you are up big, as it’s not over until all of the balls are played. What do you do when you are up 20 mil on a game? ALT would say that you crush it like a crusher and add another 100 mil to your score. Contrary to the FSPA league updates, I think the tone for the night was set right from the 1st games, although it proved to be a long night, especially after PPL finals.

Captain Fantastic – Jake put up a large score of 40k early into the game which was exceeding the previous game totals and made my heart sink a bit. My main focus was to cut the lead over the next couple balls by avoiding draining, keeping the ball up at the top, get double bonus lit, and the outlane save gate open. I had never played this game before but it was a Bally and felt similar to Paragon crossed with Mata Hari. After a couple of balls, I finally got ahold of it on the 4th ball and it was satisfying to comeback and “Crush it like Thomka!” on that game.

Lesson #1 (Flipside) – When you are down big, you’re not out until the last ball.

A Sidenote – I was thinking along the same line as Joe from FSPA, that their Jackpot on Taxi (single ball) was the turning point, although after watching the video of the challenge, the walk-off plunge on Captain Fantastic may have put a hex on the whole bit. Final reel score=66,600

Taxi – (3-Ball and Single ball games) – After winning the first, 3-ball game on Taxi and an unsuccessful FSPA substation, with putting up just over 800k on the single ball game of Taxi, I didn’t think that Rich of the FSPA would straight up match that on 1 ball. After a fortunate double ball trap in multiball, Joe substituted in to grab the Jackpot and was a kick in the nuts. It reminded me of the walk-off scene in the movie Zoolander, when Hansel had to pull his underwear out of his a$$ to win it. For real though, kudos to them for utilizing the rules to the fullest and think it made it a great highlight on the PAPA Challenge video.

This may have been PPL’s first challenge loss, though reframing it, it took the FSPA to the last couple balls of the last game to beat a true 1st season player that is expecting and couldn’t have been easy on her, a teenager that can’t practice when he wants to as he can’t drive yet and has school, soccer, and homework, a player that’s been playing for just over a year, and a PPL Season 17 B division qualifier (we all know you crush it DJ).

Crusher society thanks to Al Thomka for his enduring PPL support. Some of my favorite quotes from him included:
– “One ball, to the Outlane!”
– “That’s why he is the Minicrusher !”
– “No spin for you!” (referring to the TOTAN genie lamp)
– “He, he, he, he, heeeee”
– “Gotta get that ball back up there for multi-ball Wicker chair”
– “Too bad, so sad with the 1,000”

Perhaps a PAPA tutorial video on Heckling 101 could be done?

Thanks to DJ, Sarah, and Ty for some great play throughout a long, hard-fought out event, Pete for coaching, and the PAPA crew of Mark, Doug, Jon, and Brian. Final thanks to PPL for staying after a long day of league finals and all of your support, banners, and cheering which is what truly makes PPL the largest and best league.

Thanks for reading. The next PPL season will be starting in the beginning of the new year. On behalf of our other league officials – Doug, Mish, Joe, and Erin, and the entire Pittsburgh Pinball League, may everyone have a happy holiday season and may the new year be pleasant and full of pinball fun.