Pinball Expo Diaries 2004, part two (of two)


How to survive the Expo Banquet

Written by TheKorn

DISCLAIMER: This recount of my (wait, I married SheKorn this last year, so I guess I have to say "our" now) experiences at Pinball Expo 2004 is going to attempt to be fairly faithful to the actual events. Because of this, colorful language is going to be used throughout, as colorful language was used throughout! So if you don't want to read it, BAIL OUT NOW.

No, seriously, I mean it! No bitching later about it. I'm SERIOUS, people!!

Good, now I can fucking say what I want to. :)

Since you probably read part one, you might want to take a moment to throw out the empty cans from the six pack and the vacuous shell of a bag of chips.

Oh, and you might want to grab fresh ones, while you're up.

I suppose I should do a quick recap of the story so far, just in case you didn't read part one. OK, here are the bullet points:

(Go back to read part one if you want the details.)

But first! Before we go forward, a public service announcement:

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, are you tired and bored with seeing the same pictures from Stern Pinball, Inc. year after year? You know the ones I'm talking about, the "Hi, my name is Gomer, and here I am standing by the Stern sign" picture? Isn't it fatiguing that the only changes year to year are the actual people who are standing next to the sign, almost invariably sporting THE EXACT SAME American Gothic pose year after year?

Well ladies and gentlemen, the next time you see one of those Gomer pictures (or worse yet, think of taking one of your own!), I hope one of these images will pop into your mind and inspire you to take some interesting photos. (Apologies to whom I stole these from!)

Also, something I forgot to write about in part one: My Sorcerer.

Hindsight being what it is, I know now that I'm an idiot. I've said it before on RGP, but occasionally I'll do something so stupid that it really makes it work repeating aloud. I'm an idiot.

The grand plan for this year was to throw the party, do up Rob's Centaur for the show, bring over Wolffy's HS2 and YBX's Breakshot from my place, AND two of my games, Sorcerer and Vector.

Did I mention that I'm an idiot yet? :) I came close to getting everything done; Rob's Centaur obviously was finished. The party happened, and for once all the machines survived, with a few potholes hit along the way. Wolffy's and YBX's games were moved to expo. And even Vector got done, almost in spite of itself and the shape that it was in when I got it.

But Sorcerer, oh Sorcerer... you bitch. :) See, I had moved my Sorcerer into the basement a couple of months ago to work on some other projects. And it was FULLY WORKING when I moved it down there; all I did was remove the batteries and balls, take off the head, and down the stairs it went on the dolly. So like a nave, I assumed that if I pulled it back up from the basement, reattached the head, and wired it all back up, that everything would mostly work.

Here's where the crappy part starts. Sorcerer would have none of it. Got the game into the hall, reattach the head, (sic) pfutzed with the wires (it's amazing how you can completely _lose_ a connector in a bundle of wires), flip the switch and....

....not a damn thing happening! The GI came on, but whoopie-doo. Nothing on the score displays, nothing even on the diagnostic digit on the CPU board. So immediately I'm thinking I just screwed myself by mixing up the white/black connectors. (All you system 7 and earlier freaks will know EXACTLY what I'm talking about.) Double check that, nope, everything OK there. Recheck all the other connectors, they all look good and match what I have marked on the wires.

At this point one of the pinLED guys really helped me out. I'm not sure if his name was Jurgen or what it was; big tall guy with blond/light brown hair. See, even though I had the manual and multimeter there, my brain was running on empty so hard at that point (Thursday, mid-afternoon) that I simply couldn't even begin to form a plan of attack regarding troubleshooting the game. So Jurgen (or whatever his name is... :) ) really bailed me out, checked the TPs on the power supply board, and quickly determined that SOMETHING was wrong with the +5V bridge rectifier. (Fuses were OK, but no +5VDC.)

Long story short, at some point Lyman offered to loan me whatever I needed to get Sorcerer back up and running. So I asked him to bring back (the next day -- Lyman HAS a day job, don't ya know :) ) a sys 9 power supply board.

I know, that story doesn't sound like it ends there, and it doesn't. But it ends there as far as things that happened on Thursday. We'll come back to it in a few dozen paragraphs.

(whew) I think we're finally caught up to the end of part one now. :)

Chapter Three point Two: Friday, after Hugh Jass

After listening to Hugh Jass make one of himself, it was time for lunch. Went over to Shirtless Joe's with Pete Hoerber, Hunter (somebody), Rick Swanson (

) and a few others. It was there that I learned of Rick's previous run-in with the Rosemont Streets & Sanitation department.

I don't know if Rick knows this, but it's a pretty well documented fact that the city of Rosemont is in pretty tight with the mob. So you can imagine the incredulous look I gave Rick when he announced that he was wearing cement shoes the other day, yet was still alive to tell me the story!

In any case, after lunch I swung back by the hall to fix my Vector. Stopped Steve Kordek for a quick photo (

) and then went inside.

Since Sorcerer was a no-go the entirety of Thursday night, I was determined to at really give 110% effort to keeping Vector running. On Thursday night, Vector was all of a sudden calling tilts randomly while playing a game, which led to it being turned off by a concerned fellow. (Thanks, btw!)

While fixing Vector in the hall, I met up with two friends from the California contingent. One great guy is simply known as SDTM on RGP. (

) He's not really camera shy; he really looks like that! :) The other friend I met was the right wing pinko commie himself, Randy Peck. (

) Unfortunately, this is the best picture I have of Randy, so it'll have to do. :))))

So I managed to track down the problem with Vector (damn ground short in the switch matrix), and fix it. I should take a moment to give a big "Thanks!" to Julie Rachel, who played the role of soldering station holder quite well in SheKorn's absence. (SheKorn had to work on Friday, because her "sick" excuse just wasn't going to fly two days in a row. :) )

I wound up missing George Gomez's fireside chat because we (SheKorn was back by then... :) ) went out to dinner with Aron Boag, Metallik, Wolffy, and SDTM.

After dinner I picked up the power supply board Lyman dropped off at FAO for my Sorcerer. Quickly slapped it into the game, and Sorcerer had come back to life! I played a quick game, then turned it over to Frank Price and his friend Jay. Unfortunately, Sorcerer had decided that it really _didn't_ want to be played at this year's expo. About five minutes after I walked away, Frank found me and let me know that the drop targets weren't resetting and it looked like some of the solenoids were dead.

One thing I learned after expo '02 was to have fuses on hand. So before leaving for expo, I put every single fuse type that I have on hand into a single bag. I counted, and I had over 35 different fuse types, sizes, and values in that bag. Earlier on Friday, YBX had dug into the fuse bag looking for a 4A slow for his Breakshot, and now I found myself looking for a 3A slow to see if I could fix Sorcerer. Quickly replaced the fuse, then tested the solenoids.

Unfortunately, Sorcerer's drop targets were now sticking. The game was constantly trying to reset them. After about five times in a row, the slow blow fuse had enough and blew. If you've ever tried to rebuild a bank of WMS red drop targets, you know that it's a small hell even when everything is at home and going right; there was no way on earth that I was going to even attempt it at the show, so I powered off Sorcerer and resigned that it would be dead for the rest of the show. So now you know; if you saw a dead Sorcerer in the back of the hall at Expo, it was mine. :( Oh well, it's always best to aim for the stars, even if you sometimes you miss and nail the moon by accident.

Chapter Four: Saturday (up to the banquet)

Didn't get back to expo until slightly after noon on Saturday. Wanted to sleep in since I knew it would be a late night that night playing pinball.

SheKorn and I caught Doug Watson's (

) Saturday seminar on, well, himself. :) Very interesting guy to hear talk, because you could really hear how he was an artist that was a little frustrated at the politically correct consensus. It was really hard to take pictures of his slides because I didn't have my tripod (and a flash was useless), but I did manage to get a halfway decent picture of one of the original Demolition Man backglasses (

) and some conceptual art (

) .

From there it was over to the autograph session. Since we were coming from a seminar, we were at the back of the line. That turned out to be a good thing, since I learned (from A Player To Be Named Later) that Stan Fukuoka (

), the artist for Big Bang Bar was in the room. After getting over being pissed that I didn't know it earlier (since I had a BBB translite at home!), I fished out some cash and sent SheKorn on a mission -- to buy a second BBB translite!

During the signing session, a strange event happened. Stan had brought all of his original pencil sketches with him for BreakShot, BBB, and a game Capcom was developing called (apparently) Plan 9. He was selling his original pencil sketches for $75 apiece. A Player To Be Named Later picked up the book of Big Bang Bar sketches and asked how much for the entire book. Stan was visibly taken aback by this, I think because he was trying to determine if A Player To Be Named Later was just screwing around or serious about buying the _entire_ book. I chimed in to let Stan know that APTBNL was absolutely serious, and that he was about to make quite a bit of money. Some haggling ensued, and quickly a deal was struck for ALL of the BBB conceptual art (minus the absolute finished translite art which wasn't for sale) and all of the pencil sketches, for a final price of more than what Gene is asking for his repro BBB's! APTBNL calmly reached into his pocket, and put down a cash deposit of almost half of the deal's value, then had him sign his BBB translite he bought from Pacak for $20. :)

And what was I doing during the signing session? OK, I admit it, I did the gomer thing and bought a pinball expo poster and had everybody sign it. Well, almost everybody. You see, I wasn't about to have Gene Cunningham "enhance" (read: DEFILE!!) my poster by having him sign it. So as soon as Dave Christensen was done signing it, I rolled the poster up, said "Hi" to Gene, scooted over to Greg Kimec, and unrolled the poster to have him sign it. On one level I felt kind of like a dick for doing that, and on another I felt that I really needed to hammer home a point, which is that I don't feel that Gene is doing pinball any favors. Others are entitled to their opinions of course, and I'm entitled to mine. In any case, I'd be damned if he was going to sign _my_ poster; I needed the room for the truly deserving! (i.e. the people in the room who actually had something to do with designing the games!


Wow, quick chapter. :)

Chapter Five: The Banquet at the edge of the horizon

Well, here we are, the creme de la creme. The raison d'etre. The Banquet!

OK, for most the banquet is neither the creme de la creme nor their raison d'etre, it's simply something to do while the hall is closed. Fair enough. I was in the same boat as everyone else; I had to be out of the hall so I might as well go to the banquet. But I had been to one other expo banquet before (although I've been going to expo since '98, last year was my first time at the banquet), and I knew that there was no way in hell I going to sit anywhere near the head table. So the Motley Fool Crue (RazerX, Craig Restraint, Wolffy, SheWolffy, SheKorn, YBX, DBX, Rick Swanson, Aron Boag, Chris Munson and I) immediately sat as far away as possible from the head table so that we could be rowdy without bothering anyone who was "serious" about the banquet. Now when just Aron and I get together, it's a pretty volatile mixture. But when you throw in Munson and Swanson, you have a sure fire recipe for disaster! And that's EXACTLY what I wanted; I knew I was going to need some entertainment during the banquet, and I knew that WE were going to have to provide it ourselves!

One of the first dozen things that happens at the Expo banquet is the Make-A-Wish auction. People donate stuff, and the proceeds go to Make A Wish. It's charity, it's cool. Occasionally, you'll find some good stuff in the auction (RazerX won the bidding on a Gorgar backglass that was on Steve Kordek's office wall), and occasionally they'll auction off, for lack of a better term, complete crap.

Such was the case this year, when the item up for auction was purportedly the contents of one of Steve Kordek's office drawers. Philippe (a.k.a. "MrHide") won that auction, paid for his wares, and returned to the table with two grocery bags of, well, crap.

What happened next was one of those serendipitous moments that was such pure genius that I'll always remember it. Philippe reached into the bag, grabbed something, and WHIPPED it across the banquet hall! He whipped a bag of "Cracked Pepper" chips at one table, a granola bar at another table, and a cup o' noodles at another table! It was kind of a "yeah, fine, I'll buy your crap for charity, BUT I DOn'T HAVE TO LIKE IT" kind of gesture, and I was absolutely ROARING with laughter! What made it better was watching Berk almost have a stroke trying to get him to stop whipping things around the banquet hall!

So at this point, our table discovers that we've been the recipient of two whips -- something in an entirely unmarked white package and a cup'o'noodles. We'll come back to the cup'o'noodles later, but for now let's concentrate on the white package.

If you didn't know any better, you'd think that this white package was simply a triple wide tampon. It was about the right length for a tampon, it was completely unmarked, and was hermetically sealed. Aron immediately fixated upon this, and discovered that it was FLEXIBLE! Hence the mystery object was named, it was now and forever known as the FLEXI-SNACK!

(Aron) "What will someone give me to eat the Flexi-Snack?"
(Korn) "Five bucks!!"

I have to tell you that was the best five dollars I EVER spent! (

) The look on Aron's face after he had taken one bite (

) was worth it; he knew he'd been HAD! :) (


To make matters worse, as soon as Aron was done chewing the Flexi-Snack, it was our table's turn to go up to the buffet! Aron didn't even get time to wash down the Flexi-Snack before standing up, so he still had a mouth full of flexi-snack while loading his plate. At this point (while at the buffet!), I spontaneously burst into the Flexi-Snack song, sung to the tune of, "Oh Christmas Tree":

Oh Flexi-Snack,
Oh Flexi-Snack,
What are you made of

Are you yogurt,
or are you cream?
Or are you some-
thing in-between?

And at this point, Munson and Boag have picked up on the refrain and start singing it with me at the buffet table! Can you imagine a table full of retarded monkeys singing a Christmas carol about an inedible food product?

Oh Flexi-Snack,
oh Flexi-Snack,
what are you made of

You come in sack,
that's made of white.
You make me sick,
all through the night!

Oh Flexi-Snack,
Oh Flexi-Snack,
What are you made of,

Coincidentally, Berk and company were in line behind us at the buffet table. So we got to see Berk have a second stroke of the night trying to get us retarded monkeys to STOP SINGING.

It's fun acting like a moron sometimes. :)

Anyway, so we sit down, eat the food, and do all your normal banquet things. Then Pat Lawlor gets up to speak.

I have to say that Pat Lawlor's speech was, without a doubt, the absolute low point of expo this year. He started off by saying how in years past the Pat Lawlor show they played a game called Greed. Not having been to any of THOSE Pat Lawlor shows, I can't comment. But Pat went on to say how he has a daughter entering college, so since Ebay was around, we wouldn't be playing Greed this year. I'm not sure if it was intended to be funny or not, but it came across as really sad, and an extremely bad way to start off a 45 minute presentation.

Not knowing what I was missing by not having Greed, I wasn't completely bummed. After all, this was still the same Pat Lawlor who did FunHouse, Banzai Run, and others, right?

Wrong. THAT Pat Lawlor has gone the way of Elvis and left the building. The Pat Lawlor that showed up to give a talk at Expo was a beaten, broken, defeated man. He reiterated his point (that he's posted on RGP in the past year) about how he's dumbing games down to give them more mass appeal. He also said such classics such as, "it's going to take one of these new designers like Steve Ritchie to come up with another genius idea to save pinball". In other words, don't look to Pat for that genius idea, he's fresh out. (And Steve has been designing pins for how long now? 26+ years? And he still has ideas? Hmmmm....)

Well, I have some advice for you, Mr. Lawlor. Simply put, yes, things are different than they were when you joined the business in 1986. But many of the same things that held true back then are still true now. If you build a fun game, people will find it and play it, then tell their friends how much fun it is and get them to play it. People don't enjoy games that are dumbed down; they get BORED by them quickly and leave them to rot. (Witness RCT!) It's a game that they can't beat easily, but still allows them to see some progression in their playing skills that keeps them coming back for more.

Simply put, Mr. Lawlor, you didn't get to where you are now by playing it safe. You took risks, tried new ideas, and innovated. You're afraid to do any of that now, and it's absolutely killing you and your designs.

So during Mr. Lawlor's "woe is me" speech, I was desperate for entertainment. But most of the serving pieces had already been cleared from the table, so supplies were in short order. The only things left on the table were the microwave cup-o-noodles (from Mr. Hide) and a pitcher of ice water. Now these weren't your regular ramen noodles. These were a truly VILE taste mixture of cheese, dried jalapeno peppers, and the usual heaping amount of salt.

So I grabbed the cup of noodles and the pitcher of water, opened the cup of noodles, and proceeded to rehydrate them. WITH ICE WATER. Little dried jalapenos were floating on top of the ice cubes, and the mass of noodles wasn't even softened. I planted a spoon into the cup like a flag, wrote on the side of the cup, "$20 if you eat the whole thing", then passed it around the table.

I decided that since Pat was blowing so badly as a speaker, that I was going to get _someone_, preferably Aron, to spew chunks to match. Although the cup made two long stops while the holders (YBX and Aron) debated whether to take up my challenge, ultimately no-one rose to meet it.

Still in the throes of Pat's depression session, I decided to kick it up a notch. I grabbed the cup-o-noodles, and SheKorn immediately dumped a few packets of sweet-n-low into it. I grabbed the creamer from the center of the table, and poured it on. It _immediately_ curdled from the ice!

So now we had this thoroughly disgusting looking cup-o-noodles, with curdled cream on top of ice, mixed with dried jalapeno peppers and cheese sauce, on top of a bed of rock hard un-microwaved ramen noodles.

I grabbed the cup, crossed out $20, and wrote $50 on the side, and passed it around the table again.

I was going to get SOMEONE to puke! :)

Much, much later (Sunday morning, in fact!) the hall re-opened. And somehow I found myself in a round of ScreamBall with Aron Boag and Pete Hoerber.

If you've never played ScreamBall before, let me familiarize you with it. In a nutshell, it is up to the players that are not playing the game to, well, fuck up the player who IS playing the game. Pretty much everything is fair game, outside of physically touching the player and/or shaking the machine deliberately to get the tilt to go off.

In this case, Aron decided to scream at the top of his lungs for AN HOUR AND A HALF like a japanese game show host.

While that was going on, I decided to be helpful and point to the location of the ball AT ALL TIMES (


Pete was taking a different track, and doing his Baby Gorgar routine. I'll leave him to fill in the blanks on what that entails, as I can't remember any of it right now. Suffice it to say, _really_ funny stuff!

(Korn) "I have secret, key to whole game."
(Pete, playing) "Oh yeah?"
(Korn) "NO really, secret key to WHOLE GAME!! You want to see key to whole game?"
(Pete) "YES!!"
(Korn) (slamming keys down on glass) "THERE! KEY TO WHOLE GAME RIGHT THERE!!"

By about 3:45 AM, none of us could talk any more. Our voices were shot, we couldn't play worth a damn, and both my face and sides were hurting from laughing so continuously for so long! (


Chapter Six: Epilogue

So we wrapped all the games up and trucked them all home. Breakshot went to YBX's, HS2 went to Wolffy's, and Sorcerer and Vector both made it home safely (

). Next to the Vector, you'll see the high speed playfield that was NOT in the pictured Durango for a while. :)

I'd like to thank everyone for attending expo '04. That's what really makes Expo so special, it's the people. Yes, the games are a very nice bonus, but it's the people (both industry insiders and others) that make the show.

Special thanks from me go out to Wolffy, Yancy Blaylock and SheKorn, for their help in getting things ready for the pre-expo party. Lyman Sheats also deserves special thanks, for offering to help in my hour of Sorcerer need. All the party goers (too many to list), thanks for coming and making my little corner of things special as well! Mike and Rob, well hey, without you guys there wouldn't BE an expo. Mike again, for being on his absolute best behavior this year -- you've really turned a corner, and it _shows_; makes attending Expo SOOOo much nicer! RazerX for giving me the opportunity to do up his Centaur -- definitely a fun project. Munson, Hoerber, Boag, Frank Price, James Loflin, Eric Johansen, Craig Restraint, SDTM, APTBNL, Joel Cohen, Metallik, PinWiz, and I'm sure many others that I'm forgetting right now but will remember right after I send this, thank you as well!

And finally, thanks for reading! See you next year at Expo!