Button mashing at the FunSpot

That’s not as dirty as it sounds.

The FunSpot bills itself as the world’s largest arcade, and was featured in the arcade game documentary The King of Kong. I’ve wanted to visit for years, but it’s just far enough into New Hampshire that a day trip makes for an unpleasant eleven hour round trip. To put it less diplomatically, it’s in the ass end of nowhere. BFE. East Ja-bip.

Hell, even the lovely couple we met at Novares Res beer bar in Portland a day later, who live nearby in Meredith, looked at us like we’d just said we liked to eat live snakes when we said that we’d spent the day there. They were trying to escape.

While were there, our GPS tried to kill us by sending us up a one-lane gravel road (no problem, all wheel drive, and I’ve driven all over Scotland) and then up a rutted mountain death hole with a cheeky sign warning that the road “is not maintained by the state or the town.” It looked like someone had attacked it with a steam shovel. I gingerly made a K turn in the pitch black with three foot drop-offs on either side–thankfully there was a bulge in the road a few yards back that I turned into–and we drove all the way back into town before asking a local how to get there without taking “Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut.” (that’s a wonderful Stephen King story that I mentioned last week. You haven’t read it yet?)

We also watched one of the adolescent menfolk try to woo a woman working at a drive-thru grill by smoking out his F-150’s tires until her parking lot resembled a haunted house production at your local high school (overzealous use of dry ice machine).

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We were in the boonies, and mind you, we’d just driven through Louisiana bayou country a few months back and saw nothing like this. Must be something in the mountain air…

The FunSpot is next to a mini-golf course and a water park and has a bowling alley and skee-ball lanes, so it is a lot like Lucky Leo’s and other Jersey Shore arcades where you need something to do when it rains. We bought a bucket of tokens and Firecracker went off to ply her skills at Skee while I hunted every arcade game cabinet I’d played as a child in the ’80s and had never been able to find again.

Oddly, there was no Donkey Kong. There was a sign mentioning the high scoreage, but they don’t play up their fame in The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters, probably because the film pokes fun at arcade game junkies, especially Billy Mitchell, the mulleted, black jeaned maestro of the joystick:

Billy-Mitchell

My friend Milky wanted me to look for Mitchell’s toadie Brian Kuhn, but he was nowhere to be found. He had better things to do. And so did I, like playing RADICAL RADIAL!!! This terrible game was one of the few they had at Chestnut Grove lodge and resort, where we went for summer vacation a few times as a kid. My mom had to get away, and here she could sit by the pool or the lake while we cavorted with counselors and fished for monster bass stocked in the lake and flirted with the other hormone-crazed teens. And when it rained, we played Radical Radial, Night Driver, Joust, and Gyruss (3 warps to Uranus! bwahahaha).

No one had ever heard of Radical Radial, and I’ve only seen it again here. It could even be the same cabinet:

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You play this tire who jumps around avoiding road obstacles and shooting lasers, as only the raddest of radials can do.

They also had the most disturbing arcade game of all time, Chiller, where you shoot at victims in a torture chamber to unlock treasures. No, I’m not kidding:

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They also had a sit-down version of the vector Star Wars game which I played until I destroyed the Death Star, a bunch of weird ripoffs of other popular games, and some fun ones I remembered, like Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Elevator Action, Tutankhamen, Congo Bongo, Dragon’s Lair, the awful Cliff Hanger which took Hayao Miayazaki’s delightful Castle of Cagliostro animated film and cut it into a terrible game, Joust 2, and a game I’m actually pretty good at, Road Blasters:

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They didn’t have Tempest, my favorite of the oldies, as it was in for repair. No Donkey Kong, either. I’m not sure I’d recommend a long pilgrimage here but if you’re ever in the area, lost on Dana Hill road by Squam Lake (where On Golden Pond was filmed) and it’s too rainy to go trout fishing, go get a fistful of tokens and recall your misspent youth at the FunSpot.

 

The King of Kong – A Fistful of Quarters and Chasing Ghosts – Beyond the Arcade

The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters was the sleeper documentary of 2007, and it remains a hilarious and engaging story about who holds the championship score in Donkey Kong. While some of accused the director of chicanery to make a better story, it remains as entertaining as hell. I watched it again with Milky the other day, and now we’re planing a pilgrimage to The Funspot, up in New Hampshire.

Steve Wiebe, the challenger.

Listening to the old champs talk about the golden age of arcade games in the ’80s made me wax nostalgic. I always liked the vector games- the line drawn ones- such as Tempest, the classic Star Wars, Asteroids, and so on. Dig Dug, a ridiculous game with a guy in a spacesuit digging in gardens and fighting dragons and pookas- who looked like tomatoes with Velma glasses on- using an air pump to explode them, was another favorite. I was too impatient for Frogger and Donkey Kong, which take a bit of strategy- you can’t just charge forward.

It’s on like Donkey Kong, in this excellent documentary.

The basic story involves Billy Mitchell- the mullet-sporting record holder of Donkey Kong since the ’80s, and Steve Weibe, a challenger who bought a Donkey Kong cabinet and practiced in his garage. He submits a tape of breaking 1 million points to Twin Galaxies, the home of the 1982 Video Game Championship and the recognized repository of authenticated high scores, and causes enormous controversy due to what I like to call fandom drama. The score is validated by Robert Mruczek, a guy who watches high score videos for much of his life, and the battle begins. Billy Mitchell is no longer the King of Kong.
Immediately he begins damage control. 3 guys go to Steve Wiebe’s house when he’s not home, and ask to see the arcade game, to verify it. Steve’s wife says they have to wait for him to come home, and she goes to work- so they ask her mother, and get to see the machine without Steve present. For sabotage? Who knows? They find a box linked to a man called Mr. Awesome, and the drama explodes. See, Steve’s Donkey Kong board died and he got a new one from Roy Schildt- a guy who likes to be called Mr. Awesome – a Missile Command top player who has a rivalry with Billy Mitchell, and apparently a restraining order against him. This taints Steve’s score, and brings his honesty into question.

Not doctored.

So Steve travels to a neutral zone- The Fun Spot in New Hampshire, and publicly beats Billy Mitchell’s score, though not topping one million. Billy’s fanboys are present, most notably the annoying as hell Brian Kuh- and they try to psych him out. But he still succeeds, getting a kill screen and a record score in front of witnesses. The glove has been thrown.

Brian Kuh, who comes off as Billy’s lackey.

Billy Mitchell- the former kid video game star- now runs a couple of chicken wing joints in Florida. Immaculately styled hair, full beard, black jeans and a dress shirt with an American flag tie- make him hard to miss. He’s the kind of guy you immediately peg as douche, full of childlike bravado and self-promotion. The film does play a little fast and loose to make Steve an underdog and Billy a has-been who won’t defend his title in public, but certain things are undeniable- Billy’s tape has suspicious “tracking problems” that got overlooked by the judges. In fact, the judge retired after the debacle.

If you watch the documentary Chasing Ghosts: Beyond the Arcade, you get some more insight into these bizarre characters. It’s not that entertaining by itself, but if The King of Kong leaves you wondering about these guys, this has a lot more footage. For example, in KoK, we see some images
of Mr. Awesome’s bodybuilding days and his “how to pick up girls” videos. In Chasing Ghosts, you get a lot more detail, so much you’ll be averting your eyes. Trust me. It verges on “things you can’t unsee.” King of Kong may be a bit creative but all documentaries have agendas, and it makes for an incredibly entertaining look at an obsessive subculture.

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