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Best of John Grochowski

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Destroying Planets for Dollars

16 November 2004

The time: Thursday, Oct. 7, about 6 p.m. The place: The SpaceQuest casino at the Las Vegas Hilton.

My mission: To blow up planets without triggering a supernova.

I'd seen nine others fail while waiting for my turn at the console. We could see it all happening on the giant plasma display on the SpaceQuest wall - dozens of planets waiting to be exploded. Either they'd reveal a letter on the way to spelling out "MILLION," or a "Boom!" and a flash would soon be all that was left.

To the successful weapons officer, the rewards would be substantial - a million bucks, in one lump sum. To the rest, well, there were some nice black T-shirts with the "Supernova" logo as consolation.

I'd punched my ticket for the planet destruction business by signing up for the new players' club card at the Hilton - anyone can take a shot during the promotion. I've had cards there in the past, but the sale of the Hilton to Resorts International meant a new card and a fresh opportunity. I joined the line.

The others were having mixed success. One woman found an "M," but her next shot wiped out every planet on the screen. Another spelled out "M-I-L" before triggering the supernova. Then another "M-I-L," an "M-I" ... but the final results were all the same. Boom!

A man raised hopes by getting a little further than the rest - "M-I-L-L." But when he targeted the red planet toward the bottom of the screen, it was all over.

Finally, it was my turn. I stepped up to the console. Targeting was easy. A touch screen terminal mirrored the image on the wall. Touch a planet and it was a goner. I decided to go for planets with rings first. A pale blue one - "M." A pinkish planet - "I." A darker blue - "L." Another dark blue - "L."

I was out of ringed planets. I decided to go for a bigger green orb right next to the wreck of the planet that held my "I" - and got the other "I." Two letters to go, and it would be mission accomplished.

A glowing red planet caught my eye. Could this be a star in disguise, a likely supernova? I avoided it and went back to blue. I delayed a fraction of a second and touched the screen.

"BOOM!"

"It's hard to find that 'O,' but I know it's in there," the Supernova promotions officer told me as she handed me the ticket for my T-shirt. But for me, that "O" and the "N" were now just so much space dust.

***

The Hilton is next door to the Las Vegas Convention Center, my main destination on this trip. Each year, the Convention Center is host to the Global Gaming Expo, filled with seminars on different aspects of the casino industry, as well as a display floor where suppliers show off their wares to the casino executives they hope will buy them.

My focus, naturally enough, was on new games, and in the coming weeks I'll bring you the lowdown on new slots, video poker and table games. But the expo is much bigger than just the games. Manufacturers of everything from security systems to carpeting and furniture are there to pitch their products.

That goes for food service, too. I took a walk through the culinary area where food and beverage purveyors were setting out samples. A jab of a toothpick brought samples of shrimp or beef. One lady was dishing up clams. Sara Lee and Vie de France set out pastries.

At Nathan's Famous Hot Dogs, one fellow took a look at my name badge and Sun-Times affiliation and said, "We need this guy to write an article on how much better we are than Vienna."

Problem is, the only condiments they set out were ketchup(!) and brown mustard, with packets of relish. No onions. No tomato. No pickle spears. No sport peppers. No celery salt. No poppy seeds on the buns. How was a Chicagoan to tell if they were good or not?

***

During my previous trip to Las Vegas in June, I made a point of asking cabdrivers how they thought the soon-to-open Strip monorail would affect business.

"I don't think it'll hurt us," one fellow told me. "I think it's meant mainly for the conventions. Maybe it'll relieve a little of the congestion around the Convention Center. That'll help us as much as it hurts us."

A woman was less sanguine. "I'll tell you one thing," she said. "This may be illegal, but if someone asks me to drive them to a monorail stop, I'm not going to do it. I'll refuse the fare."

So far, it hasn't been worth the time any cabbie spent worrying about it. The monorail, which runs the length of the Strip along with a small jog east to the Convention Center, has been down more than it's been up.

When I arrived at the Convention Center on Oct. 4, I wasn't greatly surprised to see a sign saying, "Monorail temporarily out of service." Mechanical problems shut down the system on Sept. 8, and it remains closed pending safety evaluation by the engineering and scientific consulting firm Exponent.

I'll stick to renting cars or taking cabs when I'm in town, thank you.

Recent Articles
Best of John Grochowski
John Grochowski

John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

> More Books By John Grochowski

John Grochowski
John Grochowski is the best-selling author of The Craps Answer Book, The Slot Machine Answer Book and The Video Poker Answer Book. His weekly column is syndicated to newspapers and Web sites, and he contributes to many of the major magazines and newspapers in the gaming field, including Midwest Gaming and Travel, Slot Manager, Casino Journal, Strictly Slots and Casino Player.

Listen to John Grochowski's "Casino Answer Man" tips Tuesday through Friday at 5:18 p.m. on WLS-AM (890) in Chicago. Look for John Grochowski on Facebook and Twitter @GrochowskiJ.

John Grochowski Websites:

www.casinoanswerman.com

Books by John Grochowski:

The Craps Answer Book

> More Books By John Grochowski