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Best of John Robison

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Ask the Slot Expert: Using the help screens on a slot machine

2 October 2019

Today I had to go to a follow-up appointment after having a sleep study done. I was not looking forward to the appointment. Not because of anything that would happen during it, but because of the building where the office is. The building is modeled after the Hotel California. There are plenty of signs to help you find a particular suite, but you're pretty much on your own to get out of the place. You can check in, but you can never leave.

I didn't pay much attention to my surroundings on my first visit to this office. I figured that you just follow the signs to the suite number on the way in and follow the signs to the parking garage on the way out. One problem, though. There are no signs for the parking garage. I didn't even see any signs for the elevator.

The building doesn't have a map, so I have to guess that the floors are laid out like two stacked figure eights with the elevator bank in one of the crossbars. No, not figure eights — infinity symbols, because if you don't know the secrets of the building it could take you an infinite amount of time to get out.

After wandering around for a while, I decided to follow the signs for the exit. Maybe it's a New York/New Jersey thing, but it seems like an office building always has a set of stairs in the same reinforced shaft that holds the elevators. In this building the stairs were on the edges of the building, not near the elevators.

I didn't know where I would be in relation to the parking garage if I took the stairs. It was February, it was cold and I didn't have a heavy jacket with me. I went back to looking for the elevator. I finally found it and took it down to the third floor. The walkway from the parking garage to the building is on the third floor of the garage.

I looked around but didn't see any signs for the parking garage. Back to roaming the hallways again, but this time looking for the walkway to the garage or any kind of sign for the walkway. Nothing.

At this point I had spent about 20 minutes trying to find my way out of this building. Did I mention that it was just after 5 a.m., my head was covered in conductive gel for the electrodes that were attached to my scalp, and I was carrying a pillow? If you were wondering why I didn't just ask someone for help, now you know why. There was no one to ask.

I was seriously considering just sitting down in the hallway and waiting for people to come in for work when I found someone going into one of the offices. I said to him, "You gotta help me get out of this building."

He said that he doesn't come to this building often and that he too gets lost in it. But he did share with me the secret to finding the walkway to the parking garage.

The walkway on the third floor of the parking garage takes you to the second floor in the office building. This mismatch wouldn't be a problem if there were signs in the office building elevators telling you to go to the second floor for the walkway. There are signs in the parking garage elevator saying that the walkway is on the third floor.

When I had to go back to that office for an additional sleep study a few months ago, I thought about leaving a trail of breadcrumbs in the hallway or putting Post-It notes on the walls to mark the path. I settled for just writing down the steps in the route to the office so I could follow them in reverse to escape. Paying more attention this time, I noticed that there are signs for the elevator — but they're right under the ceiling, about 10 feet off the ground. No wonder I never saw them before.

In the office building today, when the elevator doors opened, a nurse started to exit the elevator then realized it was not her floor. The elevator had stopped to pick me up. I said that I always get lost in this building. She said that it's very confusing having different floors connected by the walkway.

Thinking about things that that office building could do to make it easier on its visitors made me realize how much more casinos and slot machines do for their patrons.

Casinos, for the most part, have much better signage than this office building. They have signs pointing you to restaurants, restrooms, the buffet, the hotel lobby and the parking garage. Things can get a little hairy, though, when there's more than one garage.

On the outside, for instance, Red Rock has signs for the East Garage and for the West Garage. I honestly don't know if any sign inside uses those names because I know my way around and I don't notice the signs. In any event, when I went down one floor using the stairs (which are right by the elevators) in the East Garage, I noticed a couple walking back towards the elevators and looking very confused. They asked me if there were two garages. I said there were two and asked them if they came in by the movie theater. They said they had and I told them they were in the wrong garage.

Red Rock's have a quirk just to make things really interesting. In the West Garage the VIP parking area is on the second floor and the casino is on the first. In the East Garage the VIP parking is on the first floor and the casino is on the second. But there are signs in the elevators to let you know.

Slot machines also do more to help their players than that office building. Many machines have a rotating banner ad that tells you what you need to hit the bonus and other combinations that trigger features on the machine. Some machines will enter a demo mode when they're idle and you can watch the demo to see what happens in the bonus round. Sometimes it seems like the only way you'll get to see the bonus round is if you watch it in the demo.

Of course, you can always read the rules pages to see how the different features on the game work. I've found that it's not helpful when you first play a machine because there's too much information on the pages and it really doesn't make much sense until you've played the game. I just do a quick check of the pages to see if there's anything that changes with the amount you bet and I don't pay any attention to the other information that's there, like all the different bonus events and how they work.

I had to play some slots recently for a promotion in which only slot (no video poker) points counted, so I took the opportunity to try out a number of new machines — well, new to me, at least. I had planned to play about $1 per spin. On some machines, the minimum bet was just under $1 and on others $1 was towards the middle of the betting options. Before my first spin I checked the help screens to see what, if anything, was affected by bet level.

After I had played a machine for a while, I had specific questions to research in the rules pages. For example, I had three bonus round symbols; why wasn't the bonus triggered? They have to be on adjacent reels, not scattered. Why didn't this combination pay? Some combinations require a minimum of four on a payline. Or even though we're used to mixed bars or mixed 7s, on this machine the symbols have to be identical to form a winning combination.

Does it matter how adept I am at hitting the fish as they swim by on the screen? Nope. Right there on the page for that particular bonus event it says that hitting the fishes has no affect on your bonus and you're doing it for your own entertainment. (Still, I couldn't bring myself to just sit back and watch the fishies instead of hitting them as fast as I could when they appeared on the screen.)

I like finding these confessions that things that appear to be relevant to getting a bonus are, in fact, completely irrelevant. We've discussed 88 Fortunes many times and how the degree of fullness in the rice bowl and your picks in the bonus round are irrelevant. I noticed that newer machines that have similar features contain confessions in their help screens. One machine that has a bowl of coins "trigger" says in its help screens that the bowl is just for entertainment and it does not indicate how likely it is for the bonus to be triggered on any individual spin.

Another machine displays a power meter on the left side of the screen when it goes into "shark alert" mode. Filling up the power meter triggers a bonus in which sharks swim around and eat bonus amounts. The level of the power meter rises with each play and falls back when the spin is over. It seems like you want to play as quickly as you can to fill up the power meter. A quick check of the rules, however, tells you that the power meter is irrelevant to triggering the Hungry, Hungry Sharks bonus. You do want to play quickly when in "shark alert" mode, but not to fill up the power meter. Because the hungry sharks bonus is triggered randomly, you want to have as many chances (spins) as you can get while in shark alert mode, which lasts 90 seconds, if I remember correctly.

John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots