Monday, September 03, 2012

An entertainment interlude

Yesterday I put in a marathon poker session at the Venetian. I came away up by a couple hundred bucks, but other than that there isn't much to report about it. However, in the middle of it I did have a memorable entertainment interlude.

There are four shows on the Discovery Channel that I watch regularly: Mythbusters, Dirty Jobs, Sons of Guns, and American Guns. The last two are, oddly, both reality shows about gunsmith shops, the former in Louisiana and the latter in Colorado. Both places create custom firearms and do restoration work on classic and antique guns. I like tinkering with my own guns (mostly Glocks and Smith & Wesson revolvers, which hardly qualifies me as a proper gunsmith, since those may be the two easiest kinds of guns to work on), so I enjoy watching these programs.

The two main Mythbusters, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, have been doing a touring stage show called "Behind the Myths." I've seen every episode of their TV show over its ten-year run, most of them more than once. It's easily one of the best non-fiction shows ever aired--interesting, funny, and creative. So when I heard that it was coming to Vegas, it was pretty much a no-brainer that I would be going to see it. I hooked up with two of my buddies from the poker world, Missing Flops and ApolloAVP, to buy tickets the first day they went on sale. (As it turned out, we should not have been so afraid of missing our chance due to an early sell-out. They had so many tickets left unsold that they later began offering them at a two-for-one sale. Oh well.)

I actually found the show a tad disappointing. It wasn't terrible, but it was kind of ho-hum. Being an avid fan, I've seen all the outtake compilations and many, many interviews with the principals. A good portion of the stage show is video montages and audience Q&A, and I don't think I heard or saw anything that was new to me in those segments.

But there were a few cool things:

1. Blendo was on stage. Blendo was a bot that Jamie and Adam designed and built in the early days of the fighting-robot craze. It was one of the first to be really, really violent to its opponents, so much so that after a few appearances, show organizers realized that the thing put audiences in danger, because the early arenas did not have sufficiently strong containment mechanisms. Blendo spun hardened steel appendages really fast, and they ripped huge pieces off of opponents' machines, hurling them in all directions. Here is a YouTube video from 1997 of Jamie and Adam being awarded the heavyweight championship of Robot Wars without even doing a single match, because the organizers could not ensure the safety of the gathered crowd, so menacing a machine was Blendo. Blendo was a real benchmark in the development of fighting robots, and it was neat to see it there on stage. Incidentally, Jamie mentioned last night that Blendo was how they got introduced to the producer of a documentary on fighting robots, which led to their later collaboration to create Mythbusters.

2. They had a sound system installed by Dolby Labs with mega-enhancement of the lowest frequencies, so that when they played a montage of explosions done on the TV show, the audience members got a better visceral sense of the body-shaking reverberations that one would experience seeing them go off in person.

3. Jamie had built a four-barrel paintball machine gun about the size of a VW Beetle. They put a brave audience member inside Adam's own medieval-style knight's armor, and unleashed hundreds of paintballs at him in an unbelievable barrage. If you don't find that entertaining, I don't think we can be friends.

It's not a show I would be interested in seeing a second time, but I'm glad I saw it once.

While I was waiting for my two companions to arrive, a familiar face passed by me. It took me a few seconds to place where I recognized him from--you know that sense of disorientation when you see somebody you know in an unexpected context. Was he another poker player? A dealer? Somebody I used to know in Minnesota? Nope. Then it dawned on me--it was Joe, one of the gunsmiths on "Sons of Guns." (And, actually, my favorite of the bunch. He is quiet, shy, cerebral, and methodical, kind of like Jamie--not your usual reality show personality.) I saw him sit down at a bar a few steps from where I was standing, and then quickly realized that two of the people he was with were Kris and Stephanie, also from the show. Kris is another gunsmith. Stephanie is the receptionist/bookkeeper. She is also the daughter of the shop's owner, Will Hayden. She and Kris got married--in Las Vegas--at the end of the second season. (Because of this, I think the show should now be titled "Son-in-Law of Guns." But they didn't ask me.) Stephanie also happens to be an experienced shooter in her own right. She has designed several "package" gun modifications to appeal both stylistically and functionally to the tastes and needs of female shooters, which Will tends to dismiss with a sneer until he realizes how big that potential market is.

I don't usually bother famous (or even semi-famous) people when they're out in public on their own time, i.e., not in a deliberate meet-and-greet mode. In fact, I don't think I've ever done so before. But on a whim last night I decided to approach and ask if I could snap a photo of them. They were incredibly nice and accommodating. They wouldn't just let me take their picture. Kris said, "It's weird if you do that without being in the shot." So they recruited a passing cocktail waitress to handle my cell phone camera (which, sadly, is really crummy). The first shot was nearly black because of the dim light, so then they insisted on staging it again where the light was better. I was by this point highly embarrassed to be intruding so much on their time, but they wanted it to turn out right.

Well, it didn't, really, because of the camera's lack of flash, low resolution, and the nice young lady's unsteady hands. But here's what resulted:

That's Joe, me, Stephanie, and Kris. And yes, Stephanie's breasts did brush up against my arm, so I've got that going for me, which is nice. I know you're all jealous.

I assumed that their presence near the Mythbusters show was no coincidence. I asked if they were involved somehow, and they said no, just there to watch. Their presence in the audience was mentioned in passing from the stage, but as far as I could tell they weren't involved in any other way.

An unrelated side note: While waiting for my table at the Venetian poker room (temporarily at the Palazzo during renovations), I saw this guy:

Of course, I've seen these enormously long booze glasses around town many, many times before. But I've not previously stopped to contemplate the physics of drinking from one. He was intermittently sucking on that gargantuan straw that's sticking out from the top. It seemed to take him a long time to get any of the liquid. This strikes me as a really bizarre and difficult way to get a drink. You have to create enough negative pressure to evacuate a large volume of air above the liquid before it will rise to your mouth. This seems to require sucking some air out, pinching off the straw, exhaling, sucking again, etc. All for the "pleasure" of consuming a large quantity of alcohol from an absurdly designed, impractical souvenir vessel.

Add this to the list of peculiar things about Vegas that I just don't get, even after six years of living here.

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