Midnight Games

I’ve hinted that controllers could make a game out of anything. Or would play any game if they were insufficiently challenged. Midnight shifts were prime real estate for gaming—ranging from sectors with an early morning rush challenging enough for anyone to sectors that ran about one airplane every two hours, and that might include fully half of high altitude in the facility.

For the first tweny years, with the proscription against cards mentioned elsewhere, we relied on board games (which oddly enough, usually included dice—we might gamble with cards but not with dice?). Name a board game more mature than Chutes & Ladders and we probably played it. We played chess, we played dominoes, I don’t remember playing scrabble, but we played my favorite—Trivial Pursuit. We played games no one ever heard of, and we played games no one ever brought in again. And when cards were legitimized, we played the same games we played on the day or swing shift in the café.

Two games that come to mind from the “no one ever heard of” category were a WWI fighter game and a fantasy type baseball game (long before Rotisserie Baseball). The latter was a not unfamiliar style of game in which one assembled a team—in this case around a name team with a core of players from the era—by selecting certain players you wanted to improve your chances. Then you played. I don’t remember now how pitches or results were determined. Probably by rolls of dice. I made the mistake of selecting the ’77 Cubs. I was slaughtered. For some reason that game never reappeared.

The WWI fighter game was interesting as there was a book of images of an airplane in different attitudes as might be seen from the cockpit of another airplane. The details are unclear, but it involved each player selecting what maneuver they wanted to execute next—one defensively and the other offensively. With a key chart, each was referred to another page in their respective books which showed the outcome of the pair of maneuvers. Sometimes you were outmaneuvered, sometimes you were shot down, occasionally you were victorious.

We also played a couple of the Avalon Hill games—Gettysburg, Shiloh, and 1776 come to mind. I think there was also one that dealt with wooden ships and iron men type of warfare. And if you speak of warfare, one must include Risk. We played a lot of Risk. It’s very educational—one learns a lot about conquering and holding Europe—very difficult to do without a lot of manpower, just like in real life.

When personal computers came on the scene, a couple of people would bring theirs in and we’d play Dungeons & Dragons or other adventure games, or fly a space craft, or save civilization from asteroids. There was a limitless supply of games with a computer.

A few times someone would bring in a VCR and a portable TV and we’d watch movies. The trick was to select something entertaining, but not too entertaining (lest sensibilities be offended somewhere). As I recall, both computers and VCRs were eventually banned on mids, but they were fun while they lasted.

In case you’re concerned we weren’t paying attention to business, I worked a mid once which had a very competetive activity going on while a Mooney was inbound to PIA. One of the other players was working him and gave him the weather (the crummy winter kind), vectored him for the approach, and cleared him over to the CTAF with a request to report cancelling IFR or on the ground. Everything was by the book, professional, and with the appropriate attention to detail. We never heard from him again.

After the 30 minutes usual waiting period for such a circumstance, we notified the watch desk, who called the state police. Eventually they found the Mooney about a mile short of the runway, loaded up with ice. Both occupants were killed. That sort of took the edge off whatever we were playing, but whatever it was had absolutely zero effect on the service we gave the airplane. Single engine, night IFR, in icing conditions doesn’t need any help to turn bad.

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Last updated: 25 April 2009