Coins Hitting The Pans

My earliest recollections of slot machines – not that I was actually playing them back then, mind you – involved lights flashing, sirens wailing, and the delightful sound of clink-clink-clink as coins dropped into the metallic catch pans below. From Vegas to Atlantic City to cruise ships, it was the same. Even if the actual dollar amounts weren’t princely, it sure sounded that way.

But then technology interfered.

There are just under 1,000,000 licensed slot machines in operation in the United States at present, and hardly any of them spit out coins anymore. Things changed in the 1990s. Now, you insert your club card or paper bills into a machine’s feeder. When you win, the machine still makes noise – sometimes even poorly-simulated recorded metallic clanking sounds – but out comes a slip on which is a barcode, and that is what you take to the cashier’s cage to redeem for real money.

No more buckets full of quarters. No more dirty hands. It’s all so sterile and lifeless.

In the 1990s, technology abbreviated as ‘TITO,’ or ‘ticket in ticket out,’ became widely available. It’s not that the casinos were necessarily killjoys, but TITO allowed them to cut down on the manpower needed to run their businesses. Apparently it takes a lot of staff to keep the change machines filled, keep the slots stocked (the average quarter machine, for example, holds $1k worth of coins at any given time), and then fix the machines when the inevitable jams occur. When it all changed over to paper – card/bill in and slip out – far fewer staff were needed, helping the casinos’ bottom lines.

Indeed, the migration away from coin machines was motivated by reasons even beyond mere maintenance and having to stock change on the casino floors and back rooms. From a casino’s point of view, the key to successful slot play is to separate the player from his money as efficiently as possible. So when a gambler inserts a $20 bill into today’s slots, the money buys “credits.” The gambler is now playing with (emotionless) numerical credits, just numbers on a screen, and not hard-earned cash. And there’s less incentive for one to cash out when a win is registered because that player ends up with a piece of paper in hand, not money. Sure, the paper can be taken to the cashier’s cage. But it’s much easier to just insert it in another machine and play until it’s all gone. Casinos like that.

It’s unlikely that TITO will be rolled back in favor of coins on a large scale. The current system is just too convenient for both casinos and hardcore gamblers. But, as Mike Spinetti, owner of a Vegas gambling supply house, recently offered, “a certain segment of the population still loves playing the old slots; they’ve really had a resurgence in the past couple of years.”

So, the last time I was in Vegas, I spoke to locals and went on a search to see if there even were any coin operated machines left in the area.

None of the high-profile casinos on the Strip could be bothered with them. The only place on that famous boulevard that still has coin machines is Slots-A-Million, owned by and adjacent to (the decidedly run down and dated) Circus Circus. This place needs a good steam cleaning, and even a nostalgia hound such as myself was turned-off, clanking $1 and 25c coin machines or not.

Moving toward Fremont Street, The D Casino has a so-called Vintage Room on the second floor that has a number of coin-ops still in operation. The Golden Gate also has a smattering of the older machines, though none that date as far back as its founding in 1906. Sadly, Bugsy Siegel’s former place a couple of blocks away, El Cortez, claims to have antique coin-ops on site, but in actuality has them on display in the lobby, and when I was last there, none were functional.

Traveling further from town, the Eastside Cannery Casino, past McCarran International Airport and the I-515 connector, was the first establishment to bring back the coin-op machines following the widespread introduction of TITO, and twenty years later there are still a few on the premises.

And for the adventuresome who are traveling out-of-state, 30 miles south of the Strip in the middle of the desert on I-15 is the wide-spot/ rest stop town of Jean. This is the home of the Gold Strike Casino (as well as the Bonnie and Clyde Death Car exhibit) and not much else. However, over half of the 400 machines at the Gold Strike are of the paperless variety.

So yes, with a little effort, one can still find a slot into which to drop a coin in southern Nevada. If readers know of any other places, please let me know.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

The F-Bomb

This post references an earthy and impolite word that is usually employed to describe human coitus, though it can also describe a state of total disarray, despoilment, or the act of cheating.

Whether you view the oath as vulgar or merely part of the 21st century lexicon, it has segued from an utterance of the ill-bred to a commonly employed descriptor, for better or for worse. Try going to ANY R-rated Hollywood release, watching most anything on cable TV, or visiting certain websites on the Internet, and NOT encountering it!

As a student of human behavior and history, I am curious as to how this came to pass.

Called by some the duct tape of the English language, the F-Bomb can be a noun, both a transitive and intransitive verb, an adjective, an adverb, an interjection, a freestanding expletive, an element of compound expression, or even an in-fix (i.e., inserted between two syllables of a longer multi-syllabic phrase). It is used as an intensifier, to express distaste, as an insult, or just to spice up conversation. It may in fact be the most versatile word in the entire dictionary.

And yes, it has been in dictionaries for longer than you might think. Though it appeared in A New and Complete Dictionary by English lexicographer John Ash in 1775, it was duly asterisk’d as “low” and “vulgar” speech. Interestingly, after that initial debut, the profanity did not appear in any known printed reference from 1795 (the year of the last edition of Ash’s work) until 1965. By 1972 it had made the cut for inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary, by 2005 it scored the Canadian Press Caps and Spelling Guide, and by 2012 it went mainstream in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

Of course the Word-That-Should-Not-Be-Spoken still existed from 1795-1965. Aside from generally accepted cultural sensitivities and proscriptions, one reason it vanished from ink in the English speaking world was by statute: in the U.K. and U.S., the Obscene Publications Act (1857) and the Comstock Act (1873) respectively made it criminally punishable to print that nasty imprecation. This was one basis for banning James Joyce’s Ulysses in the U.S. for more than a decade, from its publication until the mid-1930s – the tome’s racy content included not one, but two of the nasty F’s!

Ash’s dictionary didn’t invent the expletive, but because the F-Bomb wouldn’t usually have been written in the sorts of documents that have survived from earlier epochs, it has proven difficult for linguists to determine exactly its antiquity. Experts have opined, though, that the word is indeed very old. The challenge of finding extant primary sources notwithstanding, there are a few surviving documents from the 15th and 16th centuries that inarguably employ the root.

The first, from ~1410, is a manuscript now in the Bodleian Library that attacks the chastity of a group of Carmelite friars then in Cambridge: “Non sunt in coeli, quia fvccant vvivys of heli,” or “they will not go to Heaven because they fuck the wives of Ely.”

From a century later, the Scottish poet William Dunbar is recorded as having dropped the F-Bomb in Old English: “Yit be his feiris he wald haue fukkit, ye brek my hairt, my bony ane,” or “his behavior, his fucking, has broken my heart and bones.”

And, a now-anonymous and assuredly disgruntled monk was the first known to have employed the adjectival form at his boss; in a 1528 copy of Cicero’s De Officiis in Yale’s collection, a period marginal note reads, “fucken abbot.”

Who were Ely and his wives? Who was the abbot? Who was breaking Dunbar’s heart? We are not certain. But we do know that, esp in the Scottish example, the spelling of the word in question suggests a northern European or Scandinavian etymology. This makes sense when one discovers words such as Old German ficken (to mate), Old Dutch fokken (to breed), Old Norwegian fukka (to copulate), and Old Swedish fock (the name for the male organ) in ye olde thesaurus.

What we also know for certain is that two mid-20th century urban legends about the origin of the F-Bomb are entirely false.

1. Forceful and Unlawful Carnal Knowledge. The theory holds that this phrase is a late 17th century legal term for rape, and that it was abbreviated in period court documents as F.U.C.K. Sounds good, but totally bogus. Sorry, Van Halen.

2. Fornication Under Consent of the King. Another attempt to finger jurisprudence as the source of the vulgarity, this is another weak suggestion that an acronym – based on supposed royal permission for abandoned women to again enter into intimate romantic unions – gave us the malediction-in-question.

Besides, while abbreviations did exist in centuries past, pronouncing the resulting acronyms as neologisms is a relatively modern phenomenon. Scholars point to the only known pre-20th century example of such: Colinda, which rhymes with Melinda, and was coined by Fleet Street from the truncation of the Colonial and Indian Exposition, a world’s fair of sorts, held in London in 1886.

But back to the original question: how did a tawdry exclamation become today’s commonly employed descriptor?

Such verbal segue is not entirely unknown, and linguists actually have a term for it. A dysphemism treadmill describes a scenario in which words that initially carried highly pejorative or ribald connotations, with repeated use, are rendered less vulgar, import diminished shock value, and finally become in time more publicly acceptable.

Proving, at last, that familiarity does in fact breed contempt. Or at least meh.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]

Let’s Do The Time Warp Again!

When I was a pre-teen, I went to Disneyland and enjoyed an attraction called Mr Toad’s Wild Ride. I thought it was the most amazing thing ever. The little cars in which visitors sat careened left and right through narrow faux-Victorian streets whilst barely missing lamp posts, carriages, curbs, suits of armor, and other obstacles. It was fast-paced, frenetic, and thoroughly enjoyable. I must have ridden it a dozen times over the days my family was at the Magic Kingdom, and I remember desperately wanting to go back almost as soon as I had returned home.

I didn’t get a chance to return to southern California until the last year of medical school, probably 15 years after the initial visit. I couldn’t wait to see Mr Toad after all that time! But when I got there, everything seemed smaller and less impressive than before. The ride was slower, more sophomoric, and less exciting than I remembered. After disembarking, I had no desire to repeat, and I found myself wondering why I had been so taken by it in the first place.

Welcome to the ‘You Can Never Go Back’ phenom.

When I was a freshman in college, I was invited in my first weeks to go to a midnight movie by dorm friends, one of whom had a car at his disposal. I asked what we were going to see, and was told The Rocky Horror Picture Show, then a flick only four years old. I had never heard of this movie, but I knew that anything that involved 1. leaving campus at night, 2. driving somewhere strange, and 3. seeing a purportedly hip and experimental film was something I did not want to miss.

For those of you who may not know, The Rocky Horror Picture Show (RHPS) is an Anglo-American movie released in 1975 and based on the London musical stage production of essentially the same name from several years earlier. It was designed as both a parody and a tribute to Hollywood’s grade-B science fiction and horror films of the 1930s through 1960s. In essence, it is a very loose retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, except that the (androgynous) scientist who animates the monster Rocky is actually an alien transvestite, and Rocky is to be his adult plaything. The film contains much allusion to non-hetero sex and violence. There is cannibalism, there is oiled skin, there is S/M leather, and there are oddly costumed characters of dubious gender throughout.

Think Halloween meets La Cage Aux Folles

Despite its catchy soundtrack, the movie was critically panned on release, though Rotten Tomatoes gave it a surprising 80%. Its original eight-city U.S. release was quickly scaled back because of very small audiences. However, the following year, it was decided to try RHPS as a midnight movie at select theaters, the first being the Waverly Cinema in NYC. Quickly it became a campy cult classic amongst the costumed fans who took to acting out scenes in the aisles and yelling back at the screen with comic/ vulgar commentary. RHPS is to this day the longest-running theatrical release in movie history, never having been pulled by Twentieth Century Fox over more than four decades. Against all odds, it was even selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion on the National Film Registry – those works deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” – in 2005.

[sidebar: the Library of Congress ‘honor’ aside, I’m certain that then-unknowns in the film who became bigger stars in later years – think Tim Curry, Susan Sarandon, and Meatloaf – would prefer that modern audiences basically forget that they appeared in RHPS]

Anyway, my dorm friends and I drove from tiny Williamsburg to larger Newport News to attend the show. As I wasn’t driving, I did partake of adult beverages on the trip, so was not entirely of sober demeanor during the screening. To be honest, I don’t even recall the ending from that first experience, as I nodded off sometime after Riff Raff started engaging in elbow sex. But it didn’t matter. The movie was so shocking, so kitschy, so non-conservative! This, I thought, is what it means to be in college and experiencing things so radical!

[sidebar: it’s funny the things one does remember. The girl sitting in the backseat with me on the trip was a punk rocker named Cindy, and the driver was a fellow named George – I rarely saw them afterward. The stereo was playing Golden Earring’s Radar Love. Why those factoids remain with me decades later is a mystery]

As with Mr Toad, one recent Saturday night I decided to go see RHPS at midnight just for old times’ sake, at an indy theater in downtown Tucson that is said to be the flick’s longest running venue in Arizona (1978). The difference, of course, is that I was entirely sober, married, graying, and 36 years older this time around.

I was planning to write a commentary on the movie itself, but driving home at 2:30 a.m. and thinking back on the two hours just passed, nothing particularly insightful came to me. I felt, if anything, curmudgeonly. The movie sets looked cheap. The costumes, while flamboyant in their day, were nothing compared to modern Mardi Gras. The subject matter was a yawn. The dialogue was dumb. The story was contrived. And the cavorting audience members and their running commentary in the theater were immature and goofy. That about sums it up.

In retrospect, the scourge of AIDS opened the door and brought into public discourse subjects that were never mentioned in the mass media prior to the epidemic; discussions of gay marriage, internet porn, gender-reassignment surgery, and public bathroom access and LGBTQ rights appear in print today in ways never imagined when Jimmy Carter resided in the White House. And just as a 21st century denizen viewing formerly ‘racy’ Victorian swimwear might instead see such attire as now more suitable for matronly bathers, topics that were taboo pre-AIDS are no longer viewed by most as forbidden subjects of conversation.

Predictably, with that change in societal mores did RHPS lose some of the creative campiness that made it so unique and naughty.

As I noted, you can never go back.

[Have an idea for a post topic? Want to be considered for a guest-author slot? Or better, perhaps you’d like to become a day-sponsor of this blog, and reach thousands of subscribers and Facebook fans? If so, please contact the Alienist at]

[Copyright 2013 @ The Alienist’s Compendium]