Friday, March 30, 2018

Things That I've Discovered, Better Late Than Never

Yesterday I was doing some research online to try to determine whether I could find anyone else who has attempted to tag in all 50 states like I am. I came upon a link with the heading of "Cross Country Laser Tag Mission" and that caught my attention. Imagine my surprise to click on it and see that it was actually about me!

This was from last fall when I visited the Millennium Family Entertainment Center in Yuba City, CA. I want to give a shout out to them...definitely still one of my favorite places because of all the cool people I met there. So sorry that I didn't see this sooner!

And speaking of things I didn't notice sooner, I was taking an inventory of how many Laser Quest locations I have played (the number is 13 right now, but should go up next week) when I noticed something else...

Remember that episode of How I Met Your Mother where Barney wants a supermodel to be his 200th "conquest" only to discover that there is a miscount on his list? Well, apparently when I started numbering the sites that I have been to I accidentally marked two sites as #5 consecutively on my own list. 

Oops! So that throws my whole count off. I guess my 100th and 150th were at different sites than I thought. Sigh...but it's water under the bridge now. It has been corrected (checked and double-checked) so that when I hit my 200th laser tag arena it will be accurate. More accurate than for Barney...maybe that character should have been counting laser tag arenas instead! :)

Comments or Questions?


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Happy International Laser Tag Day!

There are a few reasons why International Laser Tag Day is significant (besides just being a great excuse to get out there and play).

It is a celebration of history. Today marks the 34th anniversary of the opening of Photon in Dallas, TX, which was the very first laser tag site ever. It launched a phenomenon in the 80s and it kickstarted the laser tag industry that quickly evolved from then onward.

It’s a chance to recognize the systems that got us to where we are now. Check out this year’s Laser Tag Day poster for an homage to Vultrek, which some would call the “missing link” between Photon and some of the key systems that followed (

But this year Laser Tag Day means something more to me. It is something of a stopwatch set for one year from today. I have a goal that I have touched upon here in this blog (as you may have read about my various adventures laser tagging across the United States), spoken about in interviews and am now going to lay out for you the plan for its conclusion which will coincide with Laser Tag Day one year from now.

I don’t know where along the journey I made the decision, but after playing in some tournaments that took me out of state on multiple occasions and also playing at a bunch of random tag sites along the way I realized that I had been to more states than I thought. This realization planted the seed of an idea that maybe I could play in all 50 states, so it became something of a “bucket list” goal with no particular timetable in mind, but just an interesting idea that it’s something I might someday accomplish.

Fast forward to now. In the span of four years time I have made it to 40 states throughout this country and I am committing that within the next year I will have played in the remaining ten. My goal (and now publicly stated intention) is that I will return to where it all began on Laser Tag Day of 2019 and I will play Texas as my 50th state and the culmination of this cross-country adventure. I think there’s a very good chance that this will also align with being my 200th arena at the rate I am pacing. And I plan to celebrate the accomplishment in Texas style. For now I’ll keep a few surprises under wraps, but I anticipate doing this right and being an appropriate tribute to the fact that this will land squarely in the right place and time to also commemorate the 35th anniversary of Photon.

Some people have asked me if this is some kind of record. I’m honestly not sure if there is anyone else out there who has played laser tag in all 50 states. In 35 years it seems like this idea would have occurred to someone else too, but as of right now I have yet to identify anyone else in the tag scene who has done this, so please feel free to drop me an email if you know for sure. Regardless, this goal of mine WILL be achieved in one year’s time, so this is where the stopwatch really begins.

As for this Laser Tag Day, I plan to play out in Albany tonight and remind myself why my local arenas are just as important as all the various places I’ve been visiting because the local sites are where my love of laser tag began…and the light still shines. :)

Comments or Questions?


Thursday, March 22, 2018

Playing Stratum, "The World's Largest Technotainment Laser Tag Arena"

The first time I ever heard of Stratum was when Nate’s girlfriend from Arizona described the massive arena near where she lived and told me that it was an absolute must for me if I ever had a chance to go to Arizona. This was well before my 50 state mission was even an idea yet. But I remembered this, researched it, learned that this site calls themselves the “World’s Largest Technotainment Laser Tag Arena” and knew that this was a site I really wanted to visit. I’ve called them in the past trying to work a visit into previous layovers I’ve had in Phoenix (as the site is in Mesa, about 20 minutes outside), but somehow the timing never worked out right…until now.

If the New Mexico leg of my trip sounded crazy, just wait. I left Albuquerque and got on an early evening flight to Phoenix, but the catch was that to make my connections home again I would have to fly back to Albuquerque that night, getting in at 2:00 AM. So I actually had an even shorter window of time for this trip. Believe me, one day I will get back there and play properly for the entire night, but at this moment I just wanted to check both Arizona and Stratum off my list. I called ahead to make sure they could accommodate getting me into a game right away and then I was on my adventure, landing in Phoenix around 8:00. Off to Stratum in Mesa!

Upon arrival I had just missed the start of one game, so I used that time to say “been there, got the t-shirt…

…and to ask questions of the manager Sean who told me that they were told by the ILTA at some point that they were the world’s largest laser tag arena.

Although he couldn’t give me any more info about it (he said there was paperwork about that designation somewhere) I was particularly curious because I know there are other arenas which make that claim and I don’t honestly know how it is determined. I did want to shirt though to go side by side with this other shirt that I bought at the EDGE 618 in Belleville, IL.

I’m not trying to dispute anyone’s marketing claim because I truly have no idea which is larger and I genuinely just think it’s cool to play in an arena as big as Stratum. Unfortunately though, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the place is big because I was not permitted to take any photos of the arena. :(

I was however allowed to have a staff member take a pic of me in the briefing room with one of their vests.

Now, this raises more questions for me than it answers. Although this looks like (and I’m told it was) Infusion, it seemed ever so slightly different. Notice the black markings? I didn’t until after the fact because everything moved so quickly. When I look back on it I wonder what that is. I’ve never seen this on an Infusion pack before. Is it tape or a decal and if so, for what purpose? If anyone can shed light on this please drop me an email. Another thing is the base. Now, in the briefing room I was actually standing right underneath what they pointed to and identified as the base, although it looks nothing like any base I have experienced when playing Infusion in the past. I don’t think it was intentional, but the staffer who took the pic cut the base out of the photo, so I will just describe it as several rectangles of clear lit panels.

There were six bases inside the arena. Two for each of the three colors, so you could potentially get four of them for a total of 12,004 extra points (which the game master emphasized a couple of times to a group of people who didn’t really seem to be listening to him…even I found myself particularly antsy for the game to start because of my schedule). I could not actually see the base component itself. What I saw was where to shoot indicated by the structure of lit crystal panels that built a shape of either a circle or a rectangle around it (presumably to differentiate the bases of the same color).

These were all to be found on the ground level of the arena and the experienced players made a beeline to them. For me it took a bit longer because this was my first time in this massive arena and I was exploring as much as I was playing. There were ramps and raised levels everywhere. According to their website it’s “over 13,000 square feet of pure adrenaline, including 90 towers, bridges & ramps with over 15 different levels”. It’s incredibly big, but I can’t say that I actually counted! :)

I do know it was really like playing in a labyrinth and when the game was over I had to use some instinct to find the ramps that would get me back down to the lower level. I wondered if I shouted “Marco” would anyone reply with “Polo”? The game was a lot of fun, but something about it did not feel like Infusion to me. Granted, it’s been awhile since I’ve played this one, but it just felt different somehow. I know that sounds weird to say (if it looks like a duck and sounds like a duck…actually this game didn’t “sound” like Infusion either if you know what I mean), but regardless it was a totally enjoyable tag experience in a very impressive and immersive arena.

I look forward to returning to Arizona when I have more time to enjoy a full evening at this site. This trip was way too short to try to pack in all the things I wanted to and yet I couldn’t be happier that it all worked out so well and that a little creative planning and timing allowed me to tag in three sites in two states all because I ended up with an unexpected weekend off from work!

Comments or Questions?


From Albuquerque to Arizona

This story begins with me sitting in a meeting at work last Monday. Typically I am expected to represent at the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade in our city, but this year it was phrased as a question “do you want to do the parade?” to which I said I could if we needed staff, but if we were covered I had something else I’d like to be doing instead. As soon as I heard “that’s fine, we’ve got it covered” then I started putting a spontaneous plan in place for my suddenly free weekend. Albuquerque, here I come!

There are several states that have significantly fewer opportunities for playing laser tag than others and as near as I can tell it appears to me that New Mexico may only have two sites in the entire state, both of which are within 20 minutes of each other in Albuquerque. So I started making flight arrangements to get me out to the south west for a really quick weekend trip…fly down on Saturday, return on Sunday. I know that sounds crazy (and that’s only where we begin the story), but to make my goal of hitting all 50 states on my timeline there are only a finite number of free weekends in my schedule so I had to make the most of this opportunity.

I left Syracuse early in the morning, caught a connecting flight in Chicago and arrived in Albuquerque early in the afternoon. I picked up my rental car and headed for the Hinkle Family Fun Center. I know I didn’t even see the full place because I started to park by one building and then noticed a sign indicating laser tag was in another building altogether.

When I got to the counter I purchased my game pass and then was pleasantly surprised. The staff member turned around, picked up a tray of bags of popcorn and offered me one. Wow! What a nice touch. I’ve not experienced a greeting like that at any other center I have visited.

I then moved on to the waiting area for my mission pass to be called.

And once in the vesting room I noticed a group of guys who were strategizing and ready to win. I smiled and suited up.

It was Zone Helios and I was ready to burn off some energy from all the time sitting on the airplane. We went in and I found myself in a sharp looking arena. The walls were definitely Creative Works, but they looked newer. Everything in the place looked new, bright and vivid.

The arena went lengthwise, but I’d say the majority of the game was only played out in half of it.

And those guys figured me out fast. They did not look at me as competition at first, but that game got intense fast. I was on the red team, but the more experienced players had congregated on blue. We gave each other a good game. And we put on a pretty decent show for the spectators in the observation room.


My card didn’t register my name on the screen, however I took first with this group and took a bit of enjoyment hearing the surprised reaction of the second place player who had been the king of the game until I showed up. Then I went to the snack bar to get some food and a souvenir to take back.

And before long I was on the road again headed for my second stop in Albuquerque, the Main Event for some Delta Strike.

I have been to other Main Event locations and they are all very similar to one another and very corporate. However, this one will forever be my favorite because of an awesome employee named Fiona who made it possible for me to experience this site.

OK, remember I said the craziness of this story was just beginning? Well, after doing some research on the flights I realized there was a very viable option for me to fly to Phoenix later this same day (yep, you read that right) if I could just time out my visits to these two tag sites early enough. On paper this plan looked entirely possible, but it hedged on being able to get to the tag sites, play right away and then drive back to the airport within a relatively short window of time. However, if I could do it I just might be able to visit Stratum this trip, which has been on my bucket list for a long time and yet every other time I’ve flown through Phoenix the timing did not work out. I was determined to get there on this visit and it all depended on being able to play as early as possible upon arriving at Main Event. This is where I tell you why Fiona was so awesome and they should reward her for excellent customer service.

When I got inside Main Event I told the greeters I wanted to play some laser tag. They told me it would be over an hour before I could get into a game because they were fully sold out and actually had a waiting list. I heaved a sigh and explained that I am a blogger from New York who had flown all this way to play at their site and hoped that there might be something they could do. They spoke to a manager who had me visit the registration desk. I plead my case and was told they could help me and get me into a game at 3:45. I said thank you so much, bought my ticket and got in line. However, I had been in three time zones (and about to cross over to my fourth) by that point in the trip so my head was not processing the facts…namely that it was actually 2:45 in New Mexico at that moment. So as the line started moving I handed my 3:45 pass to Fiona who informed me this was the sold out 2:45 game and I explained to her why it was so important that I play tag now or I wouldn’t be able to make my flight and she said “hang on a moment, we’ll make it work.” After getting the briefing video started for the others she pulled an orange VIP pack off the wall and handed it to me.

I’m not sure if these are for game master use or just what they hand to birthday kids, but it didn’t matter. She miraculously came up with an extra pack in this full game to allow me to play and for that I am incredibly appreciative.

We entered the arena which was two levels and even though it had a few Tron hallmarks left it also had some artistic structures throughout and had a bright look and an open feel. Almost everyone rushed to the top level.

I played as Megatron and walked out of there with the high score.

Actually, it’s more accurate to say I RAN out of there, hoping that I had allowed ample time to return my rental car and get back through security im time to catch my next flight. I had a great time and am so glad that I got to play at these sites in New Mexico. I’m equally glad that all the pieces fell right into place and I made it to the airport in time to board a flight to Phoenix and include a bonus adventure as part of this spontaneous weekend getaway. Arizona, here I come!

Comments or Questions?


Sunday, March 4, 2018

Photon For My Birthday

I should have worn my Clerks shirt that says "I'm not even supposed to be here" because if not for the nor'easter that blew through the east coast I would have been on a plane bound for the west coast with full intentions of tagging at Stratum in Mesa, Arizona for my birthday. However, due to the weather my flight was cancelled and I spent my birthday playing laser tag in Syracuse. Actually, this was just fine by me. I'll reschedule my trip in a few weeks and today I appreciated all the well wishes from various characters in my life including this guy...

Thanks David. :) And I got to bring some of that Photon attitude with me as "Tivia" made it to the top of a game of Photon emulation. 

Now, I know that not everyone will understand what those photos have to do with each other, but for those who get it you can tell that this was a pretty great way to round out this day. And a FB like from Eros Rivers (aka Parcival) sure didn't hurt anything either. :) As for Stratum...I'll be on my way to Arizona just as soon as the aftermath of this lovely snowstorm is cleaned up in NY. :) I'm actually counting my blessings that I wasn't out traveling in this mess. Silver linings and Photon birthday blessings. :)

Comments or Questions?


The Tournament That Really Wasn't

I have debated for a few days what to say about my trip to Wilmington, NC. I was signed up for a local tournament that I had played in previously (and won) last year with a respectable turnout of members and players coming out to compete for it at that time. This year I thought it would be fun to return and play it again when I discovered that the event would be held on the same weekend I was already traveling down south. So I detoured and got on a plane from Alabama headed for North Carolina.

I will say it was a fun time and I’m glad that I went regardless, however the participation dropped WAY off from what it was the last time I was here…and in fact it continued to drop off even from the time I called from the plane to confirm that this event was still going on (hey, as a Syracuse player I have learned the hard way that you have to check on these things before you just show up).

Well, when I called from the plane to check I was told there were nine players signed up. OK, smaller than last time, but still enough to play…(cue the ominous laugh of fate). By the time I showed up though there seemed to be some question about whether everyone was going to show up. I don’t know what the reason was, but by the time the event was set to start the field of players had dropped all the way down to three. Yep, three. So I’m having trouble calling this a “tournament” at this point. Suddenly it had morphed into just a chill night of tag with some prizes at the end.

So we played. I must say the other players, Hart and Matthew, were both VERY good. So I give them a lot of credit and this was significantly better competition than you would think. We played four game formats.

The first was supercharge. I threw the gauntlet down hard in that game. Then we moved on to some Shadows (I’d been practicing), Dead Aim (more on that in a minute) and Gladiator. So I guess I was on point when I was predicting which formats to work on at my home arena.

Our level of competition was pretty evenly matched and these games were all incredibly close…except for one. Dead Aim. Now, this has become one of my favorite formats (as I told GB, “Dead Aim is my jam”), but something weird happened here that I can’t explain. Because of the limited shots my M.O. is to take out at least one base right off the bat. But for some reason when I put three shots into the base it didn’t register. And I had to do this more than once as the game continued and my pack alerted me “don’t forget the base”, but somehow I was unable to deactivate either base. Now, please understand that I am very aware of the normal things that could prevent this such as if I was shot while tagging the base or simply not having sufficient shots…but this is not what happened initially. I will say that, yes, those things did come into play later in the game, but this does not account for the oddity I am describing. I did NOT suddenly forget how to play tag or how to fire three shots directly into a base…and yet, I can’t explain why or how they didn’t register. Ultimately that ended up costing me significantly as I came in last in that round in spite of it normally being one of my stronger formats. Sigh…frustrating, but from a pragmatic standpoint we were just playing for fun at that point, so I had to just suck it up and let it go.

I won the final game of Gladiator (and here’s a great example of how close it was between the three of us)…

But ultimately the game of Dead Aim cost me too many points to make up, so I ended up in second place overall.

Congratulations to Matthew for taking first. Since the first place prize was a $50 gift card to use at the center it wasn’t that big of a loss because I'd be headed back for NY the next morning and wouldn't have been able to use it anyway. I won some free passes and a $30 arcade card that they were kind enough to swap out for a t-shirt instead so I had a nice souvenir to take back with me. And no matter what, I just love to play tag, so even though this wasn’t the “tournament” I was expecting, it was still worth making a trip back to North Carolina and I’m glad I got to enjoy some tag at this center.

Comments or Questions?

Lazer Zone in Alabama

It was the end of a long day by the time I arrived in Mobile, Alabama at the Lazer Zone site for some Tron.

I showed up in time to join the second to last game of the night and registered quickly. Then we were headed into the vesting room which had a cool neon cockpit d├ęcor.

The theme carried into the rest of the arena which did not look like a typical Tron arena.

Lots of neon, but no bases. It was like playing Tron with no agenda besides targeting the other players…and I had no complaints at all about that since I was a little too tired to be running back and forth from a base to a reload anyway. I staked out a spot with good positioning, but also within an arm’s length of the reload. :)

Honestly, there’s not a lot more for me to say about this game. It was fun, but fairly routine. If I had arrived in Alabama a little earlier in the night I certainly would have stayed for an additional game or two. But at this stage of the game knowing I had to be up first thing in the morning to catch a flight to North Carolina I decided to just buy my souvenir shirt (wished they had their “Got Laser Tag” shirts in a size other than small) and call it a night, simply happy to say I have at last had the chance to play some laser tag in Alabama.

Comments or Questions?

Laser Mania in Mississippi

There is only one place in the United States where a person can play Laser Mania and that is in Hattiesburg, Mississippi…so you know I had to visit!

I was fortunate enough to sit down with Laser Mania president Pat Rothwell for an interview to learn about the system that he manufactures with his business partner and programmer Jonathan Craft.

The arena is built inside an old movie theater, so the observation deck is in what was once the projection room.

And it overlooks an arena that has a real 90s vibe.

At the end of the game I had the top score, so they gave me a small first place button. I think this is very smart strategy to keep people interested as I was told that once you accumulate three of these buttons you can turn them in for a larger button. This would certainly encourage people to return.

I got to play against a public group, but also had a great time with the staff and friends.

And it was cool to see not only the three generations of the phasers/equipment…

1st gen…

2nd gen…

3rd gen…

…but also to even see some of their custom prototype work.

Many thanks to Pat for all the insight into the Laser Mania system and for a truly unique experience playing Laser Mania at your site!

Comments or Questions?