Machine memory?

Jun 15, 2010 7:03 AM

One of the popular themes of science fiction writers is when an inanimate object, especially some type of machine, seems to come to life, at least in the mind of the story’s protagonist.

Remember HAL 9000, the soft-spoken computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey?" Or what about the teenager’s car, "Christine," from the Stephen King novel that was made into a creepy John Carpenter movie?

Well, it might be time to add video keno machine to the list.

Now, I’m not suggesting that I ran across a machine that torments me with snide comments and siphons away the contents of my bottle of Smirnoff Ice.

But after this last weekend, I’m beginning to wonder if these machines have a memory, a very selective and calculating one.

Here’s what happened while I was playing 20-card keno. I had marked my usual cluster of eight 7-spots, covering the outside eight numbers of one row, and the inside eight numbers of an adjacent row.

After about 45 minutes of uneventful play, I decided to try a new pattern of eight numbers: I used the first three numbers, coupled with the middle two numbers, coupled with the last three numbers in one of the rows.

The best I could hit after about 30 minutes of play with that 3-2-3 configuration was 5-out-of-8. So I switched back to the inside eight numbers.

Within three plays of switching, the keno machine filled in seven of the eight numbers of the pattern I just vacated. This would have resulted in a solid 7-spot plus seven 6-of-7 payoffs.

Was this just a coincidence? I’m not so sure.

We’ve all had the experience of playing a group of numbers, with little or no success, then moving to another pattern; only to have most of the numbers in the previous pattern fill in with a flourish.

I can’t imagine that the keno machine has a memory and, like some kind of cruel joke, would drop numbers into a vacated pattern.

What’s more likely is that the keno game works like a stepper slot. These spinning reel slot machines have the outcome decided by the computer program, which directs the magnetic wheels where to stop, reflecting what the computer chip had already "decided."

It’s possible that the keno’s computer program determines the outcome – two hits, six hits, no hits or whatever – then directs the machine to fill in the appropriate spots.

While you’re playing a group of numbers, the machine fills in the pattern only when the computer program directs it to … which isn’t very often, as we all know.

When you move the pattern, those numbers are no longer "locked out" and the machine is free to fill them in at will.

Incidentally, this same keno machine "out-witted" me later in the session, just about when I was ready to pack it up and seek more fertile ground.

As I said before, I was playing the middle eight numbers in the 61-70 row, marking eight 7-spots under numbers 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68 and 69. I had been playing these numbers for over an hour, and the most that would drop into the pattern were five numbers.

Out of frustration, I scaled back my bet from four coins per card to one coin per card. And you can probably guess what happened.

Sure enough, on the very first play at the reduced bet, the machine filled in seven of the eight numbers.

Now, I don’t know if the machine has a pulse to go along with its memory and cruel sense of timing.

But if it did have a pulse, it must have skipped a couple of beats after the tongue-lashing I gave it in the wake of my diminished jackpot.

Stephen King, are you listening?