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Ask the Slot Expert: Anticipation and suspense in slot machine design

2 February 2022

One of the slot machine innovations that Charles Fey introduced in his Liberty Bell slot machine was suspense in revealing the outcome. Rather than having all reels stop at the same time, the reels in the Liberty Bell stopped sequentially, one after the other, left to right. This gave the player more excitement. The excitement built when the jackpot symbol landed on the first reel and then on the second reel. Then the player was held in suspense while the last reel spun, wondering whether it too would land on the jackpot symbol. (Almost always not.)

Today's slot designers have taken the suspense in sequential reel stopping and added a new dimension to it and also added features that play to another emotion, anticipation.

Let's look at one of my favorite machines, Quick Hit Blitz. Of course, this machine has sequential reel stop in the base game. (Is there any machine made today that doesn't reveal the results of a play in some sort of suspenseful manner?) It added a new dimension of suspense in the Blitz bonus round.

In the bonus round, you have to collect a certain number of Blitz symbols to move up to higher jackpot amounts. If you're on your last spin and you don't have enough symbols on the first four reels to move up to the next level and it's possible to get the number of symbols you need on the fifth reel, the machine plays suspenseful music and (I think) takes an extra long time to stop the reel.

Fortunately, the machine is not a tease. If it's not possible to get the number of symbols you need on the fifth reel, the machine takes pity on you and stops the reel normally. Also, if you collect enough symbols on the first four reels to move up, it stops the fifth reel normally then too.

Triggering a bonus round is another time when this machine and others flip the suspense-mode switch. On Quick Hit Blitz, you need to land Free Games symbols on the second, third, and fourth reels. After you land one of the Free Games symbols on the second reel, the machine plays its tension-building tune and highlights the third reel. If you get another Free Games symbol, the music continues and the fourth reel is highlighted.

The general rule for bonus round Suspense Mode is that the machine will go into Suspense Mode when a bonus symbol lands on the screen and it's possible to collect enough symbols to trigger the bonus. The machine will stay in suspense mode as long as you keep landing bonus symbols.

Quick Hit Blitz has another excitement-building feature in addition to Suspense Mode. I call this one Anticipation Mode. The difference between suspense and anticipation is that you don't know if you will win with suspense. With anticipation, the machine is telling you that you're about to hit something nice. You don't necessarily know what it will be, but you have won something.

After you hit spin on Blitz, the game area of the screen may change to a bunch of shooting stars over a field of blue. The machine also plays its anticipation theme.

I think I've always won the free games after anticipation on Quick Hit Blitz, but on other Quick Hit machines I've had anticipation on spins that paid one of the middle Quick Hit jackpots.

Some Monopoly machines also have Anticipation Mode. On Monopoly Hot Shot, Scotty the dog may walk across the screen after you hit Spin. You know that this spin will trigger the Around-the-Board bonus.

Anticipation Mode alto tells us something about how a slot machine operates. The machine has to know the result of the spin in order to go into Anticipation Mode. It must have already polled the RNG to determine where the reels will stop and it also must have evaluated the combinations that will appear to know that this spin is going to result in something worth anticipating.

On three of the last four shows in 2021 before he took his end-of-year break, Bill Maher on Real Time said something to the effect that the pandemic is over. I'm disappointed that Senator Amy Klobuchar didn't challenge the statement when she was a guest on the November 5, 2021 episode.

In fairness to Bill (and Amy), the episodes were broadcast between October 30, 2021 and November 19, 2021, the end of the Delta surge. Omicron hadn't emerged at the time. (It wasn't reported to the WHO until November 24, classified as a Variant of Concern by the WHO until November 26, classified as a Variant of Concern by the CDC until November 30, and detected in the U.S. until December 1. There was hope at the time that the Delta surge would be the end of the pandemic.

I was anxious to see if Omicron had humbled Bill when he returned on January 21, 2022.

Not only did the Omicron surge not humble him, he doubled down on his "pandemic is over" rhetoric. Worse, his program became a source of misinformation.

One of his panelists, Bari Weiss, said "cloth masks do not do anything."

Well, it's not that simple. Nearly two years ago we all saw the lab tests showing how well various mask materials blocked droplets. We've known for a long time that the stretchy material in neck gaiters is not very effective, but still better than nothing. Various cloth masks aren't as effective as surgical or N95 masks, but more effective than a neck gaiter and much better than nothing.

Cloth masks may not he as effective as other types of masks, but it's not correct to say categorically that "they do not do anything." How well they work depends on the material and how you wear it. (Do Cloth Masks Work Against COVID?)

For the last month or so, I've seen many articles and heard many talking heads say that we should all wear N95 masks while Omicron is surging in our areas. To get N95 performance, you have to wear the mask correctly so that it is sealed against your face. I've seen TV reporters that have visible gaps between their N95 masks and their faces.

My N95s arrived yesterday, so I wore one for the first time today. I got the foldable masks instead of the rigid cup masks. The instructions for putting on the mask the proper way are confusing. I can't imagine many people taking the time to figure them out.

I have an indicator to tell me how good my top seal is. If my glasses fog up, I know I don't have a good seal. Maybe you really have to push the nose clip so it is uncomfortably tight on your nose. I had a little fogging up, which I seemed to be able to eliminate by wearing a doubled-up neck gaiter over the mask.

I found this mask to be more comfortable than my cloth masks. Maybe that wouldn't have been the case if I had made the nose clip really tight. And maybe the cup-style masks are more uncomfortable than the foldable ones.

I think it was Dr. Ashish Jha who said, in effect, that the best mask for you is the one you can wear properly for the length of time that you need to wear it.

I saw someone wearing the most ridiculous face covering a few weeks ago. I wonder what this person was thinking.

This person had a face shield. Rather than being suspended from a band worn on the forehead, this one rose up from a plastic band around the chin held in place by straps around your ears. They're used mainly in the food service industry as a personal sneeze guard for the workers. They prevent whatever the workers exhale from settling on the food below them.

Because they are open on the top, they won't stop droplets and aerosols from settling into the airspace in front of your face. Useless for airborne pathogens.

Bill Maher compared deaths per capita in New York and New Jersey with Florida. His point was that Florida had pretty much stayed open and had fewer deaths per capita than New York or New Jersey.

As of January 31, 2022, New Jersey was 2nd in deaths per capita, New York 6th and Florida 18th (Cumulative COVID-19 Cases and Deaths). Bill just recited the rankings but didn't discuss the data. Going by the rankings, it seems like Florida did much better than New York. But rankings only give an order. They don't indicate how much distance there is between two rankings.

You have to be careful when you compare two states. There are many factors besides mitigation efforts that determine how well a state does in fighting Covid. Demographics, population density, and when a state's surge began all affect a state's cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Ritchie Torres, Congressman from New York and Bill's other panelist, pointed out that comparing New York's and Florida's rankings is not a fair comparison. The greater New York area is densely populated and a major hub for international travel.

Let's do what Bill should have done and look at the data.

New York has had 68,846 Covid deaths. Florida 65,265. About the same number. The main reason Florida's deaths per capita (3,003/1,000,000) is lower than New York's (3,354) is because Florida's population is slightly higher than New York's.

Even though both states reported their first confirmed cases on March 1, 2020, New York quickly became the epicenter for the disease. Remember the people banging their pots and pans in recognition of the health workers? Remember the refrigerator trucks at the hospitals to hold all the people who had died?

According to Timeline: The spread of coronavirus in Florida and COVID-19 pandemic in New York (state), by April 28, 2020, Florida had 32,846 cases and 1,171 deaths, while New York had 299,691 cases and 18,015 deaths.

Florida has a year-round outdoor lifestyle. New York does not. That could be a significant reason why New York did so much worse in the first months of the pandemic.

Another reason is population density, as Congressman Torres said. New York state has about 19 million residents and 40% of them (8 million) live in New York City. Florida, on the other hand, has 21 million residents and Jacksonville, its largest city, has only 950,000 residents.

Let's recap. Both New York and Florida started the race at the same time. Florida has built-in advantages of lower population density and year-round outdoor living. Two months in, New York was way ahead. But two years in, they're both at about the same place.

How the hell did Florida squander its advantages and end up in a tie? Why didn't Florida continue to be well behind New York?

My takeaway from the comparison is wondering how much sickness and suffering could have been avoided, how many lives could have been saved, with a different approach in Florida?

After Congressman Torres gave the latest Covid death toll, Bill said, "deaths are squishy." While it's true that counting Covid deaths isn't as easy as counting eggs in a carton, most researchers agree that the true count is probably higher than the published count. (How are COVID-19 deaths counted? It’s complicated and True number of Covid deaths in the US probably undercounted, experts say)

Both Bill and Ms. Weiss talked about the masking guidance for restaurants. Bill said, "The virus can get me when I'm walking in a restaurant but not when I'm sitting down."

Ms. Weiss said that we're creating a two-tier system. "The haves get to go into a restaurant, laugh with friends for hours, but the people serving them have to wear masks and gloves."

I'm disappointed that Bill doesn't see what is really happening in the restaurant. And Ms. Weiss, your statement is just inane.

Bill, you have the restaurant situation inverted. It's not that you have to put on a mask to go to the restroom. It's that you get to take off your mask when you're eating or drinking.

In a restaurant, you're near people whose vaccination status you probably don't know. The restaurant might have a relatively small volume of air and ventilation may be poor. You're supposed to wear a mask in these situations.

But you can't eat with a mask on. So you can take off your mask when you're actively eating or drinking, but you are supposed to wear it at all other times.

As for the waitstaff, they're working in a potentially Covid-rich environment day in and day out. Their masks and gloves are to give them more protection than going bareback.

Is there a two-tier system at my dentist's office because the hygienist wears a mask and gloves and I get to sit in the chair unmasked?

Bari Weiss gets credit for the most egregious statement.

At this point, it's a pandemic of bureaucracy. It's not real anymore.

Tell that to the hospitals.

It's not real anymore.

Tell that to my friend's family.

For the first few months of the pandemic, I had two degrees of separation between myself and someone who had been infected. (It could have been just one degree if Tom Hanks and I hadn't fallen out of touch.) In December 2020, it went down to one degree when I found out that a former co-worker back East had been infected.

That one degree got much closer to home two months ago when two friends tested positive. Both were fully vaccinated. One friend, J, has a laundry list of complicating factors: heart transplant, diabetes, and I don't know what else.

Both seemed to be recovering, but a week or so after testing positive J drove himself to the hospital. We figured that it was just precautionary because of his transplant. After all, he drove himself.

Weeks passed and still J was not released. On the one hand, it seems like your chances of recovery decrease the longer you're in the hospital. On the other hand, there are stories about people leaving the hospital after very long stays. We still had hope.

J died from complications from Covid last week.

It's a pandemic of bureaucracy. It's not real anymore.

Here are the latest Covid data. There is a difference in the hospitalization data for US versus NV. The CDC reports total number of Covid hospital admissions. Nevada reports current hospitalizations, not admissions.

All data comes from the CDC (,, except for Nevada current hospitalizations (

Totals Weekly Changes
Date Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths  Cases  Hosp. Adm.  Deaths  Cases  Curr. Hosp.  Deaths 
 02/01/22   75,012,446   4,288,453   884,853   656,898   1,627   8,951   3,193,570   121,420   17,885   26,555   (344)   191 
 01/25/22   71,818,876   4,167,033   866,968   630,343   1,971   8,760   5,102,999   143,329   16,393   57,574   99   133 
 01/18/22   66,715,937   4,023,704   850,575   572,769   1,872   8,627   4,983,654   147,105   13,301   25,927   (1,787)   99 
 01/11/22   61,732,283   3,876,599   837,274   546,842   3,659   8,528   5,421,565   139,572   12,168   32,486   2,594   100 
 01/05/22   56,310,718   3,737,027   825,106   514,344   1,065   8,428   3,501,427   104,272   8,867   20,966   276   61 
 12/28/21   52,809,291   3,362,755   816,239   493,378   789   8,367   1,693,987   63,185   11,127   7,977   89   56 
 12/21   51,115,304   3,569,570   805,112   485,401   700   8,311   1,063,296   55,734   9,102   5,639   9   110 
 12/14   50,052,008   3,513,836   796,010   479,762   691   8,201   853,262   57,885   8,946   5,008   17   91 
 12/07   49,198,746   3,455,951   787,064   474,754   674   8,110   821,215   66,191   8,575   5,011   23   125 
 11/30   48,377,531   3,389,760   778,489   469,743   651   7,985   563,746   28,426   6,309   3,343   (50)   55 
 11/23   47,813,785   3,361,334   772,180   466,400   701   7,930   667,924   41,145   10,754   4,784   (24)   86 
 11/16   47,145,861   3,320,189   761,426   461,616   725   7,844   604,748   63,164   7,862   4,577   22   85 
 11/09   46,541,113   3,257,025   753,564   457,039   703   7,759   516,764   33,219   8,290   5,539   34   103 
 11/02   46,024,349   3,223,806   745,274   451,500   669   7,656   555,915   38,028   9,226   4,327   45   109 
 10/26   45,468,434   3,185,778   736,048   447,173   624   7,547   488,829   42,265   9,842   4,753   (87)   96 
 10/19   44,979,605   3,143,513   726,206   442,420   711   7,451   578,396   11,963   4,381   136 
 10/12   44,401,209   714,243   438,039   7,315   795,586   14,067   15,710   149 
 10/05   43,605,623   700,176   422,329   7,166   554,194   10,642   3,852   121 
 09/28   43,051,429   689,534   418,477   7,045   817,218   14,463   6,160   165 
 09/21   42,234,211   675,071   412,317   6,880   971,637   14,691   7,466   152 
 09/14   41,262,574   660,380   404,851   6,728   1,176,763   12,919   10,256   145 
 09/07   40,085,811   647,461   394,595   6,583   975,725   10,076   5,237   104 
 08/31   39,110,086   637,385   389,358   6,479   1,113,414   9,385   7,592   173 
 08/24   37,996,672   628,000   381,649   6,306   1,045,491   7,507   8,117   116 
 08/17   36,951,181   620,493   373,649   6,190   959,978   4,715   7,065   150 
 08/10   35,991,203   615,778   366,584   6,040   819,524   3,987   7,652   122 
 08/03   35,171,679   611,791   358,932   5,918   622,832   2,279   7,489   81 
 07/27   34,548,847   609,012   351,443   5,837   652,251   2,394   8,347   79 
 07/20   33,896,296   606,618   341,096   5,758   169,933   1,478   3,351   28 
 07/13   33,726,363   605,140   339,745   5,730   181,047   1,959   4,982   33 
 07/06   33,545,316   603,181   334,763   5,697   75,104   1,373   2,234   27 
 06/29   33,470,212   601,808   332,529   5,670   87,507   2,057   3,020   24 
 06/22   33,382,705   599,751   329,509   5,646   75,420   2,157   1,930   22 
 06/15   33,303,285   597,594   327,579   5,624   95,797   2,293   1,560   17 
 06/08   33,207,488   595,301   326,019   5,607   114,250   3,762   2,271   21 
 06/01   33,039,238   591,539   323,748   5,586   123,333   3,709   991   27 
 05/25   32,969,905   587,830   322,757   5,559   174,125   4,234   1,676   26 
 05/18   32,795,780   583,596   321,081   5,533   223,966   4,230   2,301   27 
 05/11   32,571,814   579,366   318,780   5,506   303,856   4,687   2,541   33 
 05/04   32,267,958   574,679   316,239   5,473   343,348   4,908   2,559   40 
 04/27   31,924,610   569,771   313,680   5,433   383,163   4,958   2,747   65 
 04/20   31,541,447   564,813   310,933   5,368   464,556   5,072   2,590   36 
 04/13   31,076,891   559,741   308,343   5,332   480,061   5,321   2,986   57 
 04/06   30,596,830   554,420   305,357   5,275   448,935   7,124   3,084   38 
 03/30   30,147,895   547,296   302,273   5,237   439,510   6,793   939   63 
 03/23   29,708,385   540,503   301,334   5,174   388,928   7,446   1,863   53 
 03/16   29,319,457   533,057   299,471   5,121   381,695   8,362   3,078   81 
 03/09   28,937,762   524,695   296,393   5,040   480,902   11,573   2,413   83 
 03/02   28,456,860   513,122   293,980   4,957   463,356   14,129   2,835   75 
 02/23   27,993,504   498,993   291,145   4,882   451,083   13,923   2,406   162 
 02/16   27,542,421   485,070   288,739   4,720   602,906   21,411   4,149   198 
 02/09   26,939,515   463,659   284,590   4,522   779,305   21,828   5,444   244 
 02/02   26,160,210   441,831   279,146   4,278   1,007,777   22,004   7,249   249 
 01/26   25,152,433   419,827   271,897   4,029   1,312,565   23,385   10,324   250 
 01/19   23,839,868   396,442   261,573   3,779   1,317,119   21,318   11,324   279 
 01/12   22,522,749   375,124   250,249   3,500   1,790,345   22,660   17,217   294 
 01/05   20,732,404   352,464   233,032   3,206   1,499,561   18,435   14,655   233 
 12/29/20   19,232,843   334,029   218,377   2,973   1,258,540   15,460   12,493   186 
 12/22   17,974,303   318,569   205,884   2,787   1,656,411   18,537   16,472   239 
 12/15   16,317,892   300,032   189,412   2,548   1,494,763   17,247   18,825   229 
John Robison

John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots
John Robison
John Robison is an expert on slot machines and how to play them. John is a slot and video poker columnist and has written for many of gaming’s leading publications. He holds a master's degree in computer science from the prestigious Stevens Institute of Technology.

You may hear John give his slot and video poker tips live on The Good Times Show, hosted by Rudi Schiffer and Mike Schiffer, which is broadcast from Memphis on KXIQ 1180AM Friday afternoon from from 2PM to 5PM Central Time. John is on the show from 4:30 to 5. You can listen to archives of the show on the web anytime.

Books by John Robison:

The Slot Expert's Guide to Playing Slots