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Two frame, nine year time lapse photography

Since getting back and looking through some of my older photos of Las Vegas, I’ve decided that in the summer I’ll make it a bit of a project to try to retake some of the old shots I have from exactly the same angle to show how much the Vegas landscape has changed in, really, quite a short time.

It’s more by luck that judgement that I found some that already line up pretty closely, although as there’s only a handful of viewing holes at the top of the fake Eiffel Tower it’s only to be expected that I’d have caputed virtually the same views I did the last time I went up – in June 2000.

So, here I present some wonderful two-frame, nine-year time lapse photography.  You can click on the 2009 photos to see all the gory detail, if you’re that way inclined.

Looking kind of southeastish in 2000:

The Aladdin (right, foreground) was almost complete (it opened in August 2000).  You can just see the green MGM Grand behind it, and the Tropicana behind that.

And now:

The facelift when it was renamed to Planet Hollywood in 2007 was not so drastic on the hotel tower as it was at ground level.  It’s just a little less Arabian.  Click to zoom in for the full gory detail, and you can see the The big shiny building springing up in the hole to the left of the frame is the Planet Hollywood Towers by Westgate.  The exterior glass was completed just this month.

To the left of the MGM is the top of the Marriott Grand Chateau, which was meant to be cross-shaped but they’ve given up half way through and now it’s just an "L".  The property one block east of The Aladdin that looks like it had a Strip view in 2000 - and now has a view of the back of the PH Towers - is The Carriage House.  You can just see it peeking through in 2009.  An off-strip, non-gaming resort way back then?  Clearly it was ahead of its time.

Let’s turn to face due south.  In 2000, it looked like this:

Now watch, as the Monte Carlo and most of New York New York disappears before your very eyes, without the aid of an implosion:

That’s all CityCenter.  It’s very large and very new (bits of it might open later this year) but it’s not the only thing that’s changed here.

There’s no way you’d see it (or, rather, notice the lack of it) with the poor resolution of the old photo, but if you look way off into the distance now, you can just make out a dark building at the very end of the Strip which is the M resort (opened last month) and a gold building which is South Point (opened 2005).

THEhotel at Mandalay Bay (2003) is also mostly obscured from this angle, but you can just see it behind a NYNY skyscraper. 

Then there’s the proliferation of building wraps and other jumbo-sized advertisements all over the place.  To be honest, in this view it’s not so bad as if you look at the front of the Flamingo, or fake Venice.  But they’re there, and they never used to be.

You can barely see the Strip-facing side of the Luxor from this angle, but it’s been ruined by adverts on the front for some time now.  I remember it promoting the musical Hairspray, and currently it’s for Criss Angel.  Pimping their own shows is bad enough, but when it’s totally sold out as a billboard for liquor it’s just ghastly.

But not content with spoiling the front of the pyramid, they’ve now slapped a "viewfinder" onto the other three sides (visible in close-up above) to solicit interest in further defacing one of the most iconic Las Vegas landmarks.

There’s a banner for Lance Burton’s show at Monte Carlo hanging on the side of the showcase cinema.  That wasn’t there nine years ago.  Burton was.  You can also see the Hawaiian Market place here, which is new but you can’t really tell from this height.  It has a bit of a canopy that wasn’t there before.

There’s also the advert for Dick’s Last Resort in the Excalibur tower, where Merlin once stood.

You can also make out a full-height banner on Planet Hollywood for Peep Show, their new titty show with Scary Spice.  Really.

I’m sure the only reason CityCenter doesn’t have any wraps on its big glass buildings (perfect for this kind of abuse) is that all the windows aren’t in yet.

Let’s rotate around to see Caesars Palace in 2000:

For as long as I’ve been visiting Las Vegas, it’s always seemed like there’s been some kind of construction going on at Caesars.  I’d never realised just how much it had grown though until I put these pictures next to each other.

The Augustus Tower (front of frame) dwarfs most of the resort from this angle.  The Octavius Tower (to the left, with the crane) is almost finished – on the outside at least, which is as far as they’re taking it for the time being.  The other major addition is the Colosseum (round building, looks like… err.. The Colosseum), built for Celine Dion in 2003.

These photos crop it off, but they’ve also begun using all the space up to the sidewalk – most recently for a copy of New York’s Serendipity 3, right on the corner of the intersection.

The classic marquee sign (bottom right, squint a bit) has been replaced (in fact, it looks like it actually moved too) with a fancy new one that has a video screen at the top showing clips of Bette Midler and Cher.  It’s not as good, but then I love the old-style letterboard signs.

"Starring Gladys Knight", in case you can’t quite make it out.  That screen that says "IP" on the side of Imperial Palace no longer works either, I think for quite some time.  I never even realised there was one there before I looked at these old photos.

I’m slightly disappointed that I haven’t found any older photos facing north, which is where the skyline has seen its most significant change.  Off the top of my head: Desert Inn, Stardust and New Frontier have gone; Wynn, Encore, Palazzo and Trump have opened; FontaineBleau is going up; Turnberry Place and about a dozen other condo projects with just immemorable names that I can never remember which is which have shot up.  I’m sure that’s not all.

All you used to be able to see in that direction was the mighty Stratosphere Tower.  Now it doesn’t look much taller than any of the high rise condos from a distance.

Scream if you want to see where the hell you’re going

Speed: The Ride at Sahara is an attraction that’s been there as long as I can remember, but it’s something that I’ve never quite got around to doing.  It’s the kind of thing that always gets pushed to the bottom of the list when it involves driving somewhere you wouldn’t otherwise be going for something that lasts less than a minute.

I thought I’d missed my chance when the ride suddenly closed last summer.  They said it was closed "for the season", but who knew what season that was?  Then a few weeks ago it suddenly re-opened again, alongside a promotion for a new food item.

Eat a Burrito, get tickets for the ride.  But not just any burrito.  Some adverts called it the "Bomb", others the "B3" (Big Badass Burrito).  What’s in a name?  A two-foot long, six pound hunk of meat and cheese by any other name is still at least five pounds too many.

To get the freebie, you have to eat it alone - in one sitting - and ride the coaster the same day.  No thanks.  I decided to do it the sucker way and just paid $10 for the ride.

So, what was Speed The Ride like?  I wish I knew, because I wasn’t allowed to wear my glasses on the ride and I feel like I totally missed it.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the first time that’s ever happened.  I’m also not exaggerating when I say I might as well have not been there.  I don’t know what makes this ride so special, but if I’d known this I wouldn’t have wasted $10 on it.

If you don’t wear glasses, or you’re only mildly short-sighted, you’ll probably think I’m over-reacting.  "What are you going to see at that speed anyway?", right?  It’s not about the scenery.  Believe me, it makes a massive difference to the sensation of movement if you can’t even see the track in front of you.

I have a -5.5 prescription.  It’s not that severe compared to some, but I’m still completely hopeless without them.  For years I absolutely hated swimming until it dawned on me to get some prescription goggles.  I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before.

I used to struggle getting from the changing rooms to the pool, and if I’d had to put my glasses in a locker on the other side of the platform then walk to the coaster I’d have struggled too.  But really, this would have been the best option.  Actually, goggles would have been a better option – they may have let me wear those.

Claire has a -1.0 prescription and she said the ride was great.  I don’t know where the line is between "a bit blurry" and "can’t see a damn thing", but I’m definitely on the wrong side of it.

They may as well have blindfolded me, put me in a box, turned on a fan and shaken it about a bit.  It would have been just as exciting.

To make matters worse, they didn’t drop this bombshell until I was right inside the car.  You’d think the bored attendant might have thought to mention it while we were waiting to get on (there was no line, we were just hanging about for it to fill up) but he waited until I started to sit down before making a "glasses" gesture at me.  You know, fingers at the side of his head, moving back and forth.

"They’ll be fine", I said.

"No, you have to take them off", he told me.

"Really?".  He nodded.  "So where can I put them?".

There were no pigeon holes by the ride itself.  Just the coin-operated lockers that were back on the other side of the platform, and the barriers to the ride had already closed.

"Just put them in your pocket", was the genius solution.

What the fuck?  Does he mean my shirt pocket that can’t be closed, the back pocket I’m sitting on, or the one in my shorts that’s going to get crushed up against the inside of the car when I get flung in as-yet unknown directions?

Before I could explain to him exactly what was wrong with this master plan, the "driver" (if you consider counting backwards from 5 and pressing a button to be driving) in the control room turned on her microphone and came up with a better idea.  "It’s only 45 seconds", she said, "just hold them in your hand".  Fantastic.  You think I’m a pussy and now everyone else on the ride does too.

The safest place, obviously, was to stick them on my face – from where, in the two years that I’ve had this pair, they’ve never fallen off.  In the nearly-30 years I’ve been wearing glasses, I can’t remember a single pair that did.

Watch: I’m actually shaking my head now in every direction I can think of, facing the floor, trying to get them to come loose.  It doesn’t happen.  What exactly is going to make them fly off when my head is pinned back against a seat at 3.5 Gs?

But as I didn’t have much of a choice, besides giving up and getting off, I rode with my glasses clenched between my fingers, gripping so tightly for fear of losing them that I bent the nose pads and had to bodge my own fitting before leaving the Sahara.

If you think risking losing your sight on holiday is exciting, hand-holding your glasses on Speed is probably the ultimate thrill ride.

This one’s better though.  It’s the Desperado at Buffalo Bill’s casino in Primm, about 40 miles from Las Vegas.

At one time (1996) it was the world’s tallest, fastest, longest and steepest rollercoaster.  Others have overtaken it every category, but it’s still a monster, reaching 95 mph after a 225 ft drop.

I love Blackpool Pleasure Beach but I’ve never dared ride the Big One.  It’s not the coaster, it’s the height of that first climb.  The Desperado is actually a little taller (Blackpool held the world’s whateverest records for a year or so) but in the context of not much more than miles and miles of desert – rather than dozens of other, smaller rides – it just doesn’t look so daunting.

I’m also sure that when you look down and see nothing but dust and one oversized barn of a hotel, you won’t feel so high as if you look down and see a large amusement park and rows upon rows of shitty little 6-room bed-and-breakfasts.

Anyway, I rode this beast – taller, faster and more Gs than Speed – last week, with my glasses on.  They were fine, of course, and nobody even thought to ask me if they were likely to fall.

I completed my coaster trilogy here:

The Manhattan Express at New York-New York (or, "New-York New-York", as I noticed it was bizarrely hyphenated on the front of the airport’s NYNY gift shop) is not quite so impressive on paper – a mere 200 feet high and 67 mph top speed.  I’m sure they must have secured some made-up record for the world’s most twistiest coaster around a replica statue, or something.

It still feels pretty quick though and it throws you around lots.  The price is a whopping $14 per ride, but mild concussion is included for no extra cost.

Head well and truly rattled…. glasses still firmly stuck to face.

Let me dealertain you

This Dealertainer at Imperial Palace is apparently meant to be Elvis.

Tell me, am I insane for thinking – right up until the minute he started singing – that it was actually Robbie Williams?  Apart from the obvious clue that nobody in America has heard of him.  It’s uncanny, don’t you think?

Elvis impersonators and dealers probably make up something like 99% of the Las Vegas workforce, so is it really that hard to find someone who can both be a convincing King and deal blackjack?

I only managed to a identify a few of the other dealertainers that were on that night.  I struggled with the obligatory country singer (although "some dude in a cowboy hat" is always an acceptable answer as far as I’m concerned) and failed to identify the Rihanna looky-likey, although to be fair chances are I’d never have recognised the real thing either.

I must be getting old.  Seriously, is Rihanna really in the same league as Elvis, Britney, Prince, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and… err Leona Lewis?

Nope, apparently she is meant to be Mariah Carey.  You decide:

 

Texting Las Vegas

It’s the first time I’ve seen these "text X to Y to get spammed with offers" campaigns from Las Vegas casinos.  I’m sure there must be more than just these two, but these are the ones I saw on billboards and duly sold my soul to:

Text "RIO" to 227466 :

Text "MGM" to 30364 :

MGM’s texts began by asking me to verify my age.  Because, surely, if Rusty Griswold wanders up to the bar with his iPhone looking for a free drink, they won’t need to check his ID if he’s already answered this question truthfully.

Then they sent me a room offer, which is a little bizarre when I saw the billboard only about 10 minutes out of town.  I guess there’s a chance I could have driven in from LA without a reservation, hoping for a last minute cheap deal and think this is the one, but it seems unlikely.

Then, they chased up the same room offer later that day.  Just in case I was still homeless.  Seems like a waste of marketing to me, but what do I know?  I just want the freebs.

It’s not really a competition, but Rio wins this one for me hands down.  I received 8 of the promised 10 offers in 3 days, with a new one being sent like clockwork three times daily.  I’m sure I only missed out on the last couple because I was already on the plane home by the time they sent it.  (MGM stopped much earlier, I had nothing at all on my last full day in town).

It’s not hard to see Boobilee for half price – it’s been a staple of the POV for many years, you can usually get it when you stay in one of their hotels, and it’s perpetually a discounted show at the tickets for tonight booths.  In fact I expect almost nobody pays full price.  I also don’t know what discounts there are for Voodoo Lounge, but I know I can get free entry any time with Total Rewards Diamond so I expect it’s not hard to at least get a discount.

However, it was the completely free Eiffel Tower admissions that turned this from being a bunch of coupons I wasn’t really bothered by into a great deal.  It helped that it was something I wanted to do anyway, but you can’t argue with the price to get one of the best views of the Strip.  I’ve seen this as a 2fer before but never as a completely free deal.

The only possible drawback is having to collect a voucher at the Rio’s players club, even to redeem an offer at a Strip property.  If the Harrah’s properties on the Strip are operating similar text campaigns they might be doing more Strip-centric promotions, or at least allow you collect the vouchers at a more convenient location.

As we were staying at the Rio, claiming this was a doddle.  They didn’t even want to see a player’s card, they just read the phone screen and handed over a ticket to take to Paris for completely free admission.  No name on the ticket, just an expiry date so you have to use it within 3 days.

It would ordinarily cost $10 each daytime, or $12 at night.  And you can’t sneak up craftily just before sunset – they close between 7.15pm and 7.30pm to make sure you pay extra if you want the view at night.

Yes, I have photos.  They’re coming soon…

My new favourite slot machine

When I say I have a new favourite slot machine, what I really mean is that I found a slot machine which I not only find tolerable, but also find quite enjoyable!

Apart from taking a shot on Megabucks every now and then (and, really, who can resist with the jackpot at a juicy $32 million?) I just don’t get excited by them.

I even found my experiement into hammering Wheel of Fortune on a 10x slot points day (which made it a reasonable chance of being a break-even game, plus getting me on the radar for room offers) extremely boring.

So, it’s pretty rare to find a game that (a) makes me want to sit down, (b) makes me want to put more money in when the first lot runs out and (c) has be make a special trip back to that casino to play it again.

This is exactly what happened with the “multi-strike” game I found at Terrible’s.

The multi-strike concept originated in video poker.  You play for four games at a time, but only progress for games 2, 3 and 4 if you win on the previous game.  However, you win double on the second game, four times on the third game and eight times on the top game.  As I suspect that doesn’t really explain it well enough, you can click here to play it online for free.

In fact, with some strategy adjustments (which, I’ll admit, I am a long way from knowing) multi-strike provides a slightly better payback than the same paytable on regular video poker.  It’s only another 0.2% or so, but every little helps.

However, as you’d expect, there’s no strategy at all to multi-strike slots.  But still, this is what reeled me in, curious as to how it would work on a slot game.

If you win on one level, you get to spin again with the winnings multiplied accordingly.  In fact, you don’t even need to press the button again – it will spin automatically for you until you get to the top or die.

When a “free ride” symbol lands on both reels 1 and 5, you advance to the next level even if there is no winning combination on the reels.  In addition, free ride gives you a bonus multiplier on the next level – for instance on level 2 instead of 2x you will receive between 3x and 8x.

In addition to the multi-strike feature, the game is otherwise a “greatest hits of slot machines”.  It’s all there, and you’ll see most of it in this epic clip which resulted in a massive $18 win.

Let’s start with the stupidly high number of pay lines – 25, in fact.  This is mandatory on video slots – you’re just not allowed to fully understand the game.  Sometimes you just won’t know how you’ve won but the credit meter will go up and it’ll be a nice surprise, and yet other times you’ll be left wondering why on earth you just won nothing for three symbols top-bottom-middle when you’re absolutely sure that combination paid out last time.

Then there’s the good old triple diamond wildcard.  It only appears on reels 2 and 4 in this game, but it can be used to complete any winning sequence – and triples the win.  Use both of them and the win is multiplied 9x (and then multipled again if you are on level 2 or above).

There’s also a free spins feature – another staple of video slots.  Why just give you a cash award when it can spend a few seconds flashing up small win after small win, hypnotising you into thinking that the machine is paying out much more often than it actually is?  There’s some really clever stuff going on behind all those pretty flashing lights.

Of course, no self-respecting slot machine is complete without a wheel.  Wheel of Fortune is like the most popular, longest running slot machine ever, or something.  Heck, when the Las Vegas Hilton ripped out their poker room last year, they replaced it with… Wheel of Fortune World.  It’s been around longer than I can remember (so I’m no old-timer, but ten years is a long time in Vegas years) and folks still seem to love it.

Although I don’t really know why it’s so popular as a dull 3-reel slot machine, I can appreciate the awesomeness of having a wheel spin right above your head, with the only possible result of where it lands being that you will definitely win some amount of money.  You just don’t know how much yet.

It’s so awesome, in fact, that here’s another clip.  This one in slightly better quality from my camera rather than my phone (look closely and you’ll see me reflecting in the machine at the end) - and a slightly bigger win too :)  

The multi-strike wheel determines the multiplier for your level 4 win, between 6x and 100x.  If you got there on a free ride (as we did in this clip) a bonus of up to 20x is added to the number on the wheel (not multiplied, unfortunately).  Here we have a top line win from the free spin feature for 345 credits ($3.45) which was multipled by 25x on the wheel and 10x on the free ride to give a total level 4 win of over $120!

Not bad for a 1c game, eh?  Even if you do have to play at least 100 coins to activate all the features…

Here’s the bad news though – you can play this game online and for free.  I expect I’ll be wasting plenty of time on this…

Something in the window

From this close up, it could be a scene from a horror movie.

However, it’s actually a shadow dancer in a place I’d never noticed before – in one of the upper windows at O’Shea’s.

I noticed this on Friday night and have no idea how long they’ve been doing it.  If it’s a permanent fixture it’s only certain nights of the week as she’s wasn’t there on Sunday.

Considering it’s just a silhouette dancing about in a window on probably the most brightly lit street in the world, it’s surprisingly eye-catching.

Banned?

Looks like my laptop has been kicked off the Rio’s hotel internet.

I just keep getting an error that windows cannot renew the IP address.  I went through the hoops with LodgeNet’s Indian call centre, who told me to try all the things I’d already tried and then said they would escalate it and call me back - but they still haven’t.

It was fine when we first got here, so I checked my email and left it downloading the latest episode of 24.  I’d be surprised if this is what they’ve taken offense to as I downloaded Christmas Top of the Pops last time I stayed at the Rio, and several episodes of Big Brother last year from various Harrah’s hotels.  I don’t watch that much TV, but some shows just have to travel with me.

It’s definitely something specific to my machine though, as when we finally gave up and plugged Claire’s laptop directly into the wall it worked just fine.

Sadly, my fingers are much too fat for this tiny keyboard for me to be able to type at anything like full speed, plus I’d be juggling between computers to find photos, so expect some minor blogging delays.

Clock this

The Palms is running their usual kind of swipe-and-win promotion this week.  Free gift cards, restaurant credit, random junk and point multipliers on offer – everyone wins something.

I’d play there regularly anyway, but the chance of some casino-branded junk or bonus slot club points is enough to make sure I turn up every single day in my awesome PT Cruiser.

I noticed the text on the points multiplier coupon I won on Sunday is now much more restrictive than it used to be:

For a while it’s been a bit of a grey area as to whether you would have your points multiplied if you played one of the 100%+ games on offer.  These machines have a label on them stating "not valid for any promotions".  In the past I’ve found that sometimes they’ve been excluded from point redemption offers and sometimes they just don’t seem to care.

With a multiplier, generally, as long as you didn’t play exclusively 100% machines, it seemed like you’d get all that day’s points multiplied.  So a quick session on 99.5% jacks or better (which actually becomes a 100% game with a 2x coupon, and a profitable game with anything better) usually did the trick.

Now the coupon specifically excludes all the good machines.  Some of the jacks or better machines have the non-promotional label but some do not, and after some experiementation I can confirm that, sadly, even the unmarked machines are excluded.

This is the first time I’ve ever seen a casino refer to a particular version of deuces wild as NSUD ("not so ugly ducks").  This particular variant is a 99.7% payback game which requires a quite different strategy than FPDW ("full pay deuces wild") because a flush pays 3 coins compared to 2, and four-of-a-kind 4 coins compared to 5.

Although a 99.7% paytable can provide some good opportunities when add the value of slot club promotions to the expected return, FPDW has remained my wild card game of choice because it pays back a much healthier 100.7% (before any other incentives).

Some casinos label their best machines with a "certified X% payback" banner (and a tiny footnote that reads "with optimal play") but I’ve only ever seen or heard the terms "full pay" and "not so ugly" used by players or strategy guide authors – never by the casinos themselves.

So anyway, the point multipliers are pretty much dead to me.  But there’s always the free shit.

On Monday, my ticket told me I’d won a "Tree Clock".  My reaction was (as, presumably, yours is too): "WTF is a tree clock?".  Fortunately it didn’t take long to find out:  it’s a clock with a picture of a tree on it.  Obvious really, I suppose.

At least the picture is a palm tree, but this isn’t Palms branded gear.  The label on the back simply states "made in China" and calls it a "CIOCK", which is pretty close.

Not only do I have no idea what the connection is between this piece of tat and "April Showers of Cash", but also, especially given that this promotion only lasts 5 days, I really didn’t expect to get the same gift two days running.  But sure enough, on Tuesday I won another super tree clock.

"I got one of these yesterday, is there any chance I can swap it for a t-shirt?", I asked.  I’d have traded it for almost anything on offer, but the man with the prizes wouldn’t budge.  It wasn’t until later that I realised my brand new tree clock actually had a slightly different design to the first one: two trees!

I can only hope that my run of luck continues so that I can end up with a whole forest of clocks before the week is out.

Sunrise

This was the view from our room at the Four Queens at sunrise.  The towers in the foreground are part of the Lady Luck, which was just about the only thing in town not lit up at the time.  It was closed "for renovations" in early 2006, but very little has actually been done to it since then.

No such thing as a free lunch – disproved

Just in case you needed proof of our VIP status at the Four Queens, here is the official documentation.

The inside of the "passport" outlines what you can eat for free (click to enlarge).

There’s absolutely no way we’ll eat close to the daily allowances – especially as yesterday’s late arrival cost us a free lunch - but it’s a pretty sweet deal nevertheless.

With all the stuff we’ve charged to the room so far, here’s what shows up on the bill.

We went slightly over the $15 allowance at the deli and only the difference appears.  There’s no trace of the other food at all – it just disappears!

I have to admit that I didn’t even realise that Four Queens had a deli, and having now experienced a fantastic pastrami sandwich I realise the best way to play this comp is to eat breakfast early, get a sandwich to go from the deli for lunch on the road and then get back to the hotel for dinner.  If only I’d realised that yesterday…