by Susan Cohen
"If I start dying and I'm not talking, it'll be because I'm dying," Lonnie McDonald says while sitting at the Alley's Joust arcade machine, as he fights enemy knights from atop a flying ostrich. "It's a physics game," he explains. "Everything at this point is angles. You have to beat the angles. You can't outfly them."
The arcade game was released in 1982, and it wasn't long after that that McDonald became its world champion. Now in his 50s and living in Kansas City, Mo., McDonald is working his way to 100 Joust machines in 100 weeks (including his stop at the Alley). At each stop, he plans to score 10 million points, so by the time it's all over and done with he'll have racked up 1 billion.
When McDonald turned 50, he looked back on his life, and he remembered how good he was at Joust. He reconnected with some other world champions, bought himself a machine, and started practicing, eventually winning a doubles world record with fellow champ Steve Sanders. He travels a lot anyway, so he decided to hit up as many Joust machines as he could find. When he started in 2011, his original goal was to play 40 of the machines; the challenge has since grown to the 1 billion mark in 100 weeks that he's fighting for now.
McDonald stays at Marriot hotels (he's a rewards member) while on the road and has played everywhere from multimillion dollar facilities like DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney in Orlando to places so divey he has to spray down the Joust machines with disinfectant before he gets going. It takes McDonald about four to five hours to reach the 10 million mark on his machine (and he signs the winners' board with LON). His last stop on the tour will be in Chicago, at the Williams Electronics facilities, where the machines were made all those years ago.
McDonald should be done at the Alley around 4 p.m., so head there now if you want to check out his progress.
"100 machines in 100 weeks, a billion points, 10 million points at a time," McDonald says. "This is something that I don't think anybody will be able to touch."