From MHS (the MAN HIM SELF) with the last string:
"As a general rule, PAPA tilts in a-bank should be set to ideally give a player one good nudge, but there's slightly more to it than that. If a game design forces a player into shooting uncontrollable shots to progress, like Whirlwind, the tilt will ideally be looser than, say, spiderman, where every shot returns safely to a flipper. On spiderman, the tilt will be tighter, but even it shouldn't randomly tilt. The phantom tilts come into play when the tilt wasn't set correctly to begin with or players don't wait for it to settle between balls.
Also, nothing should be openly broken. If the right slingshot on Monster Bash isn't working, tell a tech and they will fix it for you. Some games are set steeper than others, some games are set shallower than others. Inducing vertical or lateral motion through pitch can lead to shorter or longer ball times depending on the game (making something steeper can sometimes make it easier). In general, just leave it at the factory setting and you will always be close.
As someone else mentioned above, the specific tournament has a lot to do with how games are set. At Pinburgh, games are set significantly easier than a-bank level (probably closer to C) because people only get one chance to play the game and learn the angles. The problems with long ball times typically arise when players are allowed to play the same game 20 straight times and learn every rebound. So, the difficulty of the game is determined by the qualifying structure just as much as the people who will be playing it.
Slingshot sensitivity is big. They are typically very tight in a-bank and get looser as the games move down the ladder in divisions.
Sure, yeah. There are wax patterns on games. Anyone who has been into bowling knows how the oil conditions affect lanes. Pinball is the same way. Certain games will get wax or cleaned in certain areas to attempt to induce a ball toward one area of the playfield over another. This is all totally game dependent, so it's not easy to really give a rule of thumb, but I do pay attention to which areas of a playfield I will leave dirty or clean relentlessly for whatever reason.
With regard to rubbers, the fact they are new is what makes the most difference. We buy rubbers from lots of different sources and use them accordingly. Categorizing rubbers by color is dangerous because while that benchmark is generally correct, it can be incorrect depending on the specific run of rubber or supplier. Just pay attention to what they're playing like, dorometer, etc, and above anything else just make sure they're not sun bleached, old, or rotting. Also, the type of flipper rubbers makes a big difference. PAPA 14 used the wrong kinds in several situations, and it was an issue for several players. Mistake. Learn. Improve. etc.
Speaking of mistakes, a recent one worth mentioning is old rubbers. Someone on here already mentioned two games at PAPA 15 that didn't have new ones. They are correct that those should be fresh. If you're running an event, just because the part isn't physically cracked or broken doesn't mean it doesn't need replaced, especially with regard to flippers. Once again, mistake, learn improve etc...
No real need to remove the posts on Shadow or congo entirely in any division. Even in qualifying those games are reasonable with regard to time, so what's the point? I know people can mention specific examples in tournaments where obscene adjustments have been made to bastardize games, and I'm no saint with regard to those mistakes, but just bastardizing a game for the sake of making it play as short as possible is boring and doesn't help pinball. If we were all going to get together for a giant plunge-off, we could just remove all the flippers on every game and make everything crazy hard. But watching house balls doesn't make good video and won't help bring new people into the competitive game.
In the vast majority of cases, if your game has the outlanes at the widest possible (still in the game), the slingshots tight, and the tilt clean and one-solid nudge equals a double-danger, you're in the ball park of a-div setup. The fat rubber posts are game-specific, as-is pulling posts.
Also, something worth mentioning is a game with tight slings and outlanes all the way in can still play harder and faster than a game with easy feeds, loose slings, and outlanes pulled. Players tend to get pissed when posts are gone or obvious adjustments have been made to thwart the player because those adjustments are in-their-face obvious. I get less e-mails when I leave posts in but make other adjustments (slings) as tight as possible and get the same result for the tournament. There's often ways to get the desired result without people even noticing...
Shakers should always be disabled, and if they're not, it's a mistake. We also "try" to disable non-essential moving parts like the car in INDY500 because it may shake the machine and cause a tilt. This is an ongoing process though, and some stuff isn't converted yet..
Even on a game like Earthshaker where it's an inherent feature of the game design?
Yes. Earthshaker plays the same from a competitive perspective with or without the shaker motor. With the shaker, however, it is a liability in a number of respects (as a distraction to others competing nearby and because the continual vibration can lead to an increase in tech calls among other considerations). If someone wants to argue that having your hands shake while playing is some kind of "challenge" the game presents, I understand that opinion, but from my experience in running events, eliminating the shaker is a greater benefit to the tournament as a whole than keeping it.
I'm reading between the lines of your post that you disagree, which brings up a worthwhile point. My opinions are not the be-all and end-all of how to run tournaments. The thread was simply discussing how things are done at PAPA. There are a number of people around the country fully capable of running high quality events, and we frequently debate these types of decisions and learn from one another's experiences. I have personally learned a great deal from others and hope to continue doing so. The reason I'm answering these questions is because I believe exchanging ideas leads to improvement, both on my end and hopefully in the cases of other tournament directors. If anyone with whom I don't normally converse disagrees with any of my points above, please do so publicly or message me privately to take up the conversation. The only goal with these types of discussions is to share ideas and make competitive pinball better.