The second thing I learned has to do with the direction of the upper conveyor. You've probably noticed that the upper conveyors can sometimes move in the outwards direction when you are in the lower part of the screen but will always change to moving inwards as soon as you make it slightly above the bottom conveyor. What's interesting about this is that as long as the upper conveyor is moving outwards, no pies can spawn up there and instead all pies will spawn on the bottom conveyor, which means more smashes. You can actually use this to guarantee yourself a strong bottom hammer. How it works is that the screen starts out with the upper conveyor moving inwards, which means pies can spawn both on top and on the bottom. Then partway through the screen it will reverse direction (assuming you don't rise above the bottom conveyor). If you grab the bottom hammer after it reverses direction then the jump will raise Mario above the bottom conveyor causing the upper conveyor to immediately switch back to moving inwards, which is bad and you will likely get a weak bottom hammer. However, if you grab the hammer just before it starts moving outwards then as soon as you land it will reverse to moving outwards you will be guaranteed a strong bottom hammer.
In practice when you go for the bottom hammer you often leach one of the early pies two or three times before grabbing the hammer, which usually results in the hammer being grabbed at just the right time. However, if nothing is available to leach before getting the bottom hammer then it's easy to actually grab the hammer too late. A good reference point for this case I found is to jump as kong is moving left just before Kong's left foot reaches the middle ladder of the three ladders up top. So when the free pass is unavailable and no pies are on screen it's actually best to grab the bottom hammer according to this reference point rather than waiting around for fireballs to come down. By grabbing the bottom hammer at the right time you can guarantee three pie smashes (and a possible 4th if your lucky) in addition to any pies that are already on screen plus any fireball smashes you get. I think this means that it is best to go for the bottom hammer even if there is initially only one pie on the bottom conveyor, however if there are no pies on the bottom to start out with then it is probably still best to take the free pass. I haven't really played much recently to try this out in a game and see how it affects pie factory averages but during the testing I did from a pie factory savestate I seemed to be scoring really well. I think this in combination with the the first thing I mentioned could significantly improve pie factory averages.
Hey Jeff, sorry it took me so long to respond. This is an excellent observation and one that I had never really looked at before. I played around on a pie factory stage very briefly today to just confirm some of the basics, including the "reference point" for the first direction change of the upper conveyor, and it seems to match your description.
So, to be clear, are you saying that you believe that a pie is "always" released onto the screen according to a regular periodic interval (assuming there are not already 6 pies on the screen)? So, it's just a matter of whether it spawns on the top or on the bottom, but it will always spawn? I had never really noticed this before but now it seems like it might be the case -- if it is, then certainly having the upper conveyors moving outwards while you hold the bottom hammer WOULD guarantee more pies being spawned on the bottom conveyor for more smash points since there is nowhere else for them to spawn while the upper conveyor is moving outwards and they must always spawn somewhere (right?).
Also, do you happen to know the timeframe for how long the upper conveyor will continue to move outwards, assuming you do not trigger it to change with your vertical position? It seemed to last about a half-cycle -- meaning, about half as long as the bottom conveyor remains moving in one direction -- about the length of time it takes Kong to move across the screen in one direction -- about half of a hammer cycle. So, towards the end of the hammer cycle, pies COULD be spawning up top again, but, like you said if you are lucky they would continue to spawn on the bottom for some extra smashes.
What's interesting about this is that it goes against the adjustment that I had been making recently which is to delay my hammer grab until Kong is almost all the way to the left -- in order to maximize the amount of time with the hammer in hand where pies would be spawning towards me. In other words, if there are no pies already on the screen, grabbing the hammer when Kong is in the middle of the screen wastes 1/4 of the hammer cycle while waiting for the bottom conveyor to change directions. By delaying this until I was only wasting perhaps 1/8 of the hammer cycle, I found that I might have a shot at an extra smash on the back end of that cycle whereas doing it the other way, the hammer would have already expired. And yet, I've been finding that this tends to interfere with the rapid escape up the right side (ending with around 5700 on the clock) since I've delayed the whole thing by just enough time to cause the upper right ladder to decend by the time I get there. So, now, there is yet another factor to consider and perhaps I'll go back to the old way of grabbing the hammer when Kong is in the middle of the screen.
The topic of whether or not to take the free pass could be a whole seperate discussion, but you're right that this new information should play a role in tweaking that decision as well. This is great stuff though, and it will take some thought to figure out how this might affect optimum point pressing strategy.