Friday, November 21, 2008

Official Move

New posts will be made at
Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Rebooting the Ducky

Okay, so I am still playing scrabble and several people have begged (or at least casually mentioned) that I need to get back to chronicling the weird world of scrabble. I played in a tournament last weekend and have plenty to say about it, but first I think a quick primer is in order for people new to the site or who have forgotten somehow all the bizarre topics that have come up. Those who know me best are now bracing for what is coming next: MEGA RECAP LIST OF DOOM........

1) Tournament Scrabble is not like any other game I know I played chess tournaments for years and also a strategy card game called Magic. There are lots of questions that must be asked when you have people compete for prizes in a long term structure. Questions like: How do we decide who plays who? How do we decide who is the overall winner? How do we keep track of performance from one event to another? What do we do if one person breaks the rules? Etc... There are very similar answers that the organizers of most other games have come to. Then there are scrabble answers... I have talked about this a lot in previous posts, but the short answer is this. There are many kind and well meaning people in scrabble, but something has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Wanna know what specifically? You will just have to tune in next week or click the links to previous posts (or at least ask a question in the comments forum. I am a sucker for feedback of any kind).

2) Because Scrabble is Crazy I Take a Duck With Me for Protection I am a very competitive person, but I can not take some aspects of scrabble seriously. To avoid frustration and to make sure I stay a good sport I carry around a tiny duck to watch my games and highlight the absurdity of the activity. It also seems to make opponents act a little kinder and a little less crazy (although there are a couple notable exceptions). She is famous and had her picture taken when we broke a scrabble world record.

3) The Blog's title comes from a list I studied called "knockouts". ScrabbleDuck as an address was already taken by a selfish person who does not even have anything at their site. A knockout word is one that would score so many points, it would be almost impossible for the opponent to recover. They are seven letter words that have two of the high point tiles in them (J,Q,X or Z). I have managed to play three so far and one of them set the new record for a first turn play.

4) There are Crazy People that Play Scrabble. Some Good. Some Bad The majority of what I write (trust me, check the old posts) is the experiences I have at tournaments with people who are very different than the humans I am used to. Some of them are delightfully quirky and I look forward to seeing them again soon. Some of them should not operate heavy machinery and may in fact be a danger to themsleves, other people and most small woodland creatures. More to come on both of these groups in the future.

5) There are/were Pie People that are Disturbingly Obsessed with this Site Only time will tell if they continue to read and post, but there are several posters (PiCurious, CobblerGal) with names related to pastry and or/mathematics that frequent my blog. Their identity is currently unknown. Is it one person with multiple personality disorder? Is there a cult that has made Scrabble Duck part of their dogma? Is there a fraternity (or even better a sorority) that hazes its pledges by making them read and comment on the site? No one knows. I have a filter on the comments, but weird and wacky comments continue to show up. I would block them, but I would lose half of my audience.

So come back soon when I discuss my trip to my first tournament after the mind bending journey to Nationals. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll check the definitions of words that exist only in scrabble and/or my own warped mind. See you there!

Friday, August 1, 2008

Muzjiks Man

So I have definitely overdosed on scrabble. Hopefully, some time off will rekindle my passion. It may be a little while till my next post. I will leave you with the top three (positive) moments from Orlando.

1) The knockout to end all knockout words showed up. Muzjiks, which means Russian peasants graced my rack with its beautiful presence. I did some checking of my own and some confirming with staff on site (more nice people by the way, particularly John Chew and his wife) and even with the blank for the "u", it looks like I beat the old world record for a first turn play by two points (126 to 124) which had been set by two people previously. The scrabble duck herself made it into the coverage
She was forgivably sleepy after the tough game she helped me with. How embarrassing would it have been to set a record on the first turn and then blow the game? Thankfully, we pulled it out despite our opponents inspired efforts. Hopefully, if they ever publish another edition of Everything Scrabble Professor P's secret identity will be dramatically revealed at that time (and not a second before).

2) I got to play on the first board of my division. This would "normally" indicate that I was in either first or second place, but thanks to the wacky scrabble system, it only meant that I was being randomly paired with the top ranked player. She went on to finish in second and as I said last time, she was a very nice lady and a pleasure to meet and play. I was extremely fortunate to beat her. I had found "candied" in my letters, but saw no place to put it. She was kind enough to play a three letter K word that got her a lot of points, but made a spot for me. Since there are no two letter C words she did not even get to do a high point answer after my bingo along the right side.

3) My last hurrah was in the 26th round (that just seems crazy to type). I drew the bag (I got almost all of the "premium" tiles) and got a couple bingos and several cheesy little words that got ridiculous amounts of points. I don't remember which ones, but it was stuff like qi or za on triple letter squares. She was a gracious loser and did the best she could with the tiles she got. Thanks to the scrabble obsession with spread I was officially in 4th place after that round. There were two more rounds to go though. I was outplayed by the eventual third place finisher in the next round and lost a close game. Final round it was my turn to get almost no good tiles and lose a laugher of a blowout. What goes around comes around. I clearly faded as the tournament wore on as my day by day record shows. I guess I'm just getting too old.

One last happy thought to leave you with while I go on temporary hiatus. With my rating gain I have moved up into the top ten list for my state. This is/was one of my secret goals. There are not many of these left, but there are a couple for me to still work on. For now though, its time to relax and wander off into the sunset with the coconut conundrum. Till whenever duckies, just remember: Just keep swimming (and whenever you get the chance, flying...).

Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm Alive, sorta...

So we have made it back in one piece. I am still trying to process everything that happened over the last several days. I'll attempt to collect my thoughts as best as I can and I'm sure there will be many more posts on this trip, but for now here's a random list (ahh lists, more calming to me than prozac).

1) The Heat: How do people live there?!? I was worried about this before the trip and my fears were founded. Sure the tournament was inside, but I felt like I was going to have a heat stroke in the middle of several games and it sure did not help my play. The Acolyte and I visited the site for registration purposes the evening before and it was actually pleasantly chilly. The morning before the tournament we each picked up a jacket for the cold to come. While the Arctic Acolyte continued to snuggle inside hers somehow, mine was off and on the ground within minutes of sitting down. The air conditioning just could not compete with the number of large sweaty bodies giving off heat and humidity. Thankfully, I was able to trade my jacket for a swimsuit thanks to a returns employee with a good sense of humor.
"Hi, I would like to return this jacket."
"Do you have the receipt?"
"No it caught on fire as soon as I stepped outside of the door because its Florida in July."
" Well I can't give you your money back, but you can get other merchandise of equal or lesser value."
"Like a swimsuit and a coke which I could actually use in this part of the earth?
"Yeah swimming pools and soft drinks don't usually catch on fire. They're pretty popular here."
"Done and Done Sir!"

2) The Ongoing Resignation Saga: So I had another incident. Some early tournament jitters, a series of challenges that went the wrong way, the heat and some twitchy synapses made for a very bad combination. The division director aggressively told me I could not, and when I reminded him of the rule that existed it was sit down and play or get written up and face nebulous and ominous consequences. Sigh... Whatever, we played the rest of the game out and my opponent's spread would have been better if he had taken the 50 points. I spoke to the head director after the round and she told me that "my" director had ruled incorrectly and if a similar situation arose again I would be allowed to resign. If only that had been the end of it. Apparently, resigning is something that some scrabble players feel as strongly about as other people do about abortion or gun ownership. There is not a lot of constructive dialogue, but there is a lot of passionate emotion and strongly held beliefs. Maybe I will come back to this later when I am farther from the events of the last few days, but for now, let's just say that plenty of %$#@ happened over and over concerning this issue, but I did not have to (attempt to) resign any more games.

3) The Melting Pot of Madness: I met three general kinds of people in my division. There were several really nice, well adjusted people. By this I mean that you could talk to them before, after and evening during the game and they would make conversation and even have kind things to share. I was immensely satisfied that the top three in the final standings were all people I could see myself interacting with in a non scrabble setting. Unfortunately, many of the others I met seemed like they would be more at home working for the DMV and/or yelling at Pigeons while drinking out of a paper bag and laying on a park bench. The creepy thing was how the stress and heat combined with the unnatural act of sorting words out of random scrambled letters for four days slowly turned some initially nice people mean and/or crazy. One lady I met seemed ok before our game and a little grumpy though still essentially human after I beat; lied to my face on the last day. thanks to the beauty of spread, I needed her to sign off on a score correction from our game a few rounds earlier. The initial score was a gap of 60, but she had gone over by a minute and half which would be a penalty of 20 points. I wrote the correct final margin on my sheet and so did she, but she filled out the official results slip as a loss of 60 instead of 80. I saw that it said I won so I signed it, since to me that is all that really matters. When I talked to her about what had happened later, she literally twitched, had a glassy expression come over her eyes and then said:
"No, no........I never go over on time."
"Well can we look at your score sheet please?"
"Hmmm, No I .....lost it........"
"But you have a stack of them from previous rounds right there."
"Not that one though.......Something happened to that one......."
This is where I began to back slowly away. Since I didn't feel like trying to grab the score sheet and run away with it. Who knows what a crazy person will do? The twenty points she stole did not change her final standing, but did cause me to finish one spot lower than I would otherwise. There were at least two other delightful individuals who were worse to deal with. One was convinced I was somehow using my duck and her little bag/couch to cheat despite it being a tightly cinched bag a foot away from the board with a duck sitting on top of it... Another refused to say a single other word other than commands like "Record your blank" "Confirm your score" and "It is against the rules to have any fun or not scowl and act like a computer." The percentages of these jerks seem to get worse as you advance in the ranks. Hopefully, I am close to plateauing and will still have enough people to have fun with at the level I have reached.

4) The Ongoing Photo Quest: Players' pictures are displayed both online and with pairings at scrabble tournaments. There are two main scrabble sites (more on this some time soon) but they are connected and there is no "good" reason why they should not be able to efficiently share and synchronize their information. One site has had my picture for months and the other which runs coverage for the national championship (among other things) has had "difficulties" for that long. While it took over two days and the taking and editing of a new picture I was able to finally get a picture up. One of the pleasant surprises I had during my trip was meeting the head of the technical support team. He also had noticed the surreal quality of the world of scrabble and like myself was a little outside and a little in. Anyways, we bonded and started to joke about our ongoing little talks. I was actually a little sad when my problem was finally resolved. My head does look a little fat in the picture though... I'm gonna send an email to my new friend and shoot the breeze. On that happy note, I'll take a break until next time when I finish the list and share the beauty of Russian peasants...

Friday, July 25, 2008

Early Morning Excitement (#1)

In a couple hours, the Coconut Conundrum will be driving with me over to The Director's house. I will meet up with the Acolyte and the Crimson Commando and the four of us will drive together to the airport (sadly the wife will be staying behind this year to spend time with her Mom and her friend Teresa from out of town). No actual games today, just travel, registration and settling in. I am feeling nostalgic this morning so I'm going to let my mind drift back over a couple comparable tournaments to this imminent scrabbleganza.

Way back in high school, when I was a hot shot young chess player, I attended an event in Tennessee called Super Nationals. It was "super" because the United States Chess Federation, or U.S.C.F., decided to hold a championship for all levels of scholastic chess at the same time and place. There were over 2,500 kids participating from first to twelfth grade. There were seemingly endless divisions. I think I was in 9th grade Division Two. This meant I was "only" directly competing against around two hundred other people. My rating put me near the top and I remember naively thinking "Well I only really need to worry about these four kids ahead of me". Of course ratings are only an approximation of ability and children are especially prone to variance in performance. I got off to a good start, winning my first several rounds. One by one, the kids rated in front of me suffered at least one loss. Around halfway through the tournament (round 5 out of 9, I think) I had pulled into first place. Lucky me, a news crew showed up at his point and decided to tape some of the "top boards" (the two top ranked players in a division playing each other). I was paired up against someone from my home state who I had actually played against before in previous tournaments and beaten both times. He was a pleasant enough guy, but his "style" of play was somehow both very boring and annoying to me. We got into a position that should have been a draw, but I did not want to suffer my first non-win and fall out of first place so I made a couple risky moves that wound up backfiring and I went on to lose my first game. I bounced back to win three and draw one after that, but I could not catch some of the people in the standings. Unfortunately, the kid I had lost to fell apart after our match and lost several games in the remaining rounds. When the last round was over I had finished fifth, right where I started. I was ahead of one person with the same record as me (because I had beat them head to head) but behind the other three with the same record (and the winner who only had wins and draws). It was an overall fun experience, but a little bittersweet, because I was pretty sure I could have done better. Who knows though? By losing when I did, I didn't have to play as difficult opposition until the last couple rounds then if I had kept winning and stayed in first. Incidentally, chess does have a national championship, but the one time I went, it was as a high school state champion and the forty something of us were kept in our own little bubble, separate from the main tournament hall and the thousand or so playing in the "main event".

Magic also has a national championship (one for each of around thirty countries actually), but it is invitation only. There are two ways to receive an invitation to these prestigious events. If you can get your rating to a certain level then you are automatically qualified. Last time I checked it was top 100 in the world if you wanted an invite to the U.S. Nationals. I got pretty close to this threshold (125th or so) but could not quite make it. The other option is to make the playoffs of a Regional tournament. Depending on the turnout, somewhere between one and eight people would qualify. Alaska and Montana, for instance, usually have less than 100 people at their regionals and so can only send one representative. New York, California, Ohio and a couple others regularly have more than 500 at theirs, so they get to send a full eight. I'm pretty sure I went to ffive regionals over the years and attendance ranged from 250 to 400. Only the largest one qualified a full eight people. My first regionals I only won one round and quit before the tournament was over. There was also one year when I just was not having fun and left to spend time with the Coconut Conundrum (who I should have been staying with in the first place) One year I came as close as possible without qualifying: 5th place when the top 4 got invitations. The other two were moderate successes where I won prizes and pretty much recouped my expenses. The question on my mind this morning is this: what will Scrabble Nationals be like? I am nowhere near the top of my division and am very jealous of The Director who is one of the favorites in her division. People keep telling me I am in a good spot to gain rating points, but I do not really care about that. Its not like I can cash my point in for a car or even a free meal somewhere. Hopefully, I can go an have a fun time. At least I will have friends there. The more I think about it though, the more I am sure of one thing. Having my duck with me will be nice, but I am not going to another ocean of scrabble insanity this big in the future without my smiley anchor of sanity the Coconut Conundrum herself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Idle Speculation and Upset Tummy (#3?)

So its early Wednesday morning (and I mean early enough that non crazy people are still asleep). My health is still not that great and the big day is fast approaching. We leave Friday and the first round is Saturday morning. Hopefully I can shake this funk pretty soon. I know part of it is the heat. Some people get sick in winter. I feel invigorated by the cold and find it easier to think. The world is also most beautiful while covered in snow. Why I live in a place that hits 100 degrees on a regular basis is a source of much speculation by myself and others. I am currently leaning towards the "reincarnation after after being a jerk that fried ants with a magnifying glass" theory. Lucky me, the tournament is in "sunny" (as in it feels like you are being sucked into the sun) Orlando Florida. If anything, it will be even hotter there than here. I would ask for some cheese with my whine, but the thought of eating anything that did not come out of a freezer makes me nauseous right now. I guess since I'm complaining ( which is so different from what I normally post) I might as well get some other things off my chest as well (like this turtleneck sweater, what was I thinking?!?). So a directive/ threat has been issued by the scrabble nazis (scrazis? nabbles?) in charge of the event, that ALL competitors must bring boards to the events. You would think that half of them bringing boards would be enough, but maybe they are using different math than I am. If you and your competitor do not have a board then you both will receive a forfeit. Due to this fearmongering, (which is not near as much fun as fishmongering in my humble opinion) all sorts of doomsday scenarios are being tossed around.

"What if I bring my board and set it up at a table at the beginning of the day (the normal procedure) and then have to sit at a spot with no board? "

"I guess you go get your board from wherever you left it."
"What if people are playing on it?"

" I guess you ask one of them for a board. "

"What if neither of them have one?"

Everyone gets a forfeit, quits scrabble, joins an angry mob, takes over Seaworld and holds Shamoo hostage until their demands of sanity and/or frozen treats are met."

"Well at least there is a plan."

Seriously, I expect people to be carrying around their boards and constantly setting them up and packing them back up again now. Thanks for the paranoia and unnecessary delays nabbles.
I feel like we are at scrabble alert orange or something. Speaking of signs of the apocalypse, we are a couple of days away from the tournament and the registered number of players has been holding steady at 666 for around a week now. The deadline to enter has passed and so unless somebody drops at the last minute we will have an unholy event of epic proportions on our hands here. Of course all this could have been averted if Galen had agreed to come with us. More on this in a bit. I need to get some exercise walking while I can still go outside without having a stroke. Be back soon with a nickname for Galen and some thoughts on the pie person/people's identity.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Revisions and Updates (#6)

Ugh. I'm not doing so well today. The big day is coming up fast and I am cracking under the pressure like ......a big cracky thing (my imagination and the simile center of my brain also seem to be damaged). I have also learned an important health lesson I'd like to share with the younger readers (and those young at heart). Lead paint chips may taste delicious, but...... Hmm, I can't remember what I was going to say. I guess that's it then. Lead paint chips are delicious!
The mistress of deception and misdirection had an interesting comment to the last post that I feel deserves a response:

OpenID offlabeluse said...

I'd like to suggest a different nickname for Michael. "Danseuse" and "petite" are the feminine forms of the words, and in French the adjective follows the noun. Michael is most definitely a male. Michael is also very gentlemanly and kind to his opponents. So, how about "Le Danseur Gentil"?

And what about Lamar? He needs a nickname that indicates his sunny demeanor and his blinding intelligence. Something that reflects the fact that his sunny demeanor distracts his opponents from his blinding intelligence ...until it's too late!

Ok sorry about the wrong french forms. I am shocked, SHOCKED, that the free internet translation site, Babelfish, let me down here. I officially decree that his nickname shall be changed to Le Danseur Gentil, but only because I read it as Le Danseur Gerbil the first time I saw it. She is definitely right that Lamar needs a nickname also. I have not seen him recently, but certainly hope I do soon. As I said before, my wit is not up to even my normal subpar standards, but lets go with "Sunshine and Pain" for now. It makes him sound like he's two people and I am pretty sure he is twice as good as me. You can also make fun proclamations like: "The forecast for today's game calls for Sunshine.....and Pain!". Umm, maybe I'll try again later. My wife and patient supporter in all things scrabble has also "requested" a nickname and has kindly pointed out that she procured my scrabble duck in the first place and so theoretically is just as deserving as any other more "traditional" scrabble player previously listed. Since she was also nice enough to provide me with the nickname so I did not have to burn the precious few brain cells I have left, I happily acquiesced. So look out world for the "Coconut Conundrum". I'm not sure exactly what that means, but hopefully she can try explaining it to me again soon and with smaller words next time. Sorry for the small post people. Hopefully, once I fill up on some more delicious lead paint chips I will be properly fortified for a more proper post. Till then duckies!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Flaking Out With The Pie People (Countdown #7)

In news that will shock no one, I have miscounted the number of days left until the National Championship. So this countdown begins at #7 (I hear it can be turned up to 11 though). What's the best way to start off this momentous romp? No seriously, any suggestions? I've never done anything like this before... Oh well, let's just check back in with those persistent pie people. Checking the comments for my last post reveals this little gem:

Blogger PiByter said...

Fine dont post pics. Exotic nicknames are good tho. Very good. Give everyone one and I might come back.

For those counting at home, that makes the fourth distinct iteration for a pie person (PiCurious, PiLover, and CobblerGal were previous pie posters). There are definitely some features that stand out. Let's take a national geographic moment and examine further the distinctive characteristics of a wild pie poster. Punctuation and correct spelling seems to be lacking it most specimens. There is certainly a hostility and aggression that must be carefully dealt with when you encounter one. They seem overly territorial, as they often return to the same site and mark it as their own, frightening off other meeker animals. They are overly focused on mating, but seem confused by the logistics (see PiCurious in particular for evidence). Though they seem to move in packs leadership is fluid and an alpha pie poster is difficult to identify. Attracted to flaky crusts and/or irrational numbers. Be careful not to leave either outside your tent or blog if you wish to avoid these strange creatures.

So my moral quandary is this: do I provide "exotic nicknames" that will probably be fetishized
by depraved pie posters or do I put some effort into this post and come up with compelling content that everyone can enjoy?..............Wait a sec! Nicknames are a bunch of related terms that each require a small amount of explanation. Smells like a list to me! (hey scrabble nurses, is there a name for obsessive list making and sharing? Is there medicine for it?) Looks like you get your wish PiByter. May God have mercy on my soul...

"Exotic" Nicknames for Everyone (who's anyone at least)

1) Madam Kata: Regina's moniker was the first step down this slippery slope and has been covered in the post Madam Kata enters the fray.

2) Crimson Commando: Candice being Candice and my unhealthy love of alliteration in the last post was enough to draw the attention of the pie people and get this crazy train rolling. For those not paying attention, Candice is a red head and a soldier (and a little too forthcoming with foundation anecdotes).

3) Professor P: I guess technically I have a nickname too. How's this for creativity, I am a teacher and my middle name starts with P. I am so proud of my public school education right now.

4) The Director: Ok, calling Peggy "The Director" is a bit of a cop-out, but it does sound cool in certain circumstances and adds a bit of cinematic flair to our shoddy operation (I am also holding out hope for the a love connection between The Director and The Conductor I met at my first fever dream of a tournament. I'm sure they could make a beautiful "C.D." together...)

5) The Finger: I'll take any chance I get to reference Louise's obscene "accident". It also sounds awesome when pairings are being given out.
"Next round, looks like you get...The Finger!"

6) Grey Ghost: I'm still pretty sure Kathy (with a K) is/was some sort of spy or ninja. She still drifts with the wind around the globe (claiming she has a game show or book signing to attend right before some world leader is assassinated). And, um, she has gray hair.

7) Acolyte: Cathy (with a C) is always complaining about all the studying she has to do. She also has some mysterious religious past that she alludes to occasionally. She claims she is too "busy" to read the blog, but the only rational explanation is she belongs to some sort of extreme religious order that considers blogs unholy. (theory #2? She's a pie person. There I said it.)

8) Petite Danseuse: Michael is ambiguously french and a homunculus hoofer (whether it is square, line, point or cube).

9) Lightning Rod: Victor attracts controversy and recently played softball with an aluminum bat during a thunderstorm (runner up name is The Litigator since he is a newly minted lawyer and a good candidate to be The Director's nemesis).

10) Jade Owl: Jo Ann looks a little like an owl to me (in a good way...) She is also wise and wore a green sweater one time. Ok, you got me. I'm running out of steam here.

Join me next week when we.......Wait what's that? We forgot Galen? In honor of her status as minor deity to the Pie People I open up her naming to the comments section for the next few days. That's right, its the first contest here at ScrabbleDuck (well aside from the Cerulean Blue Cookie Contest which has no entries so far). Be the one to come up with the best suggestion for Galen's nickname and receive the ScrabbleDuck Quack of Approval (trademark pending). Let's keep it (relatively) clean and come up with something worthy of the "freak like me" herself. Just remember, the Pie People are counting on you and they are a temperamental and fundamentally depraved group (pretty much like scrabble players). Join me soon for the Countdown #6 spectacular(failure)!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Feisty Flagellation Fun

So as Madam Kata points out in her latest rant filled (not that there is anything wrong with that) reply, there was at least one notable event during my most recent block of unaccounted time. Eye witnesses support her claim that I (mis)played several games of scrabble with her, Peggy and Candice over the weekend. Ear witnesses do not seem to support my claim that strange voices from beyond controlled my actions during this time. We can all agree that something odd was going on though. For one, Candice was there and playing scrabble. I was pretty sure she had quit scrabble and taken up extreme bowling or some other pursuit that played to her strengths (such as well... strength). Secondly, on a fateful challenge in a close game between Madam Kata and the Crimson Commando herself, I was asked to adjudicate a play. Well I was actually asked "Hey quit staring into space and look up this word!" but adjudicate sounds cooler. The word in question was "sudsing". Apparently, this is something people do with "shampoo" when they "bathe" to get "clean". I am not really familiar with this specialized jargon, but I have been told its "big in Japan". So I checked the official word list and then checked again. I didn't see it. I remember being blinded with rage over a recent defeat at Madam Kata's deadly hands, but I am sure that has no bearing on my decision to utter "Definitely not good." and then slink away into the shadows while cackling maniacally... This had a huge swing on the game and Candice was able to turn certain defeat into a narrow victory over the Asian sensation. When Madam Kata looked up the word herself and saw that it was good I learned two new things about my future: I no longer was allowed to "do business" with her "learned colleagues" ( I guess a preferred customer card doesn't mean as much as it used to) and furthermore, I would soon lose the ability to "do business" with anyone, ever. So to save the world from a future depressingly devoid of little Professor P's, I have come up with a last ditch effort to save myself in true ScrabbleDuck style. I have devised a short list (arbitrarily numbered for your convenience) of true-ish embarrassing "facts" concerning me and scrabble. Hopefully, this emasculating experience will assuage Madame Kata's wrath (at least until I can safely disappear back into the seedy underworld from whence I came).

1) I can not sit with my back to a large window or door while playing. I keep telling people it is because of assassins (and there certainly is a large enough bounty on me) but, I doubt that the direction I am facing is going to have much impact on a soulless sniper. I did do some research to see if there is some genetic basic for this particular quirk of mine. The closest I found was a distant ancestor who was shot in the back in Virgina in 1780. He was running away from British people with guns in some sort of revolution (running away from people with guns doesn't seem that "revolutionary" to me, but maybe he was doing it in a particularly fancy way). There was no window or door involved though since it was in the middle of a forest. Further evidence against the hereditary theory comes from the lack of the behavior in my father or brother or any other family member, really except for crazy uncle Eddie and he's well, you know.............adopted.

2) I take a small cute duck with me to play scrabble in events several states away I have to pay to enter. I'm still not sure that some of you reading this have quite figured that out yet.

3) I use performance enhancing steroids when I play scrabble online (its a little too obvious when I inject myself in the middle of a tournament game). Seriously though, the Internet Scrabble Club or ISC is many things to many people. About the only thing we can all agree on is that the insulting and rude "helpers" are a serious problem (well everyone agrees but sadomasochist Pete and I can't stand him). One of the biggest ongoing debates is the use of outside aids during games. Some people feel that nothing should be allowed whatsoever and have gone so far as to sign something called a fair play agreement (we'll come back to this in a minute). Some feel that some things are ok, like a dictionary or a list of all the 2 letter words. Others have decided to use various programs or devices because they don't care and/or they believe others are doing the same anyways. I have no idea what the percentages are like, but I can attest that there are multiple people I have personally seen use outside aids during their games despite having signed the fair play agreement. I am not sure what exactly this accomplishes other than ticking people off., but it seems a popular choice somedays. Anyways, my deep dark secret is that I am one of the people who uses outside help during my games. I have not signed the agreement and do not plan to do so. To the best of my knowledge, there are no tournaments or anything that involves money changing hands over the outcome of a game on ISC. Since it is "for fun" I have chosen to use it as a tool to learn many new words I would not have otherwise. In most games, the best way to get better is to play with people who are better than you. To do that on ISC you have to first get a rating that is higher than your ability level so that the better people will play you. My rating is now high enough that I can play against national champions and see words and strategies I never would have otherwise. My opponents, meanwhile, got a new opponent that they would not have access to otherwise. I do not see who the victim is here. Please comment in the forums if there is something I have missed though.

4) I am "somewhat" tangential and long winded (see #3 on this "short" list).

5) The color of the tiles, clock, rack and board make it substantially harder or easier for me to play. Pink clocks make me feel like a sissy and I start trying to play overly masculine words like "smash" and "impregnate". I carry my own rack with me (all black with the logo scraped off). I spent hours deciding what were the most soothing tiles to play: cerulean blue (and I will give a cookie to anyone that knows what that is a reference to). I am also saving up to get a custom made board with optimum shading, contrast and embedded images.

I hope this look into my shattered psyche shows that further action is unnecessary, Madam Kata. I also promise to look further into this "sudsing" phenomenon and perhaps even try "lathering" and "rinsing" myself someday (though I am sure that once will be quite enough). Join me next time when I start my 10 day countdown to Scrabble Nationals and/ or I impersonate an inebriated blatherskite.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

'Puter Problems and Possible Mulitple Personality Disorder

So it is not really scrabble related (but how much of what I write here is anyways?) but I have been having some technical difficulties lately. I technically have been very busy with um... man what have I been doing these last couple days? Why can't I remember? Why are two of my clocks running backwards? Why do I now set off metal detectors no matter whats in my pockets or what I'm (not) wearing?... More on this story as it develops. My computer has also been acting up (as opposed to acting down, or left I suppose). Luckily I have a friend (I know I'm surprised too) who knows about matters of the silicon heart and he graciously agreed to fix it for some cookies. I don't understand how someone can comprehend the complexities of a computer, but not a convection oven. I am glad I had something to barter though (it was either cookies or "my first born son" and I kinda wanted to have a daughter). So once my computer was working, the blogspot people (the service I write my blog through) decided I needed a little more crazy in my life (people keep telling me its paranoid to think of everyone as being out to get me, but if they were, wouldn't they tell me not to be paranoid so I would be more vulnerable to their attempts to get me... ).For whatever reason, when I have tried to log in to the blog lately, a curious message would appear: "Error: email address does not exist". This caused a bit of an existential crisis. I went and checked my email and it certainly appeared to exist. I followed the help directions listed (apparently things wink in and out of existence a lot for these people) and I was led further down the rabbit hole. While the message still claimed that my email address (or maybe email in general, I'm not sure how grand a claim they were making at this point) did not exist. I now had the option (thanks to a link they sent to my non-existent email) to log into "my" blog. Apparently someone with the screen name I use made a blog around five years ago. It does not share any of my interests and has nothing to do with scrabble or ducks. I have no memory of any involvement with this blog which is scarily/serendipitously named "ImaginaryConvenience". My user name is very odd and specific so I can only imagine I have some sort of blogging doppleganger out there as a result of cloning or time travel or the radiation my mother claimed I was getting anytime I sat too close to the T.V. (if only I had known the horror of a weird blogging double I was about to unleash on the world I promise I would have listened Mom, no matter how bad my eyesight is/was). I then started to wonder, if when I log in I am taken to this mysterious other website; when my evil twin logs in are they taken to my innocent scrabble sanctuary? What if they post crazy ramblings under my name? What if nobody notices the difference?? What if people do notice the difference, but prefer my double to the "real" me?!? These questions lent me a sense of urgency as I began to race to find a solution so I could regain control of ScrabbleDuck before it was too late. I went back through all the old notifications sent to my still non-existent email address and followed link after link in the help threads. To make a long story (somewhat) shorter I created a new account. I made a new and (hopefully) recognized as real email address. I used the correct password information I had to transfer everything to a new account and then back again somehow (I'm not going to lie. I was doing things at random by this point). I still have no idea what was wrong in the first place, but I have my information saved and my password changed so I am back for the foreseeable future and my blogging double won't be able to desecrate these hallowed pages with their correct grammar or non run-on sentences. Feel free to celebrate (or wail in anguish as I continue to butcher the English language unfettered). I am pretty tired from this ordeal and one of my elbows seems to be beeping ominously, so I am going to have to sign off, but fear not, I will be back with actual scrabble content very soon.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Madam Kata enters the fray...

Regina may not be a pimp, but she sure knows how to slap a brother down... My attempt to clarify her position has once again failed. Specifically:

OpenID offlabeluse said...

From the Queen: So I've been promoted from "prostitute" to "pimp"? I actually prefer "madam." It would be even more accurate to say I work for the prostitutes who get grant money to do their research at the university. I'm not sure what that makes me. "Glorified servant even though I have a master's degree"? Hopefully not "fired" if one of them reads this!!

I can't wait to see what else you have to say for yourself about last night's game, in which I came back from a 159 point deficit to lose by only 81 points, mister professor person! :-)

Needless to say, her awesome pimp hat gift has been rescinded (I gave most of the hat to my brother who assures me "Its so dorky its cool" and I gave the feather to my kittens who assured me "Meow Miao Miaou" which I can only assume means "Thanks for the awesome pimp feather. We will treasure it forever and will stop scratching the furniture while you sleep.") But if Madam is what she wants then Madam is what she will get. I will not dignify the low blow about a Master's Degree with a response other than to say: I have taken almost enough classes to qualify for two Master's Degrees and just because I have a wee bit of a procrastination problem and may or may not have lost the legal right to come within 200 feet of a former thesis adviser does not mean that I too will not someday have a spiffy piece of paper to validate my existence.(%$@^ I guess this is a response however I preface it)
As for the game we played... I have nothing to hide and I am a big enough man (though I'm thinking about dieting after I finish this pie) to describe the luck I had and the multiple bone-headed plays I made. I love me some arbitrary lists (and bad grammar, in case you haven't noticed by now). So without further ado, the top five plays from the game I tried to lose, but was saved by the tile gods (and the incalculable effect of my "witty" repartee ):

1) I randomly decided to study the 4 letter words that looked really weird a couple hours before the game and made it all the way to the end of the "A"s. I then got to play "ambo" on the second turn of the game. It went unchallenged, but definitely freaked her out as at it sat there during the game (the same way one crooked window blind bothers me until I get up to fix it). It sat there glaring at her and could not be "straightened" for the duration of the game. Me singing a little ambo song probably did not help either.

2) She played deading and I successfully challenged it off the board; gaining myself a critical extra turn in the process. One small problem. While deading is not acceptable in scrabble for God knows why, it actually has two accepted meanings in several dictionaries I checked. One is "a covering used to prevent the radiation of heat. The other I don't understand, but seems to be some kind of metric related to topology. Yeah for scrabble unsophistication!

3) I then played a word not in most "real" dictionaries: seepier. It has, however, oozed its way onto the acceptable list for scrabble so she lost her turn for not knowing a word that does not really exist. She did have a good line, though, right before the challenge:
"I know the rain is making you seepier little one, but you can't just make up words..."

4) She played kata and I challenged it because I big shot like me surely know all the four letter words with a high point tile like K in it right? Right?? Umm, no. Kata is a series of movements used in martial arts. Due to this feat of mental jujitsu I have decided to redub Regina as Madam Kata. If there is not a character named that in some cheesy badly dubbed movie out there then, well, there really should be. My selfish motivation is mnemonic. Hopefully, I will be able to remember now her job and/or that "kata" is a real word. (Also, if I can get her to go to a tournament, think about how cool and intimidating that name would be: "Ouch, next round you have to play Madame Kata. her last opponent lost by 300 points and they still can't find half of his body..."

5) Capitalizing on her momentum, Madame Kata then body slammed "tinners" onto the board and stared me down with the cool gaze of a samurai. I had not learned my lesson and challenged it also. Not only is tinners good, but it is in Much ado about Nothing. Ouch...Nothing would also be my score for those two turns. I may have wound up with a higher score, but I was certainly outplayed.

So till next time scrabble warriors, remember: One does not hope to defeat Madam Kata, only to escape with their life, and a story to tell...

Checking back in with the Crusty Crew

So yesterday was scrabble club night and its been a little while since I talked about the cool people there that keep my spirits up. Everyone in scrabble is crazy but my friends are the "good" crazy (and no I'm not biased at all). Let's see... Peggy and I have basically started our own nuclear arms race and are both obsessively studying at this point. We play each other outside of club at least one a week and sometimes have several sessions. This has been very good for our performance against others. We both have had big rating gains and we finished first and second in our last tournament (we split the two games we played and I got first due to the magic of spread). Before anybody asks, there were no little kids in the division, and the two games I had the biggest margins in, were against someone who was in the top three until the last few rounds and a low rated player who was around my mom's age (not my grandmother's). No phony bingos in either either ( Is that right? I want the sentence to end eeether eyether. Oh well) Anyways, since we play so much and are both investing a lot of time into getting better, the games are getting a little tense. Luckily, her last rating gain came after the deadline for putting people into divisions for the Scrabble National Championship (why this deadline exists I have no idea. No other tournament I know does this. It seems to encourage manipulation. When I was below the cutoff I thought about and was actually told by others to wait until a certain date to play anymore so I would be eligible for bottom division top prizes) So though we would be in the same division in almost any other tournament we will be separated at the big one. Since she is 5 and 1 against me in tournaments
(6 and 2 if you count the 4th of July unrated Freedom spectacular). I will be happy to dodge her even if it due to scrabble rule quirkiness.

Speaking of quirkiness and people who beat me a lot... Victor came by the club to get a game or two in before playing some softball. He had a close game with Louise. There may have been a way for her to win. I saw the board briefly and there was at least one phony on it (my first spelling of that was "phoney" by the way). He then played Peggy who lost despite successfully challenging at least one of his words off the board. It looked like he drew the bag on her when I was watching. (drawing the bag means to get all or most of the "good" tiles). It was an ugly evening outside with the rain alternating between a downpour and a humid trickle (that should be the name for a punk rock band. "Now at #7 on the charts with their new single You Smell Easy Tonite its... Humid Trickle!") So Vic assumed that his softball game would be canceled , but apparently it started without him, rain or no rain. So he left to get there while it was still going, but not before we talked about playing a game and renewed our long running argument about the appropriateness of resigning. Careful readers of this blog know that I am used to having the option to resign. I won't start a rant about it again, but the main idea is that it that is a frequently used option in the similar games of magic and chess and there is even a provision for it in the official scrabble tournament rules. Victor (and many others) feel that it is bad form to resign, whether at a tournament or playing a more casual game at the club. When Vic and I play the result is almost always one of two outcomes. Either I win by a small margin or he wins by a huge amount (oddly enough, he is also a big fan of spread). We have not played a lot lately, but in our most recent games I have won around 40%. So we had to "negotiate" before starting a game.
"Hey want to play a game?"
"Sure, you going to get upset if I resign?"
"Well that's my one condition."
"Well that's my one condition."
"You can't resign in scrabble."
"Well yes you can, but maybe we could work out a compromise."
"What's that?"
"I thought you were a lawyer or something? A compromise is an agreement between two or more parties..."
"What compromise are you offering?"
"I won't concede unless I get behind by 200 or more points."
"But you could still win."
"Exactly, I could resign that game and go win another..."
"You could come back and win that first one."
"Maybe if I came back with a bat and gave you a concussion so you couldn't score a single more point the whole rest of the game."
"Its possible to come back from that much down."
"Its possible to win the lottery. Its possible to survive being struck by lightning. Why don't you go buy some tickets and run around the parking lot with your aluminum bat" (Ok, maybe I just thought that last part really hard)

Unfortunately, he got a phone call from his teammates around then so we didn't get to finish the argument, let alone actually play any scrabble. I did however get to play two other pleasant people that evening: Cathy with a C (who claims she does not have enough time to read this blog even though she clearly has time to eat, sleep, and attend to personal grooming. Some people just have messed up priorities, I guess) and Regina (with a "G" I guess). Since Cathy does not read the blog, because she is is too busy stealing kittens from orphans and then selling them to support her expensive puffer fish addiction. (feel free to correct me in the response forum, busy lady bwahahahah) while Regina does, guess who gets their game lovingly described in detail? That's right, the once and future queen herself. Let me also take this opportunity to issue a correction. After some careful investigation (or at least trying to listen this time when it was described to me) it turns out that Regina is not a member of the oldest profession, but is instead some sort of go between for people at the university and other people who give them money called "grants or funding". Whatever, sounds like she is some sort of fancy pimp to me. So I bought her a stylish new hat with a huge feather on the side and hopefully once she receives this thoughtful gift we can put the earlier incident behind us. Anyways, we played a fun game with some neat words in it (well neat to scrabble geeks at least). More importantly, Regina is fun to play with for (at least) two reasons. She's my Shakespeare buddy so we have an informal agreement that if one of us plays a word like "wert" or "thous" we don't challenge it. Some of the Bard and his contemporaries lexicon has survived to make it into the scrabble "approved" word list and some has not. It is maddening to figure out the rhyme or reason of it so we both just let them go if we recognize them. She also is a really good sport about me chattering, not just about our game, but those on either side of us as well. My ideal game set up (since I know everyone is dying to know) is Regina playing across from me, with Louise on one side of me and Galen on the other. Louise because its fun to try and steal her tiles without her noticing and slapping my hand and Galen because she will try and hide her tiles from me so I can't comment or even make weird facial expressions about her plays. Speaking of weird facial expressions, I unfortunately have to go get some exercise before it gets too hot outside and I melt like the pasty container of vanilla ice cream that I am. Next time I will try to get back to that game with Regina (ambo?!?) and/or the creepiness of the I.S.C. and its "helpers".

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

I.S.C. stands for Insane Scrabble Colonoscopy...

Ok, a quick note before we start. Sorry I forgot about you Jason when I said it was about time someone I actually knew made a post. I know you posted a comment a long time ago. What I meant to say was someone I knew and actually liked.... I kid, I kid. You are the best dyslexic friend I have (take that Patty! You are #2 in my dyslexic friend list; also known as last place). Jason caring about my scrabble exploits even though some of his synapses were installed backwards or whatever is like me giving him feedback on his photography even though he doesn't know I am colorblind. Whoops... I mean, umm, differently sighted which allows me to offer a unique artistic perspective on what I am pretty sure are beautiful trees changing colors and sunrises and rainbows...

So the I.S.C.... As a wildly popular game (scrabble is in 1 out of 3 houses in the U.S.) backed by the financial might of Hasbro Industries, you would think there would be a easy and fun way to play online. You would be right. Its called scrabbulous, its on FaceBook and they are currently being sued by Hasbro
The legal issue at stake seems to be that someone actually made scrabble cool enough for people between the traditional demographics of under 16 and over 60. This is apparently not part of Hasbro's business plan... Or copyright infringement or something. Whatever the justification, instead of trying to work together with people who actually care about Scrabble, its owners have chosen once again one of their two tried and true (thats fun to say, try it) responses: ignoring them or taking them to court. Must...Get...Train...Back...On....Tracks...(wheres that conductor guy when you need him?)

Ok, we now return you to your regularly scheduled diatribe. I will come back to Hasbro and their (non)support of their game some time/post soon. So the "best" option out there for playing scrabble online that is not currently going to court is the I.S.C. or the Internet Scrabble Club. They are also unlicensed and oddly hard to find. Google searches for both ISC and I.S.C. do not turn up anything scrabble related on the first ten pages of links. Is the international shogi club really that much better than us? Ignatian Spirituality Conference? Even the Irvine Strikers Soccer Club beat us and they are I.S.S.C. and a youth soccer team! (they do have cooler uniforms than us though) So maybe that is the ISC's strategy: keep off the radar and appear as "ghetto" as possible. Check out their home page Note the ro at the end of that address. Thats right, the program that everyone from world champions to scrubs like me use is made in Romania by people who speak Romanian instead of English. Fun facts about Romania courtesy of the the infallible Wikipedia:

1) Romanians make up 89.5 percent of those who live in Romania. (Did I miss something in Social Studies class or don't all the people who live in a country on a long term basis "belong" to that country?) Also why is it "those" instead of people? Are there non-people living in Romania also formerly known as Transylvania? Argh! My scrabble game is run by vampires! ( insert your own "sucks" joke here)

2) Romania has four different seasons. (What they don't get to experience the beauty of spinter the fifth and best season that the rest of the world enjoys?)

3) The oldest human remains were discovered in Romania in a place named "Cave with Bones" I kid you not. (Reports that there was a stake in the ribcage of these remains has not been confirmed though...)

4) The official logo used to encourage tourism (as in they designed it themselves to get people to come there) is the word Romania in blood red letters except for the "m" which appears to have been turned into two moss covered teeth, with the sun setting over the whole thing.

5) Famous son, Vlad the Impaler, is viewed by Romanians as an excellent ruler with a strong sense of justice who defended their religious and political beliefs from outsiders. (I could really use whoever is his publicist right about now)

So the ISC is owned and operated by a mysterious figure in Romania that no one has ever seen in person. There is no known way to contact him (her/it/them?!?). If you have a problem with the interface or your membership or keeping all your blood to yourself then you have to take it up with one of the "helpers". At some point in the distant past applications were accepted for the position of assisting players with whatever difficulties they had with the finest interface that 100 blood stained gold coins could buy. Its unclear how many helpers (or evil minions as I think of them) there are. There is no convenient list of who is and is not a helper. The best you can do is add them to your "friends list" (which has a limited capacity) whenever you discover one. There is a feature where you can talk directly to another person who is online at the time, but if you try this with a minion they will ignore you at best or more likely punish you in some way such as preventing you from talking with anyone else or deleting your account entirely. Instead you are advised to place your question into a queue with some ungodly amount of other backed up unanswered questions. A lovely feature of the program is that once you ask one question, you cannot ask another one until the first is answered officially. It does not matter if you have already found the answer, or if you log off and back on or if it has been thirty days, you are stuck waiting for one the minions to decide that "answering" your question would amuse them in some fashion. Indeed, they go out of their way to find questions that can serve as set ups. A real example : "Can someone tell me a good way to get better quickly please?"
"Get a brain transplant." That's hilarious if you are a 7 year old (or maybe an Igor lab assistant..)
but is in no way helpful which, theoretically, is what a "helper" should be. Players have their accounts terminated for very mild curse words used while talking with a helper (not at them necessarily, just while talking with them) but I have seen helpers curse on multiple occasions. If one player is vulgar to another or cyber stalks them or does anything to another player, the helpers don't care and just tell the victim to "noplay them" which makes it harder (though not impossible) for the offending party to continue their offensive actions. The double standard is simply ridiculous. All this anger has got me hungry so I will cut this post short so I can refuel and prepare myself for part two of this piece of investigative journalism.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Some Housekeeping and Love for the Pi(e)People

I have been informed that some odds and ends need tying up. I thought my first tournament was interesting for the people I met and the introduction it gave me to the S.A.P. 2000 and other scrabble oddities. This blog is not really about my "progress" per se. I like to think I am getting better, but the journey is more important (and amusing) to me than the destination of reaching a certain rating or winning a certain tournament or whatever. I am still a competitive person at heart and I do not like to lose. I just think there are enough traditional blogs already about scrabble wins, losses, and strategy points. But since a couple people asked, I finished a little below halfway down the pack in my first tournament. I beat a couple people who still have higher ratings than me, and lost to a couple people who now have ratings hundreds of points below mine. Yawn. I will give more detail for the tournaments where there is some drama near the end as to how I will finish. This decision has more to do with how pressure makes me and other scrabble players even crazier than normal, and less to do with pride though.

Speaking of lack of pride... Against my better judgment, I have decided to share with the pi(e) people some overheard comments from the recent 4th of July scrabble party/cookout/tournament I had the pleasure of attending. Thanks to the wonders of alcohol and scrabble these were really said by either myself, Cathy, Peggy, or the pi-favorite herself, Galen. Begin List of Comments Mom (or anyone who wants to respect themselves in the morning) should NOT read

Again, in no particular order, but numbered because I feel like it.

1) After a bad loss "Ughh, I'm going to be walking funny for weeks now."
2) To someone who had not got into the pool yet "Don't make me come down there and get you wet!"
3) Who immediately responded " I'm fine with that."
4) After someone played a dubious word "You are more full of %@*# than I was after three hotdogs, two burgers and a delicious tart!"
5) During a complicated process involving a collapsible chair, a sack, and an umbrella " No, no the pointed end first."
6) "That just doesn't feel right."
7) "Well it wont be the first time..."
8) About another scrabble player who didn't make it to the party "She never comes."
9) and then "Exactly, she's dead to me."
10) And finally, this interchange after a relatively low scoring bingo
"This bingo sucks".
"Hey all bingos are equal in God's eyes."
"What the @%#$ are you talking about?"
"Its in the Bible, umm in Leviticus."
"Man, how did I miss that?"
And twenty minutes later...
"I've been thinking a lot about what you said earlier to me."
"If that is how God feels about bingos, well then she's dead to me too"
"Umm, So I don't need to get you anything for Christmas?...."

End Disturbing and/or Blasphemous Comments

So, if I don't get struck by lightning (why do people say that when they are worried about the Judeo/Christian God? Wouldn't it make more sense to say something like "If I don't drown in a horrible flood that covers the earth" or "If I don't get slaughtered in the night along with the other first born sons in my town"? Struck by lightning is Thor from Norse mythology right? Maybe he does subcontracting...) then next time I will share the wacky world of Internet Scrabble as operated by some mysterious European no one has ever seen who goes by the name Kaizer NoPlay...

Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy Time!

Okay, my last post was filled with a lot of vitriol (ahh vitriol, the bingo that cleans stains the six letter words just can't ). In the interest of balance (and not sounding like a whiny jerk) here is an unordered (yet mysteriously numbered) list of some of the unequivocally awesome things from my first tournament and beyond:

1) One of my opponents introduced himself as "the conductor". As in:
"Hello my name is John Smith. And you are?"
"I am...the conductor."
I guess I was supposed to know what that meant. He was dressed pretty nice, but I didn't recognize him as a celebrity (scrabble or otherwise). Maybe he is big in Japan...

2) The nicest guy I met was incongruously named Dick. My attempts to get him to change names and/or identities with a jerk I met named Cordial were sadly unsuccessful.

3) I was able to finish higher than the person who wanted to stick tiles in my nose from the first round.

4) I found a rule buried in the scrabble official handbook for resigning which basically allows you to give your opponent an additional fifty points with the win and walk away.

5) I had the pleasure of gleefully pointing out this rule to a S.A.P. 2000 minion at a later tournament when I was told again that I could not resign.

6) Getting to watch their head nearly explode when, in fact, I did get to walk away from the train wreck that particular game had become and successfully refocus myself before winning my next five in a row to earn some prize money.

7) One of my opponents at my first tournament was clearly high. Aside from the odor and the entire deluxe bag of chips they gleefully ate during our game, they laughed at every single thing I said.
"Hi, nice to meet you."
"Meet me? Hehehhehe."
"Umm, so who gets to go first?"
"We doesn't! Hehehehehe"
"Well looking at your sheets from the last couple rounds, it seems like you have gone second five rounds in a row..."
"Thats what she said! Hehehehe"
"Right.... So why don't you go first this time."
"Whatever tickles your pickle man....Hehehehehehe Pickles...Hehehehehe"
"Do you know you're at a scrabble tournament?"
"Your mom's a scrabble tournament! Hehehehehehe"

8) Losing to the guy who was ridiculously high by over 100 points. This is pretty funny now, but at the time...Actually at the time it was pretty funny too. I just can't stay mad at anyone who laughs at pickles...

9) Complaining during a round to my opponent about the guy I had lost to the round before and getting interrupted with "That guy is my wife!". Age is not kind to some people...

10) Overhearing this conversation on the other end of the spectrum, between one guy easily over 18 and another around 40.
"That girl leading the division is hot!"
"She is also only fourteen years old..."
"She is also my daughter..."
"Oh... So, she dating anyone?"

11) Least but not last: Being introduced to someone who proudly bragged,
"Hi, I'm the highest rated scrabble player in southern Wisconsin!" Of course we all know who is the highest rated player in northern Wisconsin. Perhaps you have heard of this mysterious man. They call him..."The Conductor".

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Some "Bysshe" Raises an Excellent Question

In response to my last post where I related my meltdown against Peggy and how I was told I could not resign, a friend asked for some clarification:

OpenID ByssheLE said...

Man, there is something truly absurd about the scores actually count towards pairings or results? Otherwise that just doesn't make any sense at all.

Well, to the best of my knowledge, they do not count towards pairings (phase of the moon and eyecolor do though for the wacky S.A.P. 2000). Scores do come into play for results though. Allow me to explain and/or rant some more... I now know that scrabble tournaments keep track of something called "spread". Like most things with spread in their name, it is full of ^$#*$ and horrible for your long term health. If one player A beats player B 300 to 200, there is a spread of 100 points. If it is the first game of a tournament then Player has started with a cumulative spread of positive 100 and player B has started with a cumulative spread of negative 100. If in the next round player A loses to player C 300 to 350 then their cumulative spread becomes positive 50 (100-50=50). If in this same round, player B wins against player D 200 to 99 then their cumulative spread becomes 1 (-100+101=1). This continues throughout the entire tournament. After all the rounds are over, first place goes to the player with best record in terms of wins and losses. If there is a tie between two or more players because they have the same number of wins and losses cumulative spread is used as the first (and to the best of my knowledge) and only tiebreaker. I understand that something must be used to deal with these situations. Common sense, however, has been left outside looking in like a puppy whimpering in the rain. So you have two competitors in some game/sport that both did well against several others and you are trying to decide which of them is better. In a perfect world how would this be determined? Oh, maybe by having them play each other in whatever skill you are measuring them.... Scrabble tournaments are fortunately run with the belief that most other tournament organizers share (chess, magic, high school football, etc...) that variety is good and you should play a fair amount of different people during the competition. Regardless of how pairings are decided upon it is very often true that players who are tied with the same record have faced each other at least once during the event. If player A and player B finish a tournament tied for first and A beat B when they played two rounds ago, you would think this would be relevant. Head to head competition is, in fact, the first tiebreaker used when two individuals/teams/ robot ninjas or whatever finish with the same record in, oh let's see... There is the NFL, MLB, NBA, WNBA, Soccer in America and abroad, most collegiate sports, chess, magic and i'm pretty sure tiddlywinks. The most notable exception is college football. This is the only major sport I am aware of without a playoff system and where opinion can trump facts and numbers. In other words a team with one or two losses can be a national champion while a team with no losses is arbitrarily decided to be inferior. Even college football uses head to head competition in most of its conferences to determine standings/seedings before teams are selected to scatter across the country to play in different bowls to make money for their schools. I am on the verge of a non scrabble rant here. Let's just say that fans hate the system in college football, it is the exception to the rule and everyone who is not directly making money off the current method wants to make it like every other sport game (except scrabble of course). Deep breaths...
So in a scrabble tournament you can have two players tied for the best record who have played each other during that same tournament, but if one players cumulative spread is one point better than the others then that is the deciding factor for who is "better". Oftentimes, the "winner" is not the one who won when the two people played. I am even aware of one tournament where two players were tied for second, player A had beaten player B twice but still got third because of an eleven point difference in spread. The arguments I have heard to support this bizarre fixation on spread are basically these:

1) It mitigates the amount of luck in the game.
2) It awards consistency.
3) It represents how much more knowledge and/or skill someone had over all their opponents.

Umm, there is luck in just about any game (even chess players have to deal with bad days, illness, etc). You can't "fix" how lucky or unlucky people are. Warning Math Mini Tangent There is an also an implied belief in "gambler's fallacy" here (events in the past have an influence on events in the future even in systems that "reset" such as believing you are "due" to be dealt an ace next time since you have not been dealt one in an hour. The deck is shuffled in between each hand, and does not "care" what happened before. The same is true for a roulette wheel or dice.) Just because a player was "lucky" and drew both blanks in one game does not mean they "should" draw one or zero in the next game. In each game, the number of tiles you draw can increase your chance of drawing a particular one, but what you drew a half hour ago before the bad was refilled and shaken simply has no relevance. Saying that spread matters implies that no one can be "lucky" over the course of several games and that things will even out by the end. They might but they might not. End Math Mini Tangent Spread also does not award consistency. Wins award consistency. The object of the game of scrabble is to score more points than your opponent. If you are consistent, you are able to find a way to achieve that goal on a regular basis. Spread tends to award outliers. If a player has the game of their life and wins by 400 points then this will "make up" for their foibles in several other games. Some players actively hunt for this kind of blowout and I have often heard people looking forward to playing someone who is not just worse than them but susceptible to intimidation and prone to mentally checking out in some form or another. This obsession with spread creates or at least a certain kind of behavior that I find morally repugnant (wow I am really up on my high horse, please forgive me while I gallop a bit farther). There are two sick scenarios that I have seen repeated multiple times. One is the sniffling kid shakedown: a young person, who is perhaps unprepared emotionally for the pressure of a tournament, has a tendency to become despondent when they are losing and since they have been told they have to be a big boy or girl and have to finish the game they will make very poor plays once they are a certain amount behind. This is like smelling blood in the water for some players who will then pile up a huge margin while their young opponent is desperately wishing they could be anywhere else. The other situation is the drifting dearie: an older person who honestly is there to have fun, and is easily intimidated. A good acting performance and a strong personality will keep her or him from challenging ridiculous "words" while fake sympathy and commiseration will keep their mind on grandkids or the good old days. Sigh... These situations tend to happen most often in the lower divisions, but those people paid their money too and in my opinion their games and overall experience count just as much. My overall point here is that "running up the score" and the subsequent spread differential has less to do with word knowledge and more to do with other "abilities". If spread does not matter or only matters if the players did not face each other then the focus is shifted to how people did against others at the top and away from how badly or "efficiently" they abused those at the bottom. A couple quick notes before I close this tangent filled terror of a post: there
is a way to resign and I promise to cover it next time. I am not an innocent paragon and I am aware I have done a little acting in my time. Some of the words I have gotten away with were the result of opponents who had become demoralized for whatever reason. I do maintain that I have tried very hard to be nice to younger players. Lastly, I would like to point out I am not just complaining because of personal results. If anything, the way scrabble decides who is "best" has improved my standings more often than it has hurt it. Next time I promise to focus on the positives for awhile. All is not doom and gloom and despite the considerable issues I have with scrabble tournament logistics, the game and the people who play it have brought me a lot of joy. Hang in there till next time when I will describe my triumphant ascendancy to meritocracy and get back to focusing on the great people I have met instead of whining about the mental institution we sometimes seem trapped inside.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Debacle and Diatribes

Ok, I have put this off long enough. The recent additional pie people shenanigans will have to wait. So its the second round of my first scrabble tournament. I get paired up with Peggy (gotta love driving for hours to play against people from your hometown). I ask her how her first round went and she tells me she won easily. I am... confused. If I lost and she won then how can we be paired with each other? In chess and magic (and every game/sport I know with tournaments from little league baseball to NCAA women's lacrosse) the fundamental rule of pairing is this: individuals/teams with the same record play each other. Sure there are tons of variations, but the basic concept remains the same. Warning Math-Like Mega Tangent The system I am most familiar with for relatively long tournaments is the swiss. This method is named after its place of origin and like the inhabitants of the land of chocolate, it is known for its fairness and neutrality. A simple example would be a group of eight players with preexisting ratings. Chess, magic and scrabble all use variants of the Elo system for ratings QuickyWiki ELO . Scrabble seems unfamiliar with the aphorism concerning ice cream and poop and has made some "improvements" to the system which I will cover in more detail another time. Suffice it to say that players are assigned numbers that correlate roughly to their ability and expected success rate. The higher the number, the better theoretically the player is and the more often they are expected to win. So if you have eight players with ratings ranging from 1800 to 1100 with convenient 100 point intervals between players a swiss system would dictate that you put the group in order from one through eight and then divide it in half between the fourth and fifth rated player. The top player in each half would then play each other and so on down the line (so 1800 vs 1400, 1700 vs 1300, 1600 vs 1200, and 1500 vs 1100). Ratings are useful tools for judging the strength of players and predicting future performance, but they are only tools. Oftentimes events have occurred since the last data point (tournament, match or whatever). A player may have been studying hard and has not yet had a chance to demonstrate this improvement. Or they may have been drinking hard and not yet had a chance to demonstrate their new strategy of less is more when it comes to braincells... The swiss system takes this into account and is aware that there has to be a balance between a body of data from the past and new information being generated right now. So for every subsequent round, there is a redivision separating the players into smaller and smaller subgroups based on their performance in the current tournament. Say in the example we are using that in the first round the 1700, 1600, and 1500 players beat their lower rated opponents, but the 1800 lost. The 1800 fell in love with the 1400 and lost to try and get one of those date things he keeps hearing about or the 1400 had quit her job and been practicing for the last month inside an abandoned bomb shelter renamed "Fortress of Scrabbltude", or both. Whatever the reason, these things happen: These for instance and thats why the games are actually played out. So the second round pairings would be 1700 vs 1500 and 1600 vs 1400 for the winners section and 1800 vs 1200 and 1300 vs 1100 in the losers section. In the third round the two players with two wins would play. The four players with one win and one loss would be paired with the top rated against the third and the second versus the fourth. The two players with no wins would play each other. The advantages are clear. The pairings are simple and intuitive enough that they can be done in your head. A person can also look forward each round after the first to playing someone who is having a similar experience to theirs at this particular tournament. This leads to close competitive games which are interesting to both players instead of blowouts which are interesting and/or fun to at most the winning player. End of Math-Like Mega Tangent So instead of "divide group of people with same record in half and have them play each other" scrabble uses a grab bag of methods that vary from site to site and director to director. Here is a typical example: High Level Nonsense Some of the highlights of this ode to obfuscation include "The system is also designed to create the right compromise between absolute perfection, and the need for it to be simple enough to implement manually." It is so simple that it takes 1000 words filled with jargon, two diagrams, and a committee of six people to explain (to other trained tournament directors!). I also especially like this line hidden halfway through: "there may be a last-minute change in its pairing procedure. We will announce any changes as soon as they become official." Basically they reserve the right to change their minds at the last minute and do the whole thing differently should something else strike their fancy. Sigh... So pairings are inscrutable and most directors say something along the lines of "I just put the results into the computer and it tells me what to do" when you ask them who you will be playing or how the scrabble system works. I will beat this rapidly dying horse more next time, but for now let's return to the pigeon hanger/tournament hall where the #$%^ was about to hit the fan (and the top of my head if I was not careful where I sat). The H.A.L. 9000's creepy little cousin S.A.P. 2000 (or Scrabble Arbitrary Pairings that will take 2000 days off your lifespan through stress related ailments and aneurysms) had decided in its infinite wisdom that I should play a big winner instead of a lowly loser like me. At the time, Peggy was definitely better than me, but I was not hopelessly outclassed. So we started to play and fortunately there were no Jekyll and Hyde transformations from my opponent this round. She just played high scoring word after high scoring word. I meanwhile had some strong looking letters, but the bingo (all seven letters used at once to receive a big point bonus) combinations I tried all got challenged off the board. When I got to be several hundred points behind and had taken roughly half as many turns as her I decided it was time to throw in the towel, take a walk and get some fresh non guano scented air. So I said I resign and got up to go. Unfortunately, this was not to be...
"You can't resign."
"I appreciate the encouragement and optimism, but I know when I'm beat. I need to get my head together for the next round."
"No, you don't understand. You are not allowed to resign."
"Right... Are the big bad scrabble police going to come get me?"
"Uh, pretty much. One of the tournament staff is coming over right now."
A "director"(I don't know what to call these people. They settle disputes and can rip dictionaries apart with their minds, umm...lets call them S.A.P 2000 minions since I don't think they are quite human) walks over with a stern expression on their face and I surreally feel like I am being pulled over for speeding after leaving home without my license.
"Is there a problem here?"
"No officer, um scrabble arbiter... guy. I just am getting crushed, so I am going to resign and take a break to get my act together. "
"I am afraid you can't do that."
"Yes, my opponent said that too. What exactly does that mean?"
"Just that. You have to keep playing until the game is over."
"Umm, its over now. I give up. She is infinite points ahead of me and I seem to have lost the ability to spell basic words."
"Its not fair to your opponent to just let them win."
"'s kinda the whole point."
"She could win by more than she is winning now though."
"Why don't I just let my clock run until she has the score she wants."
"You really don't want to do that. There would be certain consequences..."
"Ok... Can we agree on a number and end this bizarre charade?"
"No, you have to play every turn until the game is over."
"Am I on some kind of scrabble nazi candid camera?"
"No and you need to watch your attitude if you want to keep playing in this tournament."
"But I don't want to keep playing! At least not this round anyways."
"Are you ready to be sensible and start the game again?"
"Sure I'll just pass the rest of the turns and she can score as high as she wants."
"That would be suspicious and unsportsmanlike."
"More suspicious and unsportsmanlike than simply resigning?"
"Ok, thank you for clearing that up."
S.A.P. 2000 minion leaves...
"I think I have found a solution that will make everyone happy."
"I'm going to get my last opponent to plug my airways with scrabble tiles until I lose consciousness and wake up in a world without scrabble..."
To quote the inventor of the electric guitar necktie: "I feel like everyone around me is taking crazy pills!" Join me next time when I'm accused of cheating for following the rules and I set out on a holy mission to crack the code that is the official scrabble rule book...

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Hi Pi(e) Guy (or Gal)...A Brief Interlude

So the pi(e) person is back and had this to say if you didn't already see it in the comments of the last post:

Blogger PiLover said...

Couldnt figure out whos picurious huh?Some profesor!You still need more pictures but some of these scrabble ladies sound hot. Lets hear more about Galen and less about you getting your but kicked.

Wow. I am both fascinated and horrified here. Some initial observations. I am assuming this is the same person as PiCurious perhaps after having an account deleted. Or maybe their relationship with pastry and/or that special mathematical marvel has progressed from curiosity to love in the past couple days. A more ominous possibility looms, though. What if there is a whole family or community or shadowy clandestine organization comprised of Pi(e) people? They imply in their post that somehow I should have known who PiCurious was. That would seem to mean it is someone close to me and that my chilling "Aunt Gladys Theory" may have some merit. I have asked everyone I know whether they are the mysterious PiCurious though? No one was willing to fess up. So either someone is lying and keeping their special pi(e) peccadilloes in the closet, or the Pi(e) person/people is pretending (try saying that three times, fast or otherwise) to be one of my peeps (this means family or friends Gladys...) I also noticed that much of the punctuation is missing, as if the person writing was, umm, in a hurry. I also was cheated out of a 's' in my professor title and my butt lost a 't' in the hands of this maniac. I understand their overall point to be females="interesting" and my life="boring". Well that is probably true, but I don't know what I can do about it. I don't foresee a ladies of scrabble calendar in the near future. Maybe a stuffed animals of scrabble calendar, but I'm not comfortable objectifying anything or anyone that is not, well, an inanimate object. I remain hopeful that my blog may have some content for the Pi(e) people out there who apparently are my main audience (or at least the ones who actually comment). Maybe we can work out a compromise. I could relate what happens when Galen specifically kicks my butt. There are certainly enough times to choose from. In the meanwhile, I'm begging you dear readers, make your voices heard and don't let the Pi(e) special interest group hijack this innocent blog. Thank you specifically Peggy for making your voice of (relative) sanity heard. This has got to be a team effort though. Fight the P(i)ower!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Tournament Time (finally)

So, believe it or not, here are my vague recollections of my very first official scrabble tournament. Post traumatic stress disorder may have deleted or warped some of the events, but I will do the best I can (or at least the best I feel like). So this event, like most I have subsequently encountered, had something called a commuter fee. This lovely concept (which is not present in magic or chess tournaments) is that to play in the tournament, you first have a choice to make. You can either stay in the hotel chosen by the organizers (usually exorbitantly expensive or rundown and sketchy) or you can pay the fee and choose a lodging that you might actually stay at if you were in town for some other more sane reason. This particular tournament's organizers impressed me by finding a place that charged like an elegant Hilton Hotel, but looked like Paris Hilton around five in the morning (That's so not hot...). The concept is (I am guessing here) that if enough people stay at the place that the tournament occurs, the hotel will give a discount to the organizers for the conference room or business hall or unused parking in the back or whatever that they are renting. I would rather just have everyone pay a higher entry in the first place or, God forbid, find a nice clean place that is not attached to a hotel. Peggy managed to do this for the club sponsored tournament and the earth did not stop spinning (though I am sure a couple scrabble players somewhere lost their last bit of sanity to make up for the deficit of crazy that her sensible decision caused). Since I did not feel like paying hundreds of dollars for the right to be stabbed by cockroaches, I paid the commuter fee and worked on finding other options for lodgings. I was "lucky" enough to find out my in-laws were going to be R.V. camping relatively near the location of the tournament (twenty minutes as opposed to the four hours from my house).
They would conveniently be in the area the weekend before the the actual event... I asked them if they would be willing to switch the dates, they said no. I asked the tournament organizers if they would switch their dates; they said we play and organize scrabble, we don't have dates, but if we did we would take them to the movies and then take them back to our place for scrabble and sensuous massages and certainly not "switch" them (unless they were into that kind of thing, we wouldn't know, we don't have dates...). So back to the in-laws and after weeks of begging, pleading and shrewd negotiating I had a place to stay I could afford and reasonably expect to live though (all I had to promise was a month of grass cutting, two truck washings, and promise to not actually go to the tournament, who says in-laws aren't kind and gracious?) Maybe it was just a dinner at a nice restaurant, I just remember being horribly traumatized. With that load off my mind, I continued to diligently practice at the club and with some of the members on additional days as well. I pored over word lists (I tried pouring first, but I kept getting sticky and it didn't seem to make my scores go up). I even harassed my poor students into helping me:
"Good morning class. Your quiz today is to list as many five letter words as you can, containing a 'z' but no 's' in the next five minutes."
"What does that have to do with To Kill a Mockingbird?"
"What doesn't it have to do with To Kill a Mockingbird? You must not have read carefully. And you only have four minutes left now, hurry up!"

Finally the big day arrived. The four of us (in-laws, wife and me) drove up together each with our own warped motivations. Her parents to obtain an indentured servant, me to make people and influence words, and my poor wife to check firsthand if the man she had married had gone crazy a decade or so earlier than what she was anticipating when she signed the pre-nup. I was able to get a decent night's sleep after turning down her parents generous initial offer of "special" sleeping arrangements (a sleeping bag on the roof seemed unfair somehow and I still maintain it shouldn't count as sleeping under the stars if it is raining so hard you can't actually see the stars) I got to the tournament and stepped inside the building attached to the hotel that would be the site of my few triumphs and multiple humiliations (ironically, the game I played five rounds later when I actually got to use the word triumph, I lost by two hundred points). I will give the organizers credit for one thing. This place was huge. Like airplane hanger huge (though it smelled more like pigeons than 747s). There were around 150 of us there and we easily could have fit three times that inside (maybe that is how many came but the others actually stayed in the "recommended hotel"and I mean stayed as in "You can check in any time you like, but..."). I was in the bottom of four divisions with around 40 other people who had also decided, hey I think I'll play scrabble with strangers for fun and, uh, profit? Some of us, like me, were complete newcomers (or at least were willing to lying about their identity for the chance at winning a couple hundred dollars, no joke I heard rumors concerning a suspiciously good "new" player in my bottom division), some of us played casually and used these tournaments as an excuse to travel and see new places (gotta love the eccentric rich) and some of were former scrabble stars that time and/or non prescription medication had reducing to slumming with the rest of us. There was a short presentation given to the new players to familiarize us with how tournaments work.
"You are not at the kitchen table anymore. You have to use a clock. You both have to record your scores. You can't call your opponent names. You can't get up in the middle and go watch Matlock."
Is Matlock on right now?"
"Um, as far as you know, no, no its not and you can't have your commuter fee back even if it was."
I met a nice lady during this speech. She told me she was just here to have fun and to make new friends. She said she loved to learn new words and didn't know why everyone took the game so seriously. She seemed agreeable and well adjusted. I should have known this was a bad sign. We were randomly paired for the first round and I looked forward to a pleasant start to my first experience as a "real" scrabble player. We smiled, shook hands and wished each other good luck.
Then the round started. It soon became apparent that what she lacked in word knowledge she made up for in psychosis.
" What's your score?"
"I'm not sure, I'm still counting."
"Hurry up."
"But I'm the one using time from my clock..."
"Your time is my time!"
"Huh? What does that mean?"
"Don't you 'huh' me young man, just hurry up." Then on her turn...
"I didn't say anything."
"You're breathing too much!"
"But I need oxygen!"
"That's my oxygen, you little punk!"
"I don't think you are supposed to call your opponent names..."
"Did they say I couldn't shove tiles up your big oxygen stealing nose?"
"Sorry, I'll try to breathe less, Ma'am."
"That's a good boy."
I lost a very close game (and several brain cells from only breathing every other minute) and afterwards it was as if a switch was flicked back.
"What a nice game. I hope you have a wonderful day. It was nice meeting you and good luck in your next round."
"So you aren't going to asphyxiate me?"
"Ooh what a wonderful new word! I knew this would be a fun learning experience!"
"I'm just going to back away slowly then..."
"You silly young people. I hope we get to play again soon..."
The next round I was paired against one of the two people I knew who had also come from the club. The debacle that ensued (and led to my desperate need for a duck) will have to wait for next time in Tournament time Part Two: "No you can't quit and you're too young to watch Matlock anyways."