Sunday, 9 November 2008
Effingham – Charleston (November 8)
(Me playing Scrabble)
A three hour ride to Charleston (not the one in South Carolina obviously) escorted by Scott & Laura. We were all going to Marty's house, for a monthly Scrabble meet; and today he held an extracurricular one in my honour. I was happy to go along main roads, but because Scott was adamant that the farm roads in between, that crisscross these parts, were quicker, he drove in front of me in his pick up truck, with his hazard lights on. He would wait for me at each intersection, and then turn north or east, as we made our way in a 'stepping' pattern. Colder again, with a debilitating wind, I kept my head down, feeling like the Rocky of the Scrabble world, on my way to beat someone to a pulp with my superior knowledge of Q words. Yo Adrian! I'm a fighter Adrian; that's the way I'm made. Etc. Only I don't have a superior knowledge of any type of words, as was shown today. Twice dogs chased me up the road, including one pit bull that was gaining on me, until his master called him off.
Arrived at Marty & Daiva's beautiful house, with it's fine collection of antique carpets and paintings, at noon, and met up with the Charleston gang of about 15 in the basement. Like Scott in Collinsville, Marty was from Chicago, in his late fifties and had retired early. He had been a social worker and his wife, of Lithuanian descent, was a writer and English professor. The local press were already in attendance and asked questions when I was gagging to get down to business. I won the first three games against Cheryl (played DATELESS & ADZ/AA/DAD on a triple word for 54) Letitia and Chuck. Daiva beat me, as did Scott (he played KALEWIFE, INTERNAL & RESIZES to my STEAMIER). Then I got my own back on him in a thriller from vanilla; a rumble in the mumble. He put down OUTSEND (which I should have challenged) & ATELIER, as well as two great non-bingos, JIVY (tripled with the J on a double letter for 75) & XU/XU (with the X on a triple letter for 50). I played HAUNTING & ROUNDER, but my PLEBITIS was thrown off the board (I must have been thinking of PHLEBITIS). I was still behind, then right near the end I had a major coup with ENLISTEE (77) on an existing E and leading to a triple word. I still only won by a few points and we had a combined score of nearly 900. Go Adrian!
Marty held a competition in my honour, where the people who scored the most points with my initials, AK, sequentially in a word, as well as GS (for Glasgow, Scotland) received a small prize. There was another one with IC, for Irvine, California, where Laura lived. Next up I played another English guy, Nick, a heavyweight to my middleweight, and the blood spilled. Marty, another top player (about 30th in the country) tussled with me as well, although we played 'an open board' and gave me a masterclass in the noble art of Scrabble. I would suggest a move to him and every time he came up with something better. I didn't mind when it was an unknown word, but sometimes it was something I knew and hadn't seen it, and that was pretty frustrating. This was my eighth game of the day though and I've never played so much in one day – from noon to midnight – with breaks for chatting and food. Marty paid for everyone's lunch from Subway and pizza for the few who remained at 10 pm. They actually convened at 10 am and this was too much Scrabble for me. I think more than three games is too much for me and after that my head starts to hurt. Marty plays in a totally different way to me and it's like a science for him, based on probability and letter value. Every time he plays a word and tiles are left on his rack he considers the synergy of these letters and how many points they are adding or subtracting in terms of a balanced hand. For example, it is good to be left with letters like ET, as these are common and therefore bingoable. It is not so clever to leave yourself with UU or suchlike. I know all this, but don't think about it as intensely as he does, and for me Scrabble is a creative, even serendipitous experience. Marty's methods made it seem like hard work, although to him the harder he works at it the more fun it is. It's his obsession though; he has played at tournaments all over the world and has put in a lot of study time. He played with both the American and the international dictionaries – and crucially he was able to divide – as well as retain the two lists in his brain. There are approximately 90,000 words in the US list compared to 120,000 in the international one. That's a big difference.
The next day Marty made pancakes and I showed them him the thinner British version, rolled up with lemon juice and sugar. Marty & Daiva said they liked them this way, but I think they were being polite. Amazingly enough, although I stayed until early afternoon (another light mileage) we didn't play the beautiful game. We did however, watch a documentary about it called Scrabylon. It followed the top players going into the 2001 World Championship in Las Vegas and featured an interview with Marty & Daiva, who at the time were engaged, and described Scrabble as an aphrodisiac and their foreplay. (Scott & Laura had also met through the game.) Marty told me how he'd beaten the top American player, Brian Cappelletto, in their first three encounters and these victories were sweetened by his play of REDEFEATS, a 'natural' (without blanks) a 158 nine-timer, in their third game. During the documentary I learned the term 'coffee-housing' relating to distracting tactics, like slurping on coffee or blowing cigarette smoke towards an opponent. Another term is 'brailling', where a player feels the tiles in the bag to locate a blank. This explains why letters on the newer tiles do not have a raised surface. It was a well made film and proved the board game could be further popularized if only there was more TV and press interest...