Nameless novels and bountiful bingos

Sunday, 21 August 2005 — 9:24pm | Literature, Scrabble

As possible as it remains that I will be eating some fresh-plucked import crow from the Village of Fowl Devotees two months from now, I’m going to place some chips on the table: I can say with almost total conviction that Book the Twelfth will be entitled The Nameless Novel.

Those of you who haven’t read the Lemony Snicket series should do so immediately. Those of you who have know by now that at the end of every volume is a teaser for the next, which always hints at some of the objects and locations to appear and includes the alliterative title for the volume to come; all except the piecemeal fragments at the end of The Grim Grotto, which revealed no succeeding title at all. It would be very much in keeping with the self-referential nature of the books, and the fictitious scenario that the author is an elusive man on the run who sends his editor the manuscripts telling of the Baudelaire children’s misfortunes by a host of unconventional means (coupled with his failure to send the editor a new title), if the absence of a title was played upon.

Last month, HarperCollins unveiled an activity website, The Nameless Novel, designed to market the book by presenting a day-by-day calendar of puzzles that fall into the theme of discovering the title of the twelfth book. The assembled solutions so far have revealed a full page from the book and a handful of new Helquist illustrations; the latter “investigation” is, at the time of this writing, still ongoing. That leaves time for a third set of clues beginning in mid-September, with the book’s publication due 18 October.

That seems like an awfully short lead time to announce the title to the general public, and The Nameless Novel is such a perfect fit that – given the little we know – it’s hard to imagine that it is only the moniker for a promotional website that only a fraction of all readers will actually visit. (Yes, J.K. Rowling revealed the title of The Half-Blood Prince via a website puzzle as well, but that’s quite a different scenario – and besides, it was well before the book went to press.)

The lack of a new title to follow The Grim Grotto can’t simply be leveraged towards this limited a purpose; I see it as significant enough that its resolution will be projected at the readership in its entirety. What I’m saying is that the launch of this website was itself the title announcement, albeit one that fell right into the meta-fiction of the Snicketverse. Keen observers will also note that each title alliterates a different letter, and ‘N’ is not yet taken.

In the end, this isn’t that substantive a matter to be speculating about. It is nonetheless exciting enough that such a phenomenal series – largely an exercise in style, but with a progressively meatier plot – is pulling up to its conclusion.

And now, for something completely different: you might have noticed that my finding the time to post this is probably a good indicator that I’m not fatigued out of my mind in the middle of Nevada right now, which would be the case if I were playing in this year’s National Scrabble Championship in Reno.

Call me a vicarious spectator, and an elated one. It’s two days and fourteen rounds into the premier Scrabble competition in North America, and Calgary’s very own Paul Sidorsky – former club co-director and developer of LAMPWords – is in fifth place of eighty-seven in Division 1. Not bad for the eighty-fifth seed. His 10-4, +458 record makes him the top-ranked Canadian halfway into the event, and puts him sandwiched right between Wiegand and Cappelletto.

This is, to don my verbal scuba gear and dive into the vernacular, freakin’ awesome. I’ve hardly played at the Calgary club for the past year for geographical reasons, the result being that my word knowledge is declining faster than your run-of-the-mill British sea power, but back when it was a weekly stop for me, Paul was always a challenging and humbling opponent – that is, whenever I earned a spot on the ladder high enough to face him. The first time I played him, he landed five bingos to my one and racked up 594 points, the most anybody has scored against me to date as the tile gods have mercifully spared me from the thunderous bludgeoning inflicted by the Mjollnir that is the 600-point Scrabble game.

I’ve since won a few games against Paul, but it’s been an uphill battle every time. This is a game where you come to appreciate the uphill battles, because they teach you a thing or two by way of glorious negative reinforcement. Downhill tumbles are not so fun. What you come to realize, though, is that even the toughest opponents are mortal when you draw all the blanks, though mortality makes little difference when not knowing how to deploy decent tiles is about as effective as clubbing someone with the blunt end of a very sharp pencil. And deification is one of many things called into question when you see one of your mentors ranked among and above the gods of the game, the characters you hear about in books and documentaries.

This is my way of sending a remote congratulations and wishing Paul the best of luck in the second half of the tournament – where, after all, anything is mutable. May he cleaneth the proverbial house.

Currently in first place with a 13-1, +653 record is 2003 World Champion Panupol Sujjayakorn from Thailand, who bears an age equivalent to mine and a vocabulary greater by several orders of magnitude. I have a clipping of a prominent newsprint congratulations offered him by the Bangkok papers months after his victory. If he stays on track, this will be his best performance yet under the North American dictionary, though he was already one of the undisputed luminaries of the game to begin with.

No announcement about the OWL2 yet, but I expect it will drop in very, very soon.

Now, excuse me while I go back to two-stepping through the playable live coverage on the tournament website. My board vision is rustier than the Tin Woodman; if it only had a heart.

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