From the archives: Adventures

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The National Scrabble Communion, Day 4

Tuesday, 29 July 2008 — 8:33pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

It’s over, thank goodness.

I finished on a record of 10-18 (-533), ending up in 125th place of 133 players in Division 3. I was bottom-feeding all day, but at least I was feeding.

Truth be told, this was an unremarkable day. I didn’t come away with many stories to tell, though I did pay more visits to the challenge table than on the first three days combined. On one occasion, I opened the game with FEDEX for 48 points, drawing a challenge and buying myself an extra turn. My opponent didn’t know that FEDEX was added in the 2006 dictionary revision, along with a whole smattering of genericized trademarks like PYREX and KLEENEX. This worked to my advantage, since I’d placed the word in a risky position: if he knew the back extension, my opponent could have plopped an -ING on the end to make FEDEXING and hit the TWS for 60 points.

Really, though: that’s the most interesting thing that happened all day, unless you count the incident where my opponent and I were mistakenly assigned to Nadine Jacobson’s permanent location at Table 65. Nadine Jacobson, I should explain, is the blind player with the Braille Scrabble set who reads the board in caresses and keeps score on a Perkins Brailler. She famously refuses the extra playing time that she is entitled to on account of her handicap, preferring the standard allotment of 25 minutes per player simply because it’s fair.

This year’s National Scrabble Championship did not feature a televised final, unlike the ESPN-affiliated editions that ran from 2004 to 2006. It reverted to the old format, where Division 1 is treated like all the other divisions, with no separate best-of-five showdown. In a way, this is fairer—why shouldn’t the top prize go to the player with the best record?—but it’s also a shame, because the thought of witnessing a Richards-Cappelletto battle on a closed-circuit feed in a room full of kibitzing experts strikes me as both educational and intensely entertaining. Oh well: I could always trace my way through Nigel and Brian’s top-table matchups in Rounds 26 through 28 online.

So that just about wraps it up for the Orlando NSC. According to the full tsh report, this tournament chipped my rating from 1315 to 1254. In a way, it was Day 1 that did most of the damage; I went 10-11 in the remainder of the tournament, good enough to save my rating from too steep a plummet (i.e. I can still play in Division 2 at the WCSC). Nevertheless, I think it may be high time to start being concerned that I haven’t appreciably improved in the last four years: sooner or later I’ll have to face the decision to either shape up or ship out. You know which one I’ll pick.

(Day 4 bingos: REtAINER, RERAISE, ABATeRs, RECLINeR, OVERPILE*, RIsIBlE, OUTROSE*, RESoLVES, FLOATIER—bringing my tournament total to 38 bingos over 27 games played, which is merely ordinary and not reflective of the travesty that was my win-loss record.)

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The National Scrabble Cataclysm, Day 3

Monday, 28 July 2008 — 10:13pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

“How does that saying go?” one of my opponents asked me today, after another heated battle at the bottom of the barrel. “The road to hell is paved with…?”

“Good intentions,” I said, “and bad tiles.”

I am now at 6-15 (-528), and sincerely having the time of my life. I may be losing, but at least I’m playing real Scrabble. In my 133-player division, I’ve gone from 133rd on Day 1 to 132nd on Day 2, and now I’m 131st. At this rate, I should finish the tournament in fourth-last place, a smidgen worse than New Orleans (where I finished 165th of 169).

So why am I having so much fun? Round 19, that’s why. Oh, golly. Let me tell you about Round 19—instantly one of the most memorable games I’ve ever played, and enough to make me stop worrying and love the bomb (aka the SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game). It was like falling all over again for a lost and unrequited love that had already jilted you a dozen times. Like making beautiful baroque music with her after months of distant longing and minimal conversation. No, not whoopee, you unchivalrous pervert. Just music.

I lost Round 19, you know. It was euphoric anyway. Sometimes a loss is a loss, and all you can do is make the best of it. Is there a word for the opposite of a Pyrrhic victory?

(Before I proceed—Day 3 bingos: ESTUARY, WOrRIeS, WEARYINg, VISITOr, NOTaRIZE, ELECTOR, RADIANT, OPERATED, SANdBILL*, UNAIrEd, ANTSIER, FLATIROn, COILIEST*. More blanks, more phonies, and more laughs.)

Continued »

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The National Scrabble Catastrophe, Day 2

Sunday, 27 July 2008 — 4:39pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

3-11 (-307), and one of those “wins” was a bye. I’ve gone from last to second-last. This tournament is going so poorly, it’s looping around from tragedy to comedy. Dear Tile Gods: did I not sacrifice enough virgins or something? Love, Nicholas.

Yesterday, I had a lot more to blame than luck. Today was mostly bad luck. I drew 2 out of 12 blanks over six rounds (Rounds 13 and 14, to be precise), and I am at least relieved that I fired them off on bingos as soon as I picked them up. The blank in Round 13 was very nearly useless, too, coming as it did in my last draw from the bag.

That isn’t to say I haven’t been making bad decisions—missing bingos (like seeing RETILES and LEISTER, but giving up on the rack when a tiny bit more searching would have revealed STERILE), forgetting common stems (I knew there was something in BEIORST but tried SORBITE* instead of ORBIEST), and losing boneheaded challenges (LAYED looked funny at the time, and I let my opponent get away with PLIAR* instead of PILAR)—but they weren’t any worse than yesterday’s unmitigated silliness.

Time management is going better: I had over a minute left at the end of every game, leaving me time to find bingos on tight boards in the last turn or two. I benefited from not having to play against any speed demons, for the most part, so I didn’t get killed on the clock like I did on Day 1. Defensive play could still use some work: in Round 12, I missed a crucial bingo lane when I had almost tied the game (243-245), letting my opponent run away with it.

All in all, my play has gone from atrocious to average. It would be nice if the tile bag started cooperating. Then again, I suspect that I’m drawing at a disadvantage because I’m playing too many short words when I’m in a tight spot; I need to turn over more tiles.


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The National Scrabble Calamity, Day 1

Saturday, 26 July 2008 — 10:33pm | Adventures, Scrabble, Tournament logs

I am sitting at 0-7 (-320) in LADROON (that’s Orlando, for the rest of you), dead last in my division, wondering if my time might not have been better spent at the Magic Kingdom.

This is not my first seven-game losing streak at a Scrabble tournament. I’ve done it twice before, both times at my first National Scrabble Championship in New Orleans. This is, however, the very first time I have ever gone a full day at a Scrabble tournament without winning a single round.

It’s not like I haven’t been scoring points, either. According to my statistics page (which all of you can follow, quasi-live!), I scored an average of 375 points per game—greater than or equal to the Day 1 averages of… all seven of my opponents (370, 346, 369, 375, 372, 364, and 329, respectively). Compare this to my average score against: 421 points per game. Conclusion: every single one of my opponents had an aberrantly high-flying game against me.

Bad luck? In Rounds 6 and 7, maybe. It would be more accurate to blame the first five on poor time management and gross incompetence.

(More on this in a moment. But first, my Day 1 bingos: OUTGROwN, TAINTING, FAGGIEST, TORsADE, COSINES, HANGArS, wRANGLER—wait, was that it? Was that all?)

Continued »

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Royal Blue (or: Nick and the King of Siam)

Friday, 11 January 2008 — 5:02pm | Adventures, Classical, Jazz, Music

I can’t seem to mention my favourite developing country without saying a few words about the musical compositions of its presiding Philosopher King, so perhaps I’ll take a moment to devote an entire post to the subject. For those of you who are new to the show: do familiarize yourself with the Rama IX Art Museum Foundation’s comprehensive online exhibit, which I’ve only just had the pleasure to discover myself. It comprises a biographical overview of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s musical background, audio samples of forty of his songs, historical notes on specific compositions, and even lead sheets of the melodies and chords.

And if you want to hear something exceptionally cool: there’s always a lot of talk about how the King once played alongside America’s own King of Swing, Benny Goodman (indeed, that’s the subject of the photograph atop the musical archive’s introductory page), but now I’ve found some aural proof—samples from Benny Goodman’s 1955 concert in Bangkok, in which he plays several of the King’s signature compositions, including the Thai Royal Anthem. I’ve linked to my personal favourite, “Sai Fon” (“Falling Rain”); the song is written as a waltz, but the band plays it in 4/4.

My own interest in King Bhumibol’s music originates from my first visit to his realm in December 2003, when I first heard that he was a noted saxophonist and big band composer in addition to everything else he did (painting, translating Economist articles, ending military coups with a single command, and so on). It wasn’t until after the adventure that I actually listened to some of his music and fell in love with a number of the tunes. But this time around, I went to Thailand prepared—and after traipsing around the country for nearly three weeks, I can absolutely confirm that the King’s music is as ubiquitous as the documents about it claim.

I also returned with a handful of compact discs, all of which I will discuss below.

Continued »

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