The Need

December 19, 2003

I'm the Leprechaun!

As far back as I can remember I've had the mentality of a collector, feeling the need to acquire sets of things in order to feel complete. My impulse to collect manifested in ordinary ways like collecting baseball cards and comic books, but also in usual ways. Sometime in 1992 I decided that I would see every movie that was released (in my vicinity), and between then an 1995 I saw hundreds of movies. To this day I lament all the time I wasted viewing crap like 3 Ninjas and Leprechaun. I've never been a fan of horror movies, so had it not been for my obsessive film binging, I would never have come close to this fetid tale of a vengeful leprechaun. I don't remember that is was particularly scary, really, but at least one person out there found it terrifying.

Sometime after Leprechaun, an episode of Saturday Night Live include a Wayne's World skit in which Garth confessed to being terrified by leprechauns since seeing the movie. So Wayne, that wacky character that he was, would periodically shine a flashlight in his own face (in a darkened room, I think), and exclaim "I'm the leprechaun!", which would cause Garth to go into paroxysms of fright. It was absolutely hilarious.

A couple of days before Farmington, I received an e-mail from an anonymous player who counseled me to take some of the edge off my logs or risk alienating many or most in the Scrabble community. I replied, but I have no way of knowing how effective I was in communicating that I log my traveling and Scrabbling not with the intention of winning a popularity contest, but rather to accurately preserve my experiences in the hopes of writing a book or otherwise incorporating them into a more polished work.

What I do know is that I experienced a kind of perverse pleasure from the fact that this person found me scary enough that he was unwilling to tell me what he had to say to my face because he thinks me "capable of anything." I was always thought of as eccentric in school, but I was never the scary guy. Being the heavy is a new experience, though I'd much rather be the heavyweight, Scrabbling-wise.

So it was with amusement that I imagined that this person, for some odd reason, is also scared of leprechauns, and that I could rattle him when I finally reach his division by showing up at the tournament in a leprechaun costume, and while we are playing occasionally whisper "I'm the leprechaun!" Would that be considered abusive behaviour, I wonder?

The Need

The week prior to the Farmington tournament saw the release of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the finally chapter in the trilogy. One of the central themes in the epic tale that of obsession with the ring of power. Gollum (Smeagol) is completely obsessed with the ring and becomes a wretched creature and finally destroyed by his pursuit of the ring. The hero Frodo Baggins, throughout the progress of his journey to destroy the ring, becomes more and more obsessed with it, and in the end is nearly lost himself.

The title of Stefan Fatsis' book appropriately includes the word "obsession", for Scrabble seems to have this power to foster latent obsessive tendencies in some players.

Virtually free of debt, except to the IRS and my parents, I was able to spend money more freely than in recent times. However, given the increasing number of countries where Starbucks has opened stores, I questioned the wisdom of spending the same amount on airfare, rental car, and associated expenses, that it would cost me for a bargain round-trip ticket to Europe during the off-season. But in the end, my need to recover the ratings points I'd recently lost was too strong, and I committed to playing a mere seven games in Farmington, MI. Since I would be near the bottom of a division including an 1800+ player, my potential for gain was considerable, if I could just get some good draws and, just as importantly, avoid making the stupid mistakes I'd been plagued with of late. The way I was playing, this trip was a dicey proposition, but I had to satisfy the ever-growing need.

The Blonde, the Brunette, and the Comedic Flight Attendant

Expecting heavy volume of travelers flying home for the weekend on a Friday evening, I gave myself plenty of time to reach Philadelphia International Airport and check-in. I was surprised to only find one-person waiting at the check-in counter, and no line at security. Ah, it was just as well. The 1 1/2 hours I'd have to wait before boarding would allow me more time to study, a task I had previously found difficult in mid-flight.

As I waited to board, the blonde ahead of me in the brown Tommy Hillfiger boots and long dark red woolen coat and matching cap was a true cutie. I daydreamed about how lucky I'd be to have her sitting next to me. But what were the odds, and besides I already knew I would be by myself. Each row only had three seats, A on one side and B and C on the other. In retrospect, the diagram I saw while booking the flight on the web clearly displayed the size of the plane. I should not have been surprised that it was so small. The giant eagles from The Lord of the Rings were larger than this plane. The doorway barely high enough for the passenger ahead of me, and the aisle so narrow that chaos ensued when that same passenger decided he needed to return to the front of the plane as everyone else was boarding. I cannot emphasize enough how narrow this aisle was, except to say that when I squeeze past the guy, it was the most intimate moment I'd experienced in a while.

Amazingly enough, the blonde was seated in B, across the aisle from me, and as narrow as the aisle was, I could have reached out and touched her--except that would have been a parole violation.

As we prepared for takeoff, the flight attendant decided to be a comedian. He started his explanation of how to use the seat belts by asking if of the passengers had not ridden in a car built after 1964. Then he proceeded to speed through the explanation like an auctioneer. But maybe this guy was onto something, because many of the passengers actually seemed to be paying attention.

As we took off, I remembered that earlier in the week had been the 100th anniversary of the Wright brothers historic flight at Kitty Hawk (Kill Devil Hill). I imagined how cool it would be to bring somebody from several hundred years in the past onto a airplane flight, just to see his reaction.

During the flight, it became apparent that I wasn't the only one who thought this girl was hot. The flight attendent spent most of the flight crouched down between us chatting with her. In fact, when a fire broke out in the back of the plane, the passengers back there had to handle it themselves because this guy was trying to make time with the blonde. She indicated later that she wes less than thrilled with his attention.

I actually managed some sleep on the short flight, and then caught up on my journal until I had to put the laptop away for landing. I actually managed to make small talk with the blonde, but when she asked why I was traveling I avoided mentioning Scrabble. As we taxied around the runways, and later waited for a staircase (up the the terminal) to become available, I pulled out my fresh list of -INGS words, and she looked over puzzled and asked what I was doing, commenting the page made her dizzy. So I went ahead and explained that I was studying Scrabble and in town for a tournament. At this point, the blonde quikckly lost all interest, but suddenly the brunette that had previously taken no notice of me started asking questions about Scrabble and the tournament and was subsequently friendly through the end of the flight. There's a lesson in this somewhere, I'm sure.

An hour after landing, we finally exited the plane and retrieved our carry-on bags. Because the plane was so small, usual-sized carry-ons would not fit in the overhead bins and had to be stored at the back of the plane. I guess it was quicker than checking my baggage, but it sort of defeated the purpose of limiting myself to carry-on, to save time. But it was all good, because an Enterprise shuttle was waiting right out side and the drive (after I woke him up) took me to their location immediately, where no matter how pleasant the staff, nor how pretty the attendant, the experience of renting an American car would always be lacking. This Pontiac Sunbird sucked particularly badly, and its design seemed to frustrate me in every way. The brakes were not just frustrating, but dangerous, as I had to pretty harder than normal to get the same stopping power.

I lucked out and the snow wasn't bad at all, so I made good time and was able to visit three new Starbucks in the suburbs by 11:00. Of course they were in the 'burbs, because Detroit still hasn't recovered enough for Starbucks to open new locations in the city proper. At the last of the three, in Bloomfield, one of the baristas advised me that I might find cheap motels down Woodward Ave. Having spent a couple of bills on this trip already, it made sense to spend $50 and get a good night's sleep. As I drove down Woodward, I was annoyed to find every single motel on the other side of the street. And here in the greater Detroit metro area, you can't just pull u-turns on most of the main roads. Finally I spotted one on my side, and I inquired about the price. Fifty dollars!!! For that price I could have booked a couple of nights at the Ramada on the Internet. Screw that! I ain't paying no $50 for a cheap motel room. $20, maybe $30, but not $50. I finally turned around on Woodward and inquired at one more place, but it did not rent by the night, only the week or longer. So I said screw it and decided to brave the cold.

While I was driving around, I noticed that Detroit seems to be infatuated with coneys. Every other restaurant was named XXX Coney Island. Classic Coney Island. Rick's Coney Island. George's Amazing Coney Island. I kid you not. Finally I gave in and stopped at one place--I can't even remember which Coney Island this was--and bought a crappy hot dog that the girl couldn't even get right. How does "plain" translate to weak-looking red sauce that she claimed was ketchup?

Even as late as 2:00 AM at the Farmer Jack on Michigan Ave where I decided to spent the night, it didn't seem that cold. Maybe it was the warmth exuded by the name "Farmer Jack". I mean, farmers are friendly folk, so how could I go wrong? As morning approached, it seemed to get colder, and I had to leave the car running longer to warm up. But the cold didn't really bother me so much as the design of the car that prevented me from getting comfortable. It seemed that no matter which way I turned, there was something poking me in uncomfortable places.

December 20

It was a good thing that I got up at 8:00 instead of 8:30, because I passed up the Starbucks I needed to visit on Telegraph by many, many miles, and had to double back. I had planned on rephotographing a store in Southfield before heading to Farmington, and according to my mapping program, I could still make it to Southfield and then to Farmington. But I finally learned something from my recent experiences arriving late at tournaments, and I didn't fly to Michigan to forfeit games, so I did the wise thing and headed straight to Farmington, except for a stop at Tim Horton's for a muffin. I had wanted a bagel sandwich, but amazingly enough, I could not find a single locally-owned bagel shop all up and down Telegraph. Wazzup???

I arrived at the community library in Farmington and immediately grumbled about a car taking up two spaces. But thinking about it, if I owned the fine piece of automotive craftsmanship that is this Chevy Cavalier, I too would inconvenience other drivers to make sure that it's beautifully colored exterior was left unmarred.

I was surprised when I entered the meeting room downstairs and saw Carol, because she did not appear as I remembered her. I decided that I must have been thinking of somebody else making an announcement at the Ardencup.

It was good to see a few other people I hadn't seen since Chicago, some of whom looked familiar but I couldn't quite place. But for some reason they remembered me. Maybe it's because Carol announced that the rumours were true, that Winter had arrived early. Danny Kidd I recognized from Reno, where we had a few good games in the main event and early bird(s).

OUT- Matched

It's a good thing I arrived on time, because Carol wasted no time in getting her show on the road and pairing the first round. OUT- words were a two-edged sword in my first game against Jeff Fiszbein. OUTDRINk got me my first bingo (though it should have been DURaTION or INDUcTOR), but later Jeff played OUTSHAkE* through my k. I'm close to 90% on 6 and 7-letter OUT- words, but I know few 8s, so I let it go, praying I could find a big bingo with the second blank I already held. But PETUNiAS was only 60 points, and with only a 10-point lead at that point, I couldn't score enough with the remaing tiles I drew to keep up Jeff's intermediate-point tiles. My one ray of hope was when I risked VIRILER* for an extra four points and the chance to go out the next turn--if two good tiles were left in the bag to go with my remaining R. I figured Jeff would let it go because if it was good, he might lose. He did let it go, but I drew RT to go with my R and couldn't go out, nor compete with his 34-point JIBS/MOPS play. Of course I would have won had I challenged OUTSHAkE*, but I won't beat myself up too much, because more than one expert has admitted to me not knowing all the OUT- words, so how can I be expected to know them.

After the first round, a player asks Carol if she's trying to confuse us with two different styles of scorecards. Poor guy complained he wasn't awake enough for that, and I could relate. In spite of ordering a unsually large (grande) coffee, it was taking it's time kicking in. Wouldn't have made a different in the first game, though--word knowledge was the deciding factor.

Lovely. Just lovely. The only reason Cheryl Cadieux did not draw all 10 power tiles (and the K) against me is that, almost at the very end, she tried to play OARINGS*/VELARS. I had to challenge, and it came off, and I was able to draw the remaining S and blank for FOND?ST. The only way for me to win was to try FONDeST/TWINEY*, but it was no good. Amusingly, I challenged because I doubted VELARS, which is good, and Cheryl commented afterwards she knew OARINGS* was good, but it's not. I almost wished her play had been good, because then she would had ended up with all the power tiles, and I would have had more of a reason to complain.

My luck really couldn't get any worse than that last game, and I really hoped it would improve, because to go through the trouble and expense to fly out to Michigan only to get crappy draws is a bit much to take.

Baa, Humbug!

Funny how three losses can make even the simple act of obtaining lunch a miserable experience, as every driver in your path as you try to find your way around becomes even more of an annoyance. I guess it didn't really matter what I had for lunch, as I would hardly be able to taste it anyway, so great was my disgust at the way this trip was unfolding. I couldn't really think of what I did wrong against Carolyn Easter. I played my blank for 55, JO/JOLE/OP, and I think that was the right decision. After she revealed her blank with the phony REGREAsE* that I challenged off, I blocked everywhere I could, and she did not bingo, but I just couldn't score the points. The problem with knowing lots of fours and fives is that when you can't get bingo racks, and your opponent is blowing you away, you have no choice but to feel utterly powerless. With no bingo opportunities, what other way is there to score than clever intermediate plays? But if you know the words, and the tiles just don't come together for any good plays, what are you to do?

As I left the Starbucks where I had my lunch (from Dagwood's Deli), I spotted a lady with a bundled up animal that looked to me like a very small sheep. I'm sure it must have been a dog, but it looked so much like a sheep that I wanted to ask her. I didn't, because I feared she would think me a complete idiot or a creep.

My luck improved after lunch as I won a door prize, a word-of-the-day calendar, and then opened with DRAPING against Bill Menor. Then I drew SLITHER, which looked to me like the same rack that my previous opponent had ended with. Weird. SLITHER + A looked so tempting, but there's nothing there. I had the choice of opening it up or trying to tighten it up. I chose the latter because Bill had commented he almost had a bingo after I played mine, so I guessed there was a blank or S in his rack. I couldn't stop his eventual CANDIES, and my lead evaporated. When I screwed up and tried to hook PEAKS to BOTT for 41 points, I really began to worry. He passed, and I played JAM to block an open A, and then he made a critical mistake. Knowing I had the S, he still played BIG, giving me BIGS/PESKy for 51. For the rest of the game, I just tried to preserve some lead and prevent Bill from giving himself a bingo line. It worked, but it still could have gone awry as, amazingly enough, holding QUEONTR, I had no place to play the Q. I had to set myself up with HAT for ROQUE, and I'm lucky Bill didn't block it with his blank.

Game five was just ridiculous. I led by 90 points, and Sonia Lyda played DUELINg. Fine. I play VINCA for 28, and she plays LITOTES. I'm still in it after playing POMS for 33, and then she playings RAIDING. How do you win when your opponent draws bingo after bingo out of the bag? But she's only up by 50, and the bag still holds BCFGQ--easily enough to make up the difference. But with ending racks AEIIUUR and AIIIUUR to end the game, how could I possibly win? I felt that I was being intentionally punished for the folly of having dared to come out here and try and recover ratings points. I came here to play Scrabble, but more often than not I'm finding myself a spectator witnessing my opponent dance all over the board. Words cannot describe how sick I am of games like that.

Flash Hate

After the game, I sit down to write as usual, and one of my opponents comes up and asks the ever-irritating "What are you doing?" I give her a blank stare and reply "I'm writing." She's clearly offended and/or irritated and indignantly says "Excuse me" and walks off, probably to go tell her friends what an asshole I am for giving her a straight answer to a needless question. I doubt she realizes just how gracious I was being by not saying "I hate you, and hope you die."

In my younger days, I had the idea that society would be better if humans could abandon "negative" emotions like anger, hate, envy, and fear (irrational fear). I thought I could set an example for others by eliminating these feelings from myself. Along came Scrabble, and that plan went out the window. As my rating increased, increasing it further became more important to me, and I was flooded with negative emotions when my efforts were frustrated. At the same time, the joy of my victories was tempered by the thought that I could have done better.

The intensity of my anger and hate, which I coined "flash hate" got me thinking about the idea that hate itself, if pure, could be beautiful in the sense that purity is beautiful. Of course if you tell the average person that pure hate can be beautiful, he is likely to look at you like you are insane. But the more creative person might run with the idea, and try to find a definition for pure hatred. That is a challenging task in and of itself. We would immediately have to rule out hatred stemming from prejudice, including racism and sexism and the like. In fact, it would seem than hate born of any reason could not be pure. Pure hatred would have to exist for no reason at all. It was immediately obvious my periods of Scrabble-motivated flash hatred were anything but pure.

The latest, and long overdue, book in Stephen King's Dark Tower series includes the line, "But how you feel and how long you feel it doesn't always have a lot to do with objective truth." These words ring true, and are truly appropriate to my situation. Anyone can see that those who simply take advantage of good Scrabble draws are completely blameless--no wrong in fact has been done. So why should I be angry with these opponents? I am troubled by an inability to answer that question.

A Deserved Loss, and an Undeserved Win

A recent word of the day, TARLETAN, fresh in my mind, I decided to give TARLTING* a try against Danny Kidd, just for the heck of it. As soon as he challenged, I saw RATTLING and my heart sank--how did I not see that? Thankfully, he didn't see it either, and failed to block, and soI got to play it next turn. ROLLIN?S would have won me the game, but even though I had been looking at the list of 7 and 8-letter -ING words, I didn't remember seeing it, so I tried for a better bingo rack, which never came. If you don't know the words, you gotta know when to gamble and when to play it safe.

I must point out that I was impressed with how fast Carol paired each round. With her modified Swiss pairings, scorecards were turned in after each round in order to pair the next. To me, this seems like the best way to do it, but I can see why it would not be as feasible for a large tournament.

Bizarrely enough, the reason I won my last game might have been because of a mistake on my part. As I was working out the bingos in AEIIDL? and looking at a glaring S-hook, Dorothy Laws beat me to it with SCANTER. There was another hook for sEDILIA, but it was more dangerous, and I so I chose LIAISED/SCANTERS*, forgotting that SCANTER is an adjective. She challenged it off, of course, and then I played my sEDILIA, leaving the A next to the DWS on the TWS column. She challenged, which allowed me to gain the lead with 40 points on that prime spot. It was still close enough that she could have won the endgame with that S, but she got a little too bold, trying to score 44 with LUGS/ZING/SKAB*. I was 90% sure SKAB* was phony, but even if I had not been, the 44-point play would have left me no choice but to challenge. In a close endgame, an intentional phony cannot score so many points as to force the opponent to challenge. Instead it needs to score just enough make a win possible, but also to allow the opponent to think he can win.

As the word judge gave his report, Dorothy chuckled. Clearly she was one of those people that actually enjoys playing the game. Must be nice.

The library closed at 6:00, and we were running a little behind, so Carol had to skip the prize ceremony. Not that it made it a difference to me, 2-5. Still I was amazed at how well Carol ran the tournament pretty much by herself, with a few word judges helping. It seemed like she was always running around, either word judging or posting results or making and announcing pairings. For my part, her director of the year award was well deserved. But when she suggested I come to the March event, I could not show much enthusiasm, as Michigan had not worked out for me.

I quickly left Farmington, left to wonder what had changed in the past month that I was making so many mistakes. Or had I been making the same mistakes all the while and just been lucky to win the games anyway? I visited the remainder of the new Starbucks in Michigan, but I was just going through the motions, wholly disheartened. More...

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