One Down, Three to Go (or Whoopee! A Cushion!)

February 12, 2004

I left for Pennsylvania on Friday night for some early-morning Starbucks adventuring, and then I spent the rest of the day studying and playing until dinner at a new Colombian restaurant on 5th Street, Rincon Colombiano. My route towards Center City took me through a heavily patrolled part of town, along Allegheny Ave, where I finally had another encounter with Philly's "finest".

I think I had gone some six months without a moving violation, and I'd never been ticket for running a red light, so I guess it was about time. I wasn't that upset about the prospect of getting a ticket, but at the officer's attitude. He was pissed because, in his estimation, I'd taken too long too pull over, and so he copped an attitude as he ticketed me.

I'd had enough of these cops thinking they ruled the streets--it was time for 15 years of fantasies to be made manifest. So I told reality to take a walk, and when he went back to his car I yelled out "Yo mama!" I was immediately embarrased, for the simply reason that I'd gone to college for five years and majored in two disciplines, and the best I could come up with in a pinch was "Yo mama!"

The officer quickly returned to my window and shouted "What the fuck did you say?" Note the use of the expletive, mandatory for police officers post NYPD Blue.

"Oh, I was just singing along to the radio."

"I don't hear any radio."

"I turned it down. Here, listen." Tuned to XPN, a very unrap-like Alison Krauss song was playing. "Um, the rap song must have ended."

The cop gave me a long look and then said "You better watch yourself." before walking away.

I drove far, far away to find a place to sleep.

February 13

After a full night's sleep, the morning went more smoothly than the previous night's foibles. I visited a couple of new Starbucks in Center City and then headed over to my usual pre-tournament hangout, the Starbucks on Callowhill, to get my ass thoroughly whupped on ISC for a couple of hours by some punk named seaninstar who I'm now convinced is cheating. After some healthy organic victuals from the Whole Foods across the street, I arrived at the Parent Infant Center with plenty of time to contemplate how I would do smack in the middle of a field that suddenly included Marlon Hill. Yep, he was on my roster, game 3.

I was on guard against Dominic Grillo from the moment he opened with OLE. But I was able to score enough for three turns that when he finally got down his bingo ISOBARES, I go down LAnCIERS for slightly more to keep my lead. Unfortunately, my racks fizzled from that point, and Dominc drew the second blank to bingo and win. I did in fact pass up a bingo, ALCAIdE, because it slotted next to the triple and I was sure Dominc had an S, but given that I know none of the eights through the open I and T, I think AI for 19 was an okay play. No, if I screwed up it was later in the game when my racks fizzled and I successively played GED for 18, GIE for 16, and EQUINE for 17 instead of exchanging to try and draw some ammunition.

Against Mitchell Brook my mistake was more glaring. After successfully challenging off his HAGGIEST* to maintain a solid bingo lead, I decided to get bold and challenge his PIGGIEST that brought him within 6. I could have played NAZI for 33, but instead I lost the momentum and got outscored for the rest of the game. I had the second blank, but I missed a couple of bingos, REtURNER and TINKlIER.

So after two games, it looked like I was finally going to have my bad tournament. However, after my amazing third game, whatever happened, I'd walk away with the satisfaction of having beaten one of the Word Wars Four, Marlon Hill. Of course I can't really claim that I won the game, because an 1100 player couldn't have lost that game. Naturals RETAKEN, ERASION, and RULINGS, plus JAILS for 40, EPOXY for 72, and ZIBET for 48 let to a 175-point victory. The two plays I can really take credit for were my opening MILCH. Maybe also WHORT that blocked Marlon's triple triple, but he had also thrown a T out on another triple line--I just took my best scoring play and happened to get lucky.

Needless to say, Marlon was not happy for most of the game. Expletives abounded. But finally, towards the end, the blowout became so ridiculous.

During lunch I listened to a U2 song, "Crumbs From Your Table", over and over. There was a line--"Where you live should not decide whether you live or whether you die."--that had me convinced that the song was not about love, but rather about how the U.S. treats third world countries. But even after a few listens I couldn't see any further connection. I needed Google to see if I could find something.

Crumbs From Your Table

Against Scott Appel, I felt like I was getting the crumbs from the tile bag. He opened with DOGIE, and I with DULIA. OUTSEWS*/DULIAS immediately struck me as questionable. I had gone over the OUT words many times, but I couldn't be sure that OUTSEW* wasn't on it. And I had no idea about DULIAS, but I figured I had two chances to hit, so I challenged. Not being sure which was the phony, I couldn't let him hook DOGIE, and I couldn't see how to block and shape my AAENNOT, so I threw NEONATE out there and hoped there were no eights and to draw some ammo. Drawing AAEIIOV must have flustered me, because I failed to see the obvious block to Scott's OW that left him with EUSST and a glaring S hook.

My racks continue to frustrate me, requiring an exchange, and when I finally draw into aDORNER I pull AAEEEET, requiring another exchange. Scott just scored 39 for JEER and 36 for JOULE, and I'm down a bingo again, so I play AMETHYLS* with no hesitation, praying that he would let it go--he does. After the game, he gave the fact that I played it so quickly as a reason for having led it go, validating my belief that phonies played quickly are more likely to stay on the board. The phony caught me up, but Scott quickly regained the momenting with ZED, and I was in a dilemma. If I blocked the bingo line with a low scoring play, I would fall further behind and probably lose. So I took my best scoring play, RAFTER for 39, even though it opened up many lines for him to bingo through, and he did. Later, I see that I could have blocked with VERA/REV/RE for 22, but its doubtful I could have fended off Scott's blank and S. Later still, Maven showed me the obvious block that I missed from the diagram above, and that I missed ANEURISM, and that I could have played REEARN for 21 instead of exchanging when I held AEEEERN. Fact is, I was playing frustrated because my draws weren't easy, were requiring more thought, and this was affecting my play. Nervousness was probably a factor. I needed to relax. I needed to score some valium before Danbury!

Maven analysis also revealed that I gave up a lot of equity against Dominic. My initial impressions that I should have exchanged were wrong. I could in fact have scored more and improved my rack, but I missed obvious plays. That lack of board vision thing was really beginning to plague me.

Jim Kille had taken some time off from tournament, nothing in the three months since Stamford, and since I was no longer playing at the Philadelphia club I hadn't played him forever it seemed. I was looking forward to showing off some of my newfound word knowledge, but the board turned so ugly so quickly that I knew I wasn't going to be slinging any of the eights I'd been studying. Ugly and uninteresting or not, I picked up a much-needed win.

My game against Verna Berg was more interesting, and after she leapfrogged me with MENTIONs it looked like she was finally going to get me. When she killed the next-to-last bingo line and I found myself with BGGNOU?, I took a lot of time deciding whether to try and outscore in the end game or give up some points to balance my rack and try for the one line left, through an S. Well, GO/JO scored only 12, and the BUNG leave wasn't great, but there were Is in the bag, and the open S was slotted just right to give me a shot a a -SING eight. I think Verna, with a 30-point lead and a blank unseen, should have blocked it, but she played elsewhere for 17, and, kablingety-blam, I got down BRUiSING. Then an inspired find, TIDBIT for 33, sealed the game.

After the game, she asked me about that daddy web site that Jim Hughes had put together, and whether I might be her daddy. I knew I had beaten her four times, but I couldn't remember if she had ever beaten me. She seemed to remember a game during an early bird in Parisppany that she won, but I drew a blank. Later it occurred to me that I could easily determine how many times we had played by using my handy-dandy results database. Nope, if my records are correct, I am in fact 4-0 against Verna. Whose yer daddy!!!

If I went 3-4, I didn't think I'd lose too many points, and I was eager to work out the math, but what I really needed to do was win that seventh game and pick up a few!

I faced Jim Kille again in the final round, and I encouraged him to play more open so I could demonstrate the word knowledge I'd picked up in the past few months. While not wide open, the board did have some bingo lines, but clunky racks plagued me for the better part of the game, and I fell steadily behind. I made an early mistake by reverting to my defensive ways and giving up 10 points, OFT instead of OXID, in order to avoid giving up the hook. Well, I couldn't draw the vowels I needed to make use of my X, and I dwelled on having played OFT, and I ended up losing my focus and a turn when I hooked a U for LYNX and Jim challenged off my UL*.

Then Jim got down SYNDETIc, and that C really screwed things up for me, and it was hard to see how I'd come back. But then Jim hooked SYNDETIC with an A as he had planned, but gave me a 36-point VOWEL in the process, and then he proceeded to give me another gift that both me and Marlon sitting hext to me had to chuckle over, REY*. I took the spot for 17, and while I was still down 35, the game didn't look so hopeless. I still needed to open the board though. Jim successfully blocked all my openings, but in doing so I outscored him to the point that I no longer needed to bingo, and with the second blank, and his forgetting about the Q, I pulled it out.

While not ecstatic, I was far from displeased at my 4-3. As Matt said, I had "held [my] own". In fact, Dominic, above 1800, and Scott Appel, about 100 points above me, were also at 4-3. Only Bobbie Butterfield at 6-1 had done better, so I really had nothing to feel bad about. And I was sure I'd pick up at least 10 ratings points, adding to my cushion for the inevitable fall that was to come.

I took off once again with Terry Kang and Stefan Rau, and also Cecilia Le, and, later, Mr. 7-0 himself, Jeff Jacobson (aka Puff Daddy) to the Philly Cafe for dinner. Taking pity on me for the troubles I was going through with Jodi that left me mateless for Valentine's Day (possibly the most cruelest holiday ever), Cecilia allowed me to pretend she was my date for the evening. But when my hand mysteriously ended up on her thigh, she had to draw the line. She was, of course, already taken, but as learned via the gossip that was bandied about the table, Scrabble players seem to have no scruples about crossing relationship lines.

As a side note, quite possibly the only people that were hating Valentine's Day more than me and Jodi were the frat pledges seen running around Walnut Street, naked except for shorts and cupid wings. The very reason you couldn't have paid me anything to join a fraternity in college. See Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons for more on fraternities.

February 14

Curses! I knew it was going to happen! I forgot the Whole Foods orange juice I had left cooling under my car, next to my tire. I didn't leave it more visible because in the past I had a bottle of Tradewinds tea stolen that way.

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