The Suck Zone


Sunday, March 6, 2005

Misappropriate Hopefulness

Shortly after the release of Jan de Bont's hit movie Twister, Bill Paxton appeared on Letterman (I think). Letterman, in his interminally wacky manner, kept referring to "the suck zone", until finally Paxton told him he didn't think "suck zone" was an actual scientific term. Well, let me tell you there is a suck zone, and I forged headlong inside it at Richard Popper and Nancy Hanley's inaugural Wilmington (DE) tournament.

I was spared the cold by the offer of a room at the West Philly Scrabble Bed and Get-Your-Own Breakfast. It wasn't as opulent as the Bailey Estates, but I appreciated a bed none the less. Though my alarm yanked me from a dream just minutes before the secrets of the universe were about to be revealed to me by a sultry mistress, I still felt quiet rested and hopeful, and grateful towards Jim. Don't let anybody tell you Philadelphia isn't the city of brotherly love, unless you are talking about Wi-Fi scrooges. When I got out to my car my laptop detected no fewer than three networks, and all were password-protected. Bastard!

I reached Wilmington in plenty of time for my mandatory Starbucks, mere minutes from the tournament venue at Marsh & Silverside. I asked about a locally owned bagel shop (because all the chains microwave their eggs). The barista could not think of one other than Einstein Bros. or Manhattan Bagel, but he insisted that over at Manhattan they served real fried eggs (instead of that microwaved crap). At the same time he recommended a place called the Hollywood Grill as having a good breakfast. Since I still had plenty of time, I headed over there.



I felt like I was in Florida when I walked in and saw wall-to-wall geezers, and some families. No young people to speak of, except one girl, maybe late 20s or early 30s, reading The Da Vinci Code. She looked a bit mental though.

I almost passed up the venu, the Jewish Community Center in Wilmington, but I spotted a group of odd-looking people getting out of a car--they had to be Scrabble players. The basketball court served as our playing room, which was actually a really good choice--we had plenty of room. The one downside was that I entered to find Joe Geibler and others engaged in fruitless attempts to throw a round orange sphere through a circular opening. Best they stick to Scrabble, I thought, especially after a couple of us got whacked in the head.

Two sets of power outlets were used up by the directors table and the refreshment/adjudication table. I would have felt ill-at-ease without my laptop, my second brain, and so I scoured the gym until I found some juice, hanging from a corner.


Commenceth the Sucking

I finally had my chance to overcome the fearsome fortune of the Luckster. His scoring was modest throughout most of the game, and his only really lucky place was 82-points for SQUAD on an S hook that hung out there for three turns. Despite this, I was able to keep the score close with 86 for BELChING. But I blew the game outright by missing my out bingo, KArATES, and lost by 3. Not a good way to start, losing to the lowest-rated of the three in my quad. I could not seriously expect things to get any easier against Stefan Rau and Pete Armstrong (who ended up coming in first and second), the other two in my speed-pairing quad.

Ordinarily I would have completedly blamed my loss on my opening phony, MOOK*, a word not on my lists because its from my real-life vocabulary, but giving up that one turn hardly mattered after Pete proceeded to play ZANyiSH for 104, and I proceeded to draw crap for the rest of the game. Only one power tile, an S, on my next-to-last turn when there were no open lines and I was down almost 300 anyway so what did it matter. After the game, Pete told me at some point I had to give up trying for a bingo and just cut the spread.

Stefan Rau struck first with VeNTRAL. I wasn't sure if it took an S, but I found a play through the L, FILAREES, and I started to think I might have a chance. Not so fast, said Stefan. But FIZ for 45 followed by the phony PYGIDES* for another 45 put me far enough behind that I feared to lose a turn with an exchange, so I took 17, 23, and 17, points, just barely keeping from falling further behind, before I finally managed the first leave that could possibly lead to a bingo, EIUT. But it was promptly ruined by drawing IOT, and after a desperation play, ZITI for 13, leaving EOUT, I finally had to give up and dump my AAEOOUT. Why is it so hard to resist the urge to score when a rack screams exchange? Well, Stefan got down ISOpRENE to extend his lead to 100, and I figured I had to flat out get lucky to win, so I slotted AXON under the triple line and crossed my fingers. Of course Stefan had one of the two remaining Ts, and for SHUNTED nonetheless, rendering my ANTLERS rather ineffective.

Not only was 0-3, but with Stefan's 200-point pounding I was down a whopping 523, doubtlessly in last place, and well on my way to earning a new nickname "The Suckster". A great name perhaps in the porn industry, but not in Scrabble.


Munchies and Madness

I was drawing so poorly that I started to write off Wilmington and look ahead towards Charlotte for redemption. Of course, that depended on my not getting bumped down to Division 2 (aka The Tenth Circle of Hell), where the potential ratings loss would be tremendous.

I left to drown my sorrows in a leftover slice of the fatherland and the replentitve power of the glorious bean. After heating my leftovers, went over to the Starbucks and asked ordered a short coffee. Then I asked if she could throw in a couple of the cyanide caplets they keep in the first aid kit, you know, to make the pain go away. She just gave me a queer look and shuffled off.

On the way back, I continued eating my leftovers. Now, it was good food, but, like most Latin American restaurants I've been too, the meat is not of the highest quality and often very rough. I try not to swallow the parts I can't chew up, and when I tossed one chunk out the window the wind caught it and blew it into a passing car. I guess it must have hit the drive in the eye, because the car started weaving back and forth and then ran into a ditch. I floored the engine and didn't look back, figuring it was the driver's fault for not maintaining control of his vehicle and, if he got hurt, for not wearing a seat belt.

I passed a KARATE school on the way back. Grrr...

I got to a point in my simulation of my game against Mark when I discovered that BHUT is indeed good. I had it on the board, and it would have scored 6 more points and a slightly better leave. But I wasn't sure, and I pulled it back. WHY! WHY! WHY!!! I've gone over those Bs a million times! WHYYYYYYYY!!! I went nuts, started screaming, hitting my steering wheel, and pounding the roof of my car. I clearly alarmed the lady in the suburban behind me because she backed off a bit.


A Brief Respite From Suckage

I took my time finishing lunch out in the car, and when I got back into the gym I went over to my opponent, Erica Noriss, started my clock to avoid impatience on her part, and then went back to brush my teeth and relax. I figured the way things were going it was tiles, not time, that I needed. And when I got back to the table with 22:36 on my clock, I needed no time to find the bingo in AIMORST, nor the optimal play LUNACY after that. It's so much easier when the tiles cooperate. I had to slow down on my next turn, but Erica was already down around 20 minutes, and I wasn't worried about time. But a couple of turns later she started to come back--I had to let HOGhEAD*, ridiculous though it seemed, go, because it had to be beyond the probability range of words I'd studied, and I couldn't let her have the triple in addition to the bingo. Then she scored a quick 69 points with QUID and MIKE/EQUID, and was faced with a problem.



Holding OLNRVS? and leading 212-188, I couldn't hook MIKE without using my blank, and though I hated to use it for 35 points, if I she had an S and slotted and intermediate-point tile on the DLS, she would take the lead. So I played ViRLS, a play that ended up simulating dead last, by 17.2 equity points. Regardless of what actually occurred, and the simulation results, I still have no idea what the right play was in this situation.

What actually happened was she managed to hook STAGIER along an improbable line, and suddenly I was in real trouble. WODGE regained me the lead, but it was anybody's game until I decided to risk it all and hook AILERON to SHEW. I wasn't sure of SHEWN, not at all, but I was sure I would lose otherwise. It was good, and once I blocked the final bingo line with EN (under AILERON) for 2 points, there was nowhere she could get the bingo she needed to win except through the W. I also played EN for 2 because otherwise I'd empty the bag, and who knew what freaky bingo existed through the W, even if the tile pool was improbabl--AAEEIHNNT.

Even though I beat Richard Julian, my suckitude continued when I opened with COCA, and then when Richard turned the board around, I immediately saw COCOA. In fact, when I saw my AEOOUCC rack, I immediately thought CACAO, but I didn't think of COCOA. What the hell is wrong with me? I did make a few good decisions, though, like letting UNTOURED* for 60 go in favor of taking 42 points for KIDDIE rather than risking a lost turn and triple-triple like in Farmington. And later, not getting greedy and trying SOuLMATE*, which Richard knew is no good, in favor of the more defensive MALTOSe. Similarly, I passed up REPROVER, sticking with REPROVE to insure I killed off those bingo lines. There was no way I could come back and place, so I had to ensure my victory and couldn't afford to get greedy.


Spy Game

My leftovers had made a hearty meal, and as is often the case with good food, I was compelled into the bathroom to restore nature's balance. As I sat, I was puzzled to see sprinkles of a liquid splattering at my feet. I looked down, and I was making quite a mess. The reason was that the toilet was designed for the disabled, and the seat was elevated by it's thickness.



With an ordinary toilet seat, a man's manness is pointing into the toilet, and thus urine flows into the toilet. But with the elevated seat, the flow of urine happened to align with the gap between the seat and the rim, and the result was a mess on the floor as well as soaked briefs. I removed my briefs of course, but I had a dilemma. I had nothing to carry them back into the gym with, and I thought it might look funny to have them in my hand. So I needed to hide them in the bathroom until I could retrieve them later. But where? As I pondered, I imagined that I was spy who needed to conceal secret evidence before the enemy burst into the room. What was available to me in that confined space?



The light? The sink? The trash? The paper towel dispenser? The no-smoking sign? The mirror? The toilet paper rolls? The... whatever?

I first thought of stuffing it down the bottom of the trash, but I quickly remembered and anecdote from when I was in high school. I was riding the school bus home when somehow--I can't remember how the topic came up--the girl next to me revealed that in her household, they threw toilet paper in the trash and used air freshener to cover up the odor. I asked why they didn't flush it down the toilet, and she said that it would clog. I tried to explain that toilet paper was designed to be flushed, but she was having none of it. Every since then, I've wondered how this freakish subculture of people evolved that throw toilet paper in the trash.

Anyway, every since then, I've hestitate to dig in the trash in a bathroom. Anyway, after a couple of minutes, I hit upon a solution.

When I returned to the gym, Matt called out for Phil to stop my clock, which had been started. Matt asked if I had had "bathroom issues", and I had to chuckle inside--if he had only known. Anyway, I got a reprieve from time loss.


Return of the Suck

I thought I might actually have Phil Kretschman, but my draw fell apart. The game started wackily when he plays CHITT*, and I'm holding ANEROID. I know I can play through the T, but I'd review my five-letter Cs before Danbury, and I was sure it was phony, maybe a confusion of CHOTT and CHIRR. Turns out Phil did it on purpose, like in a recent thread on CGP, because when I played my bingo he played through with THEMATIC. But a couple of turns later, I played CARLINGS and won an extra turn to extend my lead to 86. That was the highlight of my game, not just because I won the challenge but because it had been over a year since I had created a list of 7s and 8s ending in -INGS, and CARLINGS was the first word from that list I'd played in tournament. I'd had a chance to play ARMINGS in an earlier tournament, but missed the hook, and I'd played DARNINGS at club, but at long last that list had paid off in a tournaments.

But the game quickly went downhill when Phil (reluctantly) slotted DISsOLVE next to the triple line. He had little to worry about, for I would not be able to draw the tiles I needed for the rest of the game. Holding EEIIONP, I played POISE to slot the P at I1, figuring that playing four tiles and leaving EIN I had a good chance of either A) drawing an D, R, or S; B) drawing something that scored off the P; C) drawing into a bingo.



Well, I struck out on all three counts. Phil scored off the P, GRIPY, then off DISsOLVE, with SOLEREt. I continued to gamble and lose, hanging HIVE next to a triple line, but then not drawing the S or D I needed. Just desperation, that was all. To compound my luck, I was so frustrated that I lost my focus and lost a turn playing OFT/OSH* instead of AFT/ASH. I ended up losing by 24, exactly what I scored on that turn. AARRGHH!

Later, I found out that THEMATIC does take an S. I could have played TONNERS, and Phil would have challenged, and I probably would have won! What kind of screwed up world do we live in where a word like THEMATIC takes an S???

As my 2-4 self sat down to play 0-6 Mitch Brook, I could hear Billy Ocean singing in the background... "in the suck, zone, you don't have suck alone." If I had any doubts about my suckage before, my final game left no doubt.

Despite my earlier success against Julian at avoiding greed and taking the sure win, I thought it would be cool to play an OUT- bingo along the last open line, a U. That was a mistake in and of itself, but in addition, I had screwed up much earlier in the game and misadded 86 and 85 to come up with 151. So with the remaining power tiles (?ZS), I thought that with a lead I could dick around and try to fish for the E I needed for OUTSIZEd, and even blow a turn play AG for 3 to create another bingo line, when I could have easily won without a bingo.

That was okay, though--I still had the tiles to win. All I had to do was go out. And I could have, with AUDIENTS/STIRs, but even though I was sure I'd seen AUDIENTS before, I wasn't 100% sure. So I looked around the board to see if Mitch could score enough with his AO to win, and I... missed... it. I played STIR/STOW for 23, leaving myself the blank, and then proceeded to do a double-take as Mitch played a very obvious AZO for 19 to win by 3.

That was the pretty much the final blow, the play that convinced me that I was doomed to eternal suckage. Anybody else, even a novice, would have won that game.

Descartes attempted to prove that the existence of a god. His proof is flawed, and easily dismantled by a first-year philosophy student. Years later, I now have proof that there is in fact no god, at least not a perfect one, because no true god would suffer the existence of such a sucky Scrabble player as myself.


The I-95 Classic

Pete Armstrong, Dave Englehart (aka Jingle Dave), and Florence Spanfelner (aka Florence Spanfelder) left at least five minutes before me, maybe 10, as I went over some simulations stuff. As I headed back to Maryland, I wondered how long it would take me to catch up to them. Took me about 20 miles. Upon passing the toll plaza in Delaware I spotted Dave, waved at the three, and then left them in the dust. Needless to say, Florence did not attempt to race me.

Further south, I spotted a small green car with CT plate SCRABA. I wondered if it was another player. I tried to take a photo, but it's really hard to capture a licnese plate from a moving car without a real powerful zoom.



I arrived back in Silver Spring, soon went to bed, watched the rest of the "Confidence Man" episode of Lost, and as usual prayed to never wake up, that the sweet release of death would finally relieve me of my mortal burdens. Jodi doesn't understand--she thinks Scrabble is just a game and that it's silly to take it so seriously. I think she lacks the proper perspective.

Actually, what I was really praying for was a pillow. Turned out that my "free" night at Jim's had turned out to cost me, because I left my special pillow in his guest room. I ended up having to spend $5.69 for a replacement pillow and pillowcase. That's $2.92 for the pillow, $2.50 for the pillowcase, and 5% sales tax, at Wal-Mart.


March 9

While simulating my game against Phil I discovered that if I had found the correct move, I would have blocked Phil's dead DISsOLVE, or at least forced him to try and hook THEMATIC, which he might or might not have done. I felt a surge of anger at myself, and a sudden urge to slice my nuts off. Then I ran the simulation again, and the results were different--I got to keep my nuts.

Oh... my... god!!! EONNRSW has not one, but two bingos! Goodbye, nuts.



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