Skillz or Lukk?

Saturday, May 26, 2007

After an 18-Starbucks day that started in South Bend, took me as far south as Bedford, IN, and then all around Cincinnati, I finally made it to the final store in Fairborn, OH, and finished at 12:09 AM. I e-mailed Matt, telling him I had 588 (actually 535 I realized later) miles to drive, which could be done, but only if I slept about 4 hours max. I said I might have to forfeit the first game.

I got underway, and with all the caffeine in my system I was able to drive a good long time, til around 1:30, before I started to struggle against the fatigue. The radio, lowering the window, and following a fast-moving car all helped for a while, but as the clock passed 2:00, I had to resort to the nuclear option, my emergency porn. My old laptop had a problem with the audio, and I already had a new one, but not yet loaded up with software and files. I had to fish around the space under one of the back seats to find that beat up old disc I bought in Mexico (just out of curiosity). In contrast to what the experts would probably say about distracted driving, this distracting and physical effort of lifting up the seat with one hand actually helped keep me away, though I would have hated to have to explain to a cop why my car was weaving back and forth, especially at that hour, when drunks tended to be out, and on Memorial Day weekend even.

Anyway, I found the DVD and popped it into the new laptop, and the invariable effect of the life-saving porn was to help keep me awake. Of course, I had to be extremely careful, because I could not risk triggering a physiological reaction that, in real life, often results in loss of motor control followed by loss of consciousness. I can hardly think of a more embarassing reason for crashing a car.

Eventually the porn got old, and I pulled off the highway into some small town, Zanesville, and drove around looking for a stray cat that I could capture and take with me, figuring the effort of fighting off its scratching would keep me awake a while.

Amazingly, I managed to make it all the way out to the Pennsylvania Turnpike and the first service area. I had managed to drive until 3:36, and I probably fell asleep more quickly than any time in recent memory.

At 5:20 the sky was light, and I could have started driving, but I decided it would be more prudent to get one more hour of sleep, maybe two, even if I had to forfeit a game.

6:46, decided it was time to go, go, go.

The hydro-magnetic yuck monster is Scottish!!!

8:35, stopped for gas and a Cinnabon, and when I reentered the turnpike traffic it appeared that traffic was heavier, those Memorial Day travelers finally awake.

As much as I hate SUVs and their drivers, I was grateful for the one that blazed past me, allowing me to follow and make great speed. Unfortunately, the mad fool was going too fast and taking those turnpike curves like a demon. I managed to keep with him a good distance by flooring it when I had a straight, clear, stretches, and I actually managed to hit 115+ MPH during a slight downgrade!!! Whoda thunk it.

10:50, checked in with Matt, giving an ETA of 11:30.

Still Got Chops?

11:08, exited turnpike. Time to face what worried me most (besides passing out), the traffic on I-76 eastbound into the city, which I had often found to be a nightmare. But this time it worked out, and had I not missed the 30th Street exit thanks to unfriendly drivers, I would have arrived right around 11:30. The delay cost me about 5 minutes, and I rushed in to find my opponent, Joe Bihlmeyer, waiting, and my clock down to 5:19. I felt energized, though, and I played like those speed matches in Stamford. To add to my burden, Joe started off with INERTIA, then BL(I)TZ for 34 to hit 100, then two turns later, CRITE(R)IA. Perhaps my time trouble actually helped me, because I did not have time to agonize over his score--I just played my tiles, though suboptimally. PIRANaS was not the best bingo, and I gave up a lot of equity on most turns, but I caught a big break midway, DEX(Y) for 61, to take the lead. By that point, Joe was actually low on time himself, and I managed to win it in the endgame because he went 3 minutes over. Whoa, hell of a game!!! Matt looked genuinely surprised to see me bring up the tally slip.

During the game, we had a crazy overdraw situation, a first for any of us, including Matt. I overdrew by two, but Joe did not realize this and only put one tile back in the bag. I put the other two back on my rack, and I quickly realized I had eight. I called Matt over, and he puzzled over what to do for a few seconds until Joe pointed out that he had seen all three tiles, so I was able to put them back on the table and have Joe pick another one. Problem solved.

I felt energized after that win, and perhaps that helped stave off fatigue during my next two games, both close wins, against Shahid and some new guy, Augustine Adda, not from Ethiopia but rather Ghana. Really, I do think it important, or respectful at least, to keep these different African countries straight. While bearing in mind, of course, that the whole concept of nations is primitive. Anyway, Augustine knows some words--ELODEA, HAPLOI(D), NIOBI(T)ES, and (T)ANNIN. Only drawing that second blank (for a meagre 17 points at the end) gave me the edge.

I finally started to feel some fatigue during my game against Rahn, but what really got me was his beating me to the bingo line. I was all set to play PEERIES when he played LInKAGE, and the board was already bingo-unfriendly. I suppose technically I could have almost evened the game had I challenged off (A)DJURY*, but I really had no reason to know it was a phony. Later, he bingoed again with SALuTES, followed by LINTIER, and the game turned into a rout.

The Three Mistakes of Death

For my next three losses, I had no one to blame but myself. First, against Bradley Whitmarsh, I misplayed O(D)IA*, and after a 22-point loss it was clear that that one turn had made the difference. Then, against Noel Livermore, I thought that in my study of 8s I should have seen DIs(V)ALUE and challenged. That game was not as close, 83 points, but had I not challenged I could have cut Noel's lead to maybe 30 points, and with a blank unseen, I might have been able to win it. Finally, I almost had David Koenig, but at the very end I mistracked and H and set him up for a 29-point play that was huge in light of an 18-point final spread. Ouch, ouch, and ouch!!!

It was only because I was so tired that I didn't feel more despondent over having blown my 3-0 opening. As I walked out into the plaza, I wondered out loud if I needed to hit myself in the nuts repeatly with the bottle of Tradewinds I was carrying, as a means of bringing my mistakes straight home, baby. Mitch didn't think it would work, but he said that if my voice rose a few octaves I should apply to his school of rock.

Speaking of Tradewinds, after nine weeks I had almost gone through all 5 or 6 cases I had loaded up my car with before I left the state. Bound Beverages is closed on Sunday (PA law), and only open 9-3 on Memorial Day, so despite my fatigue I had to rush up there and pick up five cases. Given my proximity to the Turnpike, I went ahead and slept at the service plaza. Sure, I had to pay the toll, but I avoid having to drive around looking for a secure place to park.

While rearranging my car in order to fit the cases of Tradewinds, I discovered something truly amazing. My original (post-laundry) pair of socks, which I had determined to be expired after 29 days of rapid cycling, had come back to life! That is to say, they had regained a level of freshness that permitted me to throw them back into the rotation without feeling yucky. It was kind of like the story of Lazarus. Perhaps Jesus had a hand in reviving my socks? Hey, that makes about as much sense as the arrogant notion that an all-powerful God might care about all the silly little things that people pray for.

So tired was I that night that, as I entered the freeway, a piece of wood sitting on the shoulder looked to me like the decapitated head of a brown or grizzly bear. Creepy.

May 27, 2007

Sometime between 5:00 and 6:00 I downed half a DoubleShot, and by 6:46 I was unable to sleep anymore and got going.

After weeks around the midwest paying around $3.50 or more, $3.02 for gas seemed almost like a gift.

During the 40m-mile drive out to Newtown Square I had plenty of time to sim most of the the rest of my losses and ask myself what lessons I could learn. Some of the mistakes were related to lack of reviewing shorter words, but many were due to simple bad decisions, and it was far from obvious what I could do about those.

Stopped at Whole Foods for grub. The Philly location is special for a couple of reasons. First, they bake pretty good buttermilk biscuits, not available at all stores. Second, they have the Xlerator, that high-powered warm-air hand dryer with magical properties. I loved that Xlerator so much I was inspired to write a poem.

Xlerator, Xlerator, much better than a Now or Later.

Okay, so it's a short poem. Isn't brevity the soul of wit? Okay, I'll be honest--I got nuthin'.

After 4 losses, I finally picked up another game, but since I drew exceptionally well, and my opponent Eric Kinderman was mentally out of it, I took little satisfaction. BRINER/(GRID)E was the only really interesting play, simply because I wasn't 100% and took a chance tacking that extra R on the end, and I drew the challenge.

Erica Norris annoyed the heck of me when she played M(O)RALIST, which set up the hook along the triple column, instead of the safer MISTRAL. I did not have an S, nor could I make a good blocking play, and of course Erica drew another S for 42 more points. I got close a few times (and could have gotten closer knowing that CAUSAL takes an S), but she always managed to pull away and ended up winning big (my mistracking helped her spread). After the game she insisted that she had had a reason (but was it a good reason) for playing M(O)RALIST. I had to wonder if she knew I did not have an S and that she would draw one. Supernatural powers?

Drew the bag against Eric Ufferman, no longer the Pufferfish (depufferized?). A couple of more wins, against Kinderman again, and Mitch, and then it was time for Rahn to strip me of my nuts again, despite my only having given up 56 equity points. Slightly worse, 68, against Bihlmeyer, which should have still been enough for a win, but a lucky QuEANS for 75 pushed him past me. 7-7. Not hopeless, but blah nonetheless.

Meanwhile, a former lower-division player had been moving up in the world since I last played Philly and was now in Division 2 and thus in the main room and within view of my piercing gaze. Because of the book I happened to be reading at the time (still, after nearly two years), I could not help but nickname her Little Squab Bones. Twas not meant as an insult--it just was. But it didn't matter what I nicknamed her, whether the Golden Glanderet or the Milky Squirrel of Seduction--she noticed me not a whit. And I'm sure she doesn't read my blog. And furthermore, I'm reeeeally sure that noooobody in the Scrabble world would point her in this direction, because Scrabble players never try to instigate, right?

Yay, sold a DVD! Praised be all those who buy my DVD.

Earlier in the day, Verna had come up and asked if I could post a tournament update that night. I agreed, but only if she reminded me, because I knew there was not a chance in hell I was going to remember. Sure enough, as soon as I was bested by Bihlmeyer I was out of there. Not out of irritation so much as a desire to finally catch up on one or more indie flicks. Timing worked out for Waitress, at the top of my list because of the reviews, and because I had developed a fondness for Kerri Russell, even though I had never watched Felicity. I almost walked out twice during the film, however. Not because it was bad, but rather because I could not bear the subservience exhibited by Russell's character towards her jerk of a husband. When a person chooses to acquiesce to aggression rather than to resist, her actions serve to enable the aggressor. As such, women (or men) who are abused by a spouse sharer in the blame for the abuse. I'm sure women's advocates would bristle at such a thought, but to think otherwise is to deny reality. It seems to me that, in the most general sense, Americans are poorly educated in the art of being able to leave things behind and just walk away.

Walking back from the movie theater to my car I noticed a street that had escaped my attention in all my trips to Philadelphia, Ionic Street.

Finally decided just to settle for my PowerBar and sat in the Starbucks, by the window so I could watch the foolishneess outside. At a nearby table were a pair of young women. One of them was rather attractive, in a bookish with glasses kind of way, short black hair, fair skin, but I was surprised when as I overheard snippets of her conversion. It was "fucking this" and "fucking that"--extremely unattractive to hear a woman talking like that.

A few minutes earlier, a group of Black women were about to exit the store when one of them came over from the counter and started making fun of the name of one of the recent musical releases in the store, Angelique Kidjo Djin Djin. She stumbled over the name several times and finally said it was "stupid". Perhaps her name was Jennifer or Amy, but it could just as easily have been a name that White people would find unusual and hard to pronounce, and I have no doubt that she would get upset if others made fun of her name. Thus it is particularly shameful for her to be making fun of the name of another person of African descent. Bottom line--people of all races suck.

Meanwhile, I had Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car" running through my mind, but for some reason I kept wanted to give it a speeded up hip-hop beat. Or a speed metal beat... yeah!

It's been, what, seventeen years maybe? Regardless of how much time passes and who covers the song, Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" is still a great piece of music. In this particular case, Patti Smith, from her new album of covers, twelve.

Jim Kille, aka the Forgotten, dropped by the PIC to say hi and invited some of us over for a barbecue. I went over to his places hoping to see some Scrabblers and then to crash, but nobody was there I recognized, and they were playing a drinking game. I dislike typical drinking games, because the rules are backwards. The way a drinking game should be played is to start with a game of skill, like Scrabble or chess, and then to introduce drink when a player scores or win, thus evening up the field. But people (who, incidentally, suck), don't seem to agree with me.

So I bid farewell and headed over to my favorite Philly campground on Schuylkill Ave, only to discover that the van was gone, and signs restricting parking had been put up. I found a reasonable place a few streets down, so it was all good.

May 28, 2007

Up at 7:26, after a night during which I experienced strange, strange dreams, and woke up several times not knowing where I was.

Back to Whole Foods to await its 8:00 AM opening for those yummy yummy biscuits and that wonderful Xlerator, and out with plenty of time to reach the PIC well before 9:00, only to learn that, as had been forshadowed on Sunday, Kinderman had pulled an N'Sync, and I was the unwelcome recipient of the bye. But after proposing some wacky ideas, like that Matt yank the leaders of Division 2 and 3 up and give the bottom divison a bye, I finally realized that, since I still hoped to win money, that bye was actually in my favor.

As Round 15 was wrapping up, Marty exclaimed, "I beat Peter Barkman!" I started a round of clapping, well-deserved, we all realized, when Marty added that it was the first time in sixteen years!

After my third loss to Rahn, it was really hard not to hate the guy for constantly beating me to the good plays. This time around, a three-tile opening exchange yielded CRUDI(T)ES, and while I struggled with clunky racks, he beat me to OUT(VOTED). The racks JLNMORU, IJLLOUN, and IJNOOTU just killed my time, to the extent that I didn't notice Rahn's TEG(U)E*, which I'm sure I would have challenged off. After much suffering, I finally bingoed with TEN(O)rITE, but only for 58, still down by 15. My next rack was also tough, EEINSSX. I could play SEX for 28 and try for a bingo leave, but SIXES/(AHI)S for 46 would put me in the lead, and possibly draw the final blank. I took the points, and Rahn destroyed me with HORNLEs(S). How can you not hate that?

On the other hand, it could have been worse--I could have been Rahn who lost to Noel Livermore four times, and in doing so lost out on first place. That has to suck much worze.

Three bingoes and swell tiles led to revenge against Joe, but I did not get the spread I was hoping for due to an late-bingo on his part that I probably should have seen the possibility off and blocked. Since I was still trying to angle for third place, losing that spread was irksome. Going into the 18th round, I still saw a theoretical possibility of placing third if a bunch of freaky stuff happened, starting with David Koenig losing a lot of spread points over two games. So I tried to "incentivize" Mitch Brook into beating him by 200, but I guess the "whole of my being" was not of great interest to Mitch.

As I played my opening VARIA against Bradley Whitmarsh, I thought "24" really loud, to test if he could read my mind. Didn't work. He had to ask me what the score was, and I had to say it verbally. Despite his lack of telepathy, and 84-point GLaZES/(YEAH)S plus a late (I)NTERIMS gave Bradley just the edge he needed to win by ten points. I myself had given up a turn trying (E)COTONED*, but I still managed to build up a lead after that. I'll blame my loss squarely on Bradley's having drawn that last blank, one of two tiles remaining in the bag. Bah.

Speaking of holes, Rahn, after two losses to Noel, was suddenly looking at the possibility of losing out on first and second. He shouted over to David, warning him not to "back door" him. Well, I guess we know where Rahn takes a stand there (back to the wall, I presume).

Not sure what happened against Augustine--bah.

When I finished simming all my games I noticed that my equity losses did not seem to be substantially lower. I was definitely missing more fives and fours, even a three, when I let MUR* go. I was definitely choosing the wrong play more times. But still, wasn't my improved bingo knowledge good enough to compensate? After the tournament, and for weeks after, I would have to wonder whether my skills had really degraded to a point below the 1700-level, or whether I just got a few bad draws. Skillz? Or Lukk??

At least I sold 3 DVDs, I thought, as I left hurriedly, eager to resume Starbucking and the quest for 99%, hoping that the Scrabble detour had not made my goal impossible (without returning to California).

Later, still thinking about the Xlerator, I was inspired to write some more...

Xlerator, Xlerator, much better than a Now or Later.
Or a pregnant alligator.
You comfort me like Southern Sea
The pleasures of Gethsemane
Like fruited nut or blackened squirrel
Xlerator you're my girl.

It came to me upon waking, like that famous poem by Samuel Taylor Colerige, only substituting coffee for the heroin.

For the record, weeks later, I would learn that the artists name is actually just Angelique Kidjo. Djin Djin is the name of the album. And apparently she's a UNICEF Ambassador too, whatever that is. Don't really care. From my basic understanding, without doing any research whatsoever, I take UNICEF to be no different than countless other charitable organizations that do more to assuage the consciences of donors and volunteers than to actually make a substantive positive difference in the world. Reducing the population--that would make a positive difference. Feeding children so they can grow up to produce more children and thus perpetuate the cycle of poverty--that doesn't help.


#1 (5:19 or 5:39 on clock)    
2.2 Q(I) MM
13.2 (P)ARRY  
0* FE(R)NY  
14.3 WO  
0 DEX(Y)  
7.6 NAIVE  
4.9 SH  
11.7 OU(Z)O blocks bingo
0 J(E)T  
0 K(I)D  
8 (G)UL  
4.1 A(W)OKE  
13.1 POU(F)  
0 GUV  
24.3 G(O)Y  
0 JI(N)  
0 REtAILE(R)  
0 ADZ  
2.4 F(E)CAL FASC(I)A (not best)
5.5 SAU  
0 HOVE  
18 H(E)TS  
0 MONS  
5.8 AB JAI(LA)Ble
0 JEFE  
11.6 C(U)P  
0 (O)R(B)S  
5.4 LANK  
8.6 F(L)Y  
3.7 TUI  
13.4 GET  
0 TONY  
0 sEG  
4.4 FAENA  
12.5 NTH  
1 TOOT  
16.4 PER(V)  
0 OO(R)IE  
6.5 AB(O)MA  
0* QI  
0 R(I)V(ET)  
3 EAST STOOGE,OAST (not best, but should have seen)
0 GO missed out play
0 (J)O  
1.2 (J)EE  
0 MAX  
18.3 COLA focus on TWS,miss overlap
1.9 GUI(d)E  
32.5 lose turn  
3 O(D)A  
5.8* DICTA DIAZ(IN),other plays
0 SIZE  
0 T(A)r(R)Y  
4.8 ETUI  
0 HOE  
8.1 EAVE  
0 NORI  
7.9 WILD  
0 MOD  
38.3 lose turn  
22.3 B(E)G  
0 sNOT  
0 VI(G)A  
1 COE(V)AL  
7.7 DISME  
1.3 O(L)E  
2.4 ZE(E)  
0.9 Q(I)  
4.5 VENDET(T)a  
0 OAKE(N)  
6.8 AX(A)L A(N)NEX
0 GU(N)  
23.1 (Z)IN  
0 QUAG  
6.2 BRINER  
2.4 WASHY  
0 OAF  
3.9 PE(D) OPE(D),EPO(D)E
0 JUI(c)E  
18.8 (C)OKE KE(E)VE,KO(J)I
15.1 AX  
--- VI(E)W  
11.8* GAM  
7.5 HAH HO
8.2 MOO  
0.4 WI(L)L  
0* -IIIOR  
10 TERRORS CAUSAL takes S!!!
4.5 TUI  
30.1 lose turn (POO)  
8.1* (RE)I (mistrack N)
11 CAT stick Q was mistake
17 (J)UN too frazzled to see out play
5 kI brain dead
3.8 KEP  
4.4 NEVUS  
0 (C)HEZ  
0 VEX(E)S  
0 WI(R)Y  
1.8 F(U)GIO miss PUD hook
1.4 BOO(M)  
9.2 T(O)NSIlAR  
4.9 LA  
11.6 LIR(I)  
0 QI  
--- NEIF  
0 OX  
10.7 HM  
13.2 BAR  
0.8 -LLLNT  
7.4 J(A)B  
13.8 TUI  
15.2 VENDs  
6 LI(E)N  
3.3 HOAXE(D)  
0 VEX  
1.1 SIM  
0 L(U)TZ  
8 (Q)UOTE  
4.3 FA(G)IN  
0 C(R)OWD  
0* JU(N)  
0 (W)HO  
3 (HE)R(E)  
0 BEV(E)L(S)  
0 WOOL  
0.2 PE(L)F  
0 (P)IQUE  
0 TOON  
6.1* JINN(I)  
9.7 TAX(A)  
6 (A)MP  
7.6 AMIE  
0 PELF  
4 JURIES miss YOWIE hook
0 AB(J)ECT  
10.2 (L)E(D)GE  
0 BEY  
8.4 (R)OE  
0 KI(S)T  
12.6 NAOI  
0 ZOO  
25 IN  
0 HM  
9.7 BA(R)D  
5.4 GAPS  
12.3 R(O)M JUM(B)O
0 (d)ojo  
0 WIZ  
0* NUN  
18.3 SIXES NIXES (safer overlap)
41.9 lose turn  
28.7 (O)DE  
20.2 WIZ(EN)  
0 KEY INKY,(OFF)KEY (not best)
2.4 NEgRONI  
0 I(N)IA  
0 QI  
3 W(I)SH BUSHW(A)H (not best)
0 OX  
0 BOT  
0 VROO(M)  
0 H(I)ND  
30.3 lose turn ((E)COTONED)  
0 TWO  
0.2 EX  
0 (Q)IS  
0 FIAT  
11.7 NOSE  
2 PIA  
1.8 DR(I)FT  
2.6 NODES  
0.4 CLO(Z)E  
13.6 COO(K)Y  
14.8 (E)NNUI  
0 BY  
0 QU(O)D  
5.9 A(D)IEU  
0.3 (N)ETTLIer  
0 VR(O)W  
0 G(E)M  

1 - W - 7.5 (97.8)
2 - W - 10.6 (147.9)
3 - W - 4.2 (54.3)
4 - L - 4.5 (63.5)
5 - L - 8.5 (118.8)
6 - L - 7.1 (85.4)
7 - L - 6.8 (95.4)
8 - W - 5.3
9 - L - 10.6 (158.9)
10 - W - 6.5 (84.1)
11 - W - 6.4
12 - W - 2.2 (26.1)
13 - L - 4.3 (56)
14 - L - 5.2 (67.8)
16 - L - 10.9 (152.8)
17 - W - 5.5 (66.5)
18 - L - 4.1 (57.7)
19 - L - 6.5 (84.1)

Avg: 6.5

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