Puppies, Bunnies, and Happy Thoughts Frozen Out

Friday, January 18, 2008

Only CGPers who click the link will realize that the title actually refers to sick puppies, Playboy bunnies, and thoughts regarding Mr. Happy. Shhh... don't tell anybody.

Gee, thanks, Sam! Couldn't you have designed the Pocket SamTimer without wires? The wires scared the TSA personnel and resulted in my being searched. The agent who searched my bags was actually rather cute, so I guess I wouldn't have minded a strip search.

Initially I thought the search was triggered by the large tube of toothpaste I had forgotten to leave in the car, but the agent zeroed in on the SamTimer and never got around to opening the side pocket. The search was quick regardless, and I reached the gate in plenty of time to learn that the flight was oversold. The Northwest airlines gate agent did not seem to concerned as I asked her what my options were for switching to the later flight on US Air or flying to a different city and driving. She said I was taking the issue out of proportion. Well, forgive me if I didn't share her confidence that I would get a seat. It's not the airline would take extraordinary steps to get me to Minneapolis. When it comes to airline service these days, you're on your own, buddy.

As if the overbooked flight was not enough, I almost had a much more serious problem. As I have done several times in the past, I left my passport and boarding pass sitting on a shelf in the bathroom. When I discovered my error and rushed back to the bathroom, the passport was not their. To my credit, I did not panic--much experience with such folly, perhaps. I just started planning what I might do if the passport were not turned in. Thankfully, the person who found it was honest and smart enough to deliver it to the most logical place.

I did in fact receive a seat, and given that the flight was full I had to take great pains to stuff my duffel bag into one of the overhead compartments. This amused the attractive blonde, 30s, sitting to my left. During the flight I found myself feeling the urge to brush the blonde's hand, maybe tap it to wake her up and ask a question. It must have been a rare manisfetation of a need for real human contact, meaningful contact, not the professial kind. But I saw the engagement ring, I decided that would be a bad idea. Actually, engagement ring or not, it would have been a bad idea. There's all these stupid laws that say you can't just toich whomever you want. Society seems to think this is a good thing, but, like Borat said, "is not good for me!"

Incidentally, towards the end of my flight I noticed that the lady to my right, a grandma-type, was playing solitaire on a Palm or some-such. It must really be the 21st Century, when even grandma has a Palm.

The pilot was quick to announce that we had arrived "on time", but he was really cheating because there was a plane ahead of us at the gate. It was about thirty minutes before we were able to deplane, and past 8:30 when I finally got my rental car and found my way out of the parking garage (easier said than done). My wrong turns getting out of the garage were doubly annoying because the radio happened to be tuned to a pop station playing Britney Spear's "Piece of Me". Whatever you may think of Miss Britney or her sociopath of a sister, Fresh Air music critic Ken Tucker was correct about the song's excellent production.

9:00 PM was fast approaching, and though the new Brooklyn Center store did not close 'til 11:00, I had another stop to make. I had a mad craving for a hot dog and fries from the Weinery (or Wienery), and I figured they would close no earlier than 9:00. Wrong. For the second time I was unable to get my hands on those amazing fresh-cut french fries. As the narrator from "Lost in 8:15" would say, "very sad."

I left downtown and continued along surface streets, and on Hennepin Avenue I found Conga. Pretty good tostones and black bean soup, but the place seemed trenty and was too pricey.

Back at the airport parking garage, I had gotten just a brief hint of the negative 15 -20 degree cold. That's just ridiculous. Out in the open, just in the seconds it took me to get from the car to the restaurant, I could feel my face starting to freeze. I could even feel my mucus solidifying! I had truly chosen the worst possible time to lose my woolen cap (this being the cap I had just bought after losing my coat in Albany). By contrast, I had chosen the best possible time to break my pattern of sleeping in a car. With just the one light blanket I had brought, and having forgotten my magic thermal pants, the only way I could have survived would have been to run the engine all night.

One good thing about the extreme cold was that I finally had the opportunity to find the answer to something that every man wonders about at some point--can a stream of urine actually freeze in the air? I went behind the dumpster and quickly saw that the stream hit the ground wet. I tried aiming up into the air to give the liquid more time to freeze, but it still hit the ground wet and steaming. Not one to give up so quickly, I climbed up the metal (would not have been able to do that without gloves) ladder onto the roof. I figured that in the distance from the two stories to the ground, the urine would have to freeze. I never got to find out, because what I had not anticipated was the breeze, which blew the stream around the side of the building. Next think I heard was "WHAT THE HELL???" It was probably silly of me, but I went over to the other edge to look down, and I saw a very large, very pissed off man wearing a goatee, glasses, and a woolen cap. He looked up and me, and I suddenly realized I might be in trouble. Fortunately, there was another ladder on the other side of the building, and my much-vaunted speed saved me. Good thing, too, because all the upper-body work I'd been doing would have been in vain against that guy. Even Bihleyer with all the pullups he can do would have been broken in half by this guy. There's a lesson in here somewhere.

I quickly reached my car and sped off towards Brookly Center, trying not to spill my food. I hung out at the store a bit chattering with a barista who had seen my movie--I didn't get recognized on sight often, and I decided I was glad I had made the trip. It was still an expensive Starbucks visit, though. $24 for the rental car plus $6.50 in gas. Nothing compared to Hawaii or Alaska of course, or even detours out to remote parts of western states, but still, expensive.

I entered the car rental return area and looked around in puzzlement at unfamiliar surroundings. Unsure of what I had done, I headed towards the terminal. I only walked a few hundred feet, but that was enough time for my face to start to freeze. I could even feel the mucuous in my nose starting to solidify. I was starting to feel less wussy and more clever for having arranged to split a room with Ben Withers.

Turned out I had returned my car to the Humphrey Terminal instead of Lindbergh. The Enterprise associate said this happened often, but it was only a problem for passengers flying out on one of the airlines not based out of Humphrey. I was catching a shuttle to the Holiday Inn, and the shuttle picked up wherever. By coincidence, Ben called to say he was deplaining just seconds after I finished calling for that shuttle. He was considering taking a taxi out of concern over having to wait outside. I told him there was an indoors waiting area and suggested he call the hotel. Ben ended up deciding on the taxi, but it availed him only an extra five minutes--not worth the $20 in my opinion.

Despite the heat and the bed, sleep did not come easily, even after Ben and I stopped chit-chatting (one of the downsides of splitting a room). I resisted checking my clock as long as I could, and when I finally did, it was 2:06 AM. AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

My obnoxious alarm (I've tried to change the tone but given x9up) went off as expected at 6:00 and I quickly turned it off, cried "Ben, 6 o' clock!" and tried to go back to sleep.

At 6:22 I decided I had cut it close enough, got up, and quickly cranked up my latest favorite song "California Girls" (not the one you're thinking of) to help wake myself up. Then I popped a couple of pain pills as a precaution.

Pressed the button for the elevator and then quickly changed my mind and decided to take the stairs, yet something else to try and wake myself up. With as little sleep as I had gotten and only two DoubleShots in my backpack (should have bought, like, a dozen), staying awake was going to be a challenge.

Tournament announcements are usually boring, but I was amused by Stephanie's suggestion that Division 3 players, who had a bye, use the "buddy system" in the event that they decided to take a nap during their bye game--basically, tell somebody as a precaution against oversleeping.

Earlier in the morning, when I tried to go back to sleep, I hoped that Ben would let Stephanie know I had arrived, and I though that maybe he would even be my first opponent. Well, whaddayaknow, that's how it turned out. This was doubly appropriate because, the night before, Ben had been talking about how his goal was to keep cool and enjoy the game. Turned out I was the one who had to focus on staying cool as Ben proceeded to triple-triple me and draw everything but an S. Of course, I did miss CRINGES. Talk about self-descriptive.

It had been a long time since I had played Rob Robinsky, who was finally of drinking age. And was he taller, too? It was hard to tell. What seemed clearer was that he had discovered other tastes besides studying Scrabble, because he let the phony cLOWNER* go (I saw REfLOWN after hitting the clock). I immediately caught another break, not because I drew the second blank, but because I drew ADEILK to go with it, and I had just happened to look over the list of 8-letter LIKE words on the plane. As I hoped, bEADLIK(E) drew the challenge, and I cruised through the rest of the game.

My next opponent was named Andy XXXXSack. The XXXX would be determined by the nature of my draw and the general character of the game. It started well, as I got JARLED* past him, to avoid playing RELAX, but then he bingoed with PILOTAG(E). Holding the V, I figured I could score well next turn regardless, so I tested my knowledge and lost the challenge. After VOX I managed to bingo with TETRAG(O)n, but Andy scored 48 with QUO(T)E, and I was still hurting. Two turns later I thought I had the momentum with 48 for W(I)Z and a decent leave, EGNRW, but Andy got down (T)ABERINg. Oh, the direction of the game was starting to become clear. And thus faithful readers of my blog will be able to fill in the XXXX.

Even though I took an early lead against Jeff Parsons and then matched his RELENTS with my mAnORIA(L), Jeff's subsequent steady scoring gave me the sense that I was headed for another luckbagging. Still irritated by XXXXSack's win, I was moved to basically steal the game from Jeff with a couple of back-to-back phonies, (R)ABIAL (scored 33) and (AX)IONIC* (score 4 more than (AX)ION plus blocked a line). Given that Jeff drew everything except the two blanks that I scored just 64 with, I am certain I would have lost without the phonies.

Killer draw against Ira. I felt bad. No, really... I did!!!

Going into our game, Slanky was complaining about how her timing had been off all morning. I probably have no scientific basis for thinking this, but I always worried that a lower-rated player on a bad run is going to have a turnaround against me. Her opening POTLUcK certainly pointed in that direction, but just as with Jeff I went for the gusto and tacked on an S, ROUGHS for 41. Yes, the word does take an S, but I did not know that, and I suspected Lisa would not either. A few turned later I bingoed and took the momentum for the rest of the game.

At one point I got so excited that I was able to block the line she had created that I dumped water all over the table. Oops! My bad. After some scurrying around, we stabilized the situation, although Lisa's Mini SamTimer was rendered inoperable. I encouraged her to let it sit for 24 hours to avoid permanent damage. I did not really want to have to buy it off her--I already have a regular SamTimer and a Pocket SamTimer. Given my collector's instinct, acquiring a Mini might spur me to try and collect the whole set, including the rare Keyring SamTimer and the harder-to-find Anal SamTimer.

When we finally resumed play, I managed to block Lisa's RETINI(T)E, so she tried a Hail Mary play, a wholly ludicrous INTER(ROAM)*. With the X and V on my rack, if I lost the challenge I would lose the game. Tough decision, as I had previously lost games for challenging a late play instead of just playing my tiles. But I didn't think I could live with the mockery that would ensue if I let such a ridiculous word stand, and I took a leap of faith and challenged.

I love ABEFIRT! Once I disabused myself of the silly FIREBAT* notion, the solution because easy to find. I am confident that, barring some mental disease, I will never forget the word. Anyway, despite his lower rating, I considered Michael Baker one of the two serious opponents in my first seven games, and I did not take it for granted that I had started with the bingo. I considered each play carefully and managed to keep scoring while mucking up the board. By the time he did bingo, with SEMiNA(R)S, I still had a good lead. Even drawing the other blank, Michael just couldn't catch up.

As much as I loved the RedEye, I could not give them any credit for the food, which was about as good as Bayside's offering. A large part of the reason was that I had attended the first Redeye, and I had fond memories of the breakfast that was served. It was sooooooo good. I remember trying to pack as much food into my stomach as possible. In sharp contrast, I barely eight lunch, and I hoped that the dinner would be better.

While waiting for lunch, I met Bob Lundergaard, who told me the most interesting story I had heard that day. If he is to be believed, the character of Jerry Lundergaard in Fargo was named after Bob, a former movie critic for the local paper. At first I thought he was kidding, but the story is for real.

Oh... my... god!!! After lunch I was looking through my backpack for my scoresheets, and I found my steak knife! I had forgotten it was there, and they did not catch it at security!

Oh the heels of the crappy lunch, I had my hopes of finishing the day in first place (I was 5th) dashed by Daniel Stock. After starting with PEANUtS and later scoring 54 with ZOW(I)E, Dan proceeded to score 78, 81, 57, 80, and 48 within six turns. Even if I had had decent tiles, it was too easy for him to close the board and prevent me from catching up.

After the game I realized that I had forgotten to play my magic song. Gotta play the magic song or my tiles will suck.

But I guess every song has a limited amount of magic, because, unbelievably, my most hated opponent--the Accursed Scoundrel, aka the Nemsis, aka the Nefarious One, aka the Master of Poon-Fu, aka Rock Boy, aka the Heartbreak Kid, aka the Shwarmafantastical Carpolithitoid, aka the Upstate Switch-and-Bait, aka the Sunshine Band, aka Yo-Yo Mack, aka the Gremlin, aka Monty Hadll, and, last but not least, the resident Mack Daddy--he actually managed to draw both blanks against me for the third time in a row!!! HOW??? Well, I finally figured it out. Taking a another look at his rough-hewn yet fiendishly attractive visage, I realized that this guy bears a passing resemblance to an older Daniel Radcliffe. Which means that he has wizard powers! Yes, he is cheating again, using magic against me. Just like Batman, I hate magic.

During the game, while I was holding in my inner turmoil, I had the pleasure of playing at a table adjacent to another player, lower division, who seemed to have trouble holding in his own turmoil, or anything else that popped into his mind for that matter. I couldn't help but chuckle, since am able to block out distractions, but I suspect his opponents were fast growing weary.

After those two hard losses I was glad to eke out a win against my highest-rated whipping boy, Pete Armstrong. I've probably taken more points from him than from any other player. I had high hopes of stealing some more points, from #2 Geoff Thevenot, after I opened with (A)THEToID. But he came right back with L(o)AMIEST, and then it turned into a cat and mouse game. I took a small lead with Z(O)O(M)ED and tried to keep the board tight while scoring, and Geoff tried to open it up.

Annotated Game

Annotated Game

Meanwhile, in the bathroom, I ran into Yanni's long-lost separated-at-birth twin. He soon left, and a Scrabble player entered. The Scrabble player did his business (at the urinal). The Scrabble player left without washing his hands, completely unrepentant and uninterested in the fact that I had seen him. Man, that's an ever worse level of non-hand washing, the people that don't even care that others know. These are the type of people that probably water their lawns during a drought without caring who finds out.

I finished dinner, returned to the playing room, looked at the time, and realized that we still had 40 more minutes before the 8:30 resumpion time! I think that was really bad planning. The dinner should have been cut by 15-30 minutes to allow players to get more sleep. I was already hurting pretty bad, despite having bought a truly awful coffee from the restaurant. I had to go back up to the room for more fake Excedrin, my second pills of the day. If my racks were at all difficult, I was going to be in trouble.

I had really hoped for the final three games to see a turnaround, but unfortunately my next opponent was first-place Vincent Van Dover, aka Vincent Van Clover, sporting the luck of the Irish in monstrous fashion. Heck, he was infused with the power of an entire clover field, and his draw just eviscerated me and my hopes of winning those last three games.

Earlier, after outdrawing Ira, when I had tried to soften the blow, he said that it was okay, that you expected this to happen once in a 28-game tournament. I replied that it would probably happen more than once. I did not, however, expect that I would be horribly outdrawn so many times in the same day. Steve Pellinen was my next executioner, chopping my head off with four bingos to my NONE!!!

At least I finished the day with a win, againt David Herfer or Herfel, thanks to my playing URI(N)EMIA correctly to jump-start my game. I had trouble with the spelling, but after the game Robin told me that it had to do with urine, so hopefully I'll remember from now on.

Went to sleep as quickly as I could manage, knowing full well that the schedule would allow me 7 hours at best. Oy!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

My alarm went off at 6:30, and at the exact same moment that Ben's wake up call rang. Amazing! Yes, most people would say that since I had set my alarm for 6:30 and Ben had scheduled the call for 6:30, that it made sense for the two events to occur together. I, on the other hand, preferred to interpret the coincidence as an omen. I needed a good omen for the new day. All my magic from Saturday had faded. Even the rainbow that I had seen projected on the floor of the hotel had not saved my afternoon from turning into a disaster. I needed a good omen.

I reset my alarm for 6:45, but after four minutes I decided I was better off jumping into the shower to wash off the stink of failure and misfortune that clung to my body in the same way that women with low self-esteem cling to certain types of men (not referring to of anybody in particular here, I promise).

Well, the scrubbing worked, at least for one round. If I had been Bob Prentiss, I certainly would have been irritated at the sight of the Z, J, and X coming out in the first three turns, especially added to the fact that I had accidentally flipped over one of my esses. I scored well on all but one turn, and by the time I played my second bingo, FOMITES, I think his spirit was broken.

My excitement about my tile turnaround was shortlived. Oh, I drew well enough against Phil Polsky, but even without simming I know that the 8-point loss should have been a win. Days later, when I simmed, I learned that I had to go back six plays from the end, to (G)INNY. I knew it was a weak play, and it makes me cringe to know that it cost me the game.

Almost lost it to the bottom of the barrel, David Weiss, not to be confused with Flavor Dave, aka David Weisz, a former member of my cirlce of "friends" who used to hang out at the Starbucks in Plano. He wasn't really a friend--he tolerated me, and I tolereated him, but he was amusing to be around. He was also, thought blonde and blue-eyed, from Argentia, so we had that "wow, the white guy can speak Spanish" thing going. Hispanics have this love-hate relationship going with non-Hispanics who can speak the language. On the one hand, we are impressed, but on the other hand, we are uncomfortable that we can no longer speak privately out in the open without being understood.

Anyway, I have no idea if this David Weiss can speak Spanish or not, but he had me. I didn't notice it until after the fact, but MIRE was sitting on the board, and David had played the X for 30 with (E)XURB. With four As, two Os, and an I unseen (an L needed to be over lapped), had David played off the URB and whatever other tiles he had, odds were extremely high he would have had the AX, OX, or NIX for 60-something points. Instead, I won it by 33 despite my final draw being AAAAJIN. That was probably my most dramatic escape up to that point.

Strangeness abounded in my game versus Hartsman. First, the words. POUFFI(E)R*, B(O)BEYES* (challenged off), YOBB(O) (wanted to play but went for points instead of style), BESEEMs, and RI(s)KER (no idea if it was good). And towards the end, I wanted to play (Z)ARMAQ* but decided against it. Then, towards the middle, I tipped over the bag and dumped an A onto the floor. Steve wanted a director's ruling. I told him I had seen director's go both ways. In our case, she said that since my hand had not entered the bag, we could just put the A back in. That wasn't the end of the story, though, because in the endgame, when I finished my tracking, I found a U on the floor. And that's why you should always corner those tiles.

During my REWAKEN and JON(E)sING-powered victiory against Jeff Fiszbein, an odd sequence of sentences kept coming to my mind, from that recent incident in the Straits of Hormuz--"I AM COMING TO YOU" and "YOU WILL EXPLODE". You have to hear the voices to appreciate the full effect. Google it.

Completely outdrew Eric Ziegeweid. All during our game I tried to figure out why his name seemed familiar. Still don't know.

Seven hours of sleep was not nearly enough, not on top of Friday night's deprivation. My brain was shutting down.

My surveillance of the bathrom anti-hygienist continued, with an odd twist. I entered the bathroom and saw him drying his hands. Assuming that he washed them, the question was why? Did he wash at random intervals? Did he wash only after performing certain functions? Did he wash only if there was splash-back?

My nice little run of wins ended abruptly at the hands of Young Fizzy, but that loss was quickly overshadowed by an interesting development. Backing up a bit, I should point out that on Thursday I had been contacted by a reporter writing a piece on the Redeye. When I arrived on Saturday morning, Stephanie told me about the article. I looked it up online and was surprised that I had gotten so much ink. On top of this, a reporter from the local Fox affiliate found me during the lunch break and requested an interview. She covered both Scrabble and Starbucks and had me describe myself in Scrabble tiles--CRAZY, IDIOSYNCRATIC, and one more word that I can't remember. I received an e-mail on Monday telling me the piece had aired and included me, and I wish someone had recorded it and posted on YouTube.

The Fox reporter let me have lunch while she talked to a couple of other players, but she was not done with me. I didn't mind, since she was a very attractive young Japanese woman. After lunch she set up film my game against Tim Adamson. I wish it had been a game against a weaker player, because I was 2-1 against Adamson and could not expect my luck to continue. I was nonetheless miffed to see the momentum shifted dramatically in Tim's favor with back-to-back bingos, but I was amused by Tim's change of attitude after the game. During lunch Tim had begged off being interviewed, preferring to hand the baton over to Steve Pellien. But I guess the satisfaction of winning and his love for Scrabble took over, because after the game he rather eagerly pointed out some of the more interesting parts of our game to the reporter.

The reporter stuck around to film one final game, against Joseph Gaspard, and thankfully I had the better tiles, and both blanks, for the win. The came could have gone wrong, though, if Joseph had had an S to hook to my TEAR(D)OWn. The correct play was WATER(D)Og. I saw it, but not until after I hit the clock. I need to be able to see all bingos in a rack like that more quickly, if I'm to beat more 1800 players. Still, I was relieved to win at least one of the games that was being filmed, though I doubt more than a second of game footage made it on the air.

My umpteenth loss to Robin Pollock Daniel hurt particularly badly because I came so close to winning. Gave up very little equity, too, just 11.2 points. Don't really think I'm capable of playing much better than that.

Annotated Game

The endgame was interesting, but much more interesting is the fact that I felt no rancor towards the Robin. This is actually very puzzling. My ordinary reaction to losing to a hot blonde is rage, because every Scrabble game between an unattractive male and an attractive female is a surrogate for romantic pursuit, and losing translates to rejection. And because all attractive blondes are part of a single metaphysical entity, rejection by one is rejection by the collective. Thus every victory against a hot blonde, whether by me or any other schlubby Scrabbler, is a victory in the eternal battle between the Beauty and the Geek. Losing this fifth or sixth battle should have triggered paroxysms of rage, but I was calm as a cucumber. Why, I wondered? Well, staying on the magic theme, it is clear that the Robin employed some sort of voodoo to enrapture her opponents and render them docile as little puppies.

Boy, do I hate magic. I think the NSA really needs to add a rule preventing the use of magic in tournament situations.

Outblanking by Whitmarsh in a game unremarkable except for his play of (H)OWDAH. How in the world did he know that word??? Days later, on his blog, Bradley claimed to be deficient in his word knowledge. Yeah, right.

Up first in the KOTH portion, Young Fizzy, and though he drew well once more, I knew even before the game was over that I was screwing up my chances. I couldn't think, and I needed gimme racks, like his opening PLOTZ, instead of the difficult racks that burned through my time. Actually, they weren't all that difficult. I was missing stuff like (Z)ONER. And I played (P)ENATIvE* again, thinking it was good. Only later did I realize I had played the same phony in Atlantic City. Since I blog my phonies, I should never play the same phony twice. Fortunately, Young Fizzy does not read my blog. That's probably a good thing. I don't want his pops sore at me for corrupting the boy's tender young mind with my depravity.

Speaking of blogging, my brain was so dead that I didn't even have the energy to write while I waited for the next round. For me, that's pretty darn tired.

Despite my fatigue I played much better against Dan Stock, just 41.4 equity points dropped, but no level of play is good enough against two natural bingos to open and then both blanks later. Worst part about that game, though? That I had WEEWEES on my rack and didn't even had a hook to try it. I could have played just WEEWEE by itself or through an E, but since I had no idea if it was good, there was no point trying for just 20-something points.

At least I got great tiles during my final game and was able to blow through it relatively quickly, finishing at 11:30. This created a bit of a dilemma, however. My original plan had been to take the shuttle to the airport at midnight and sleep there, so I wouldn't have to wake up so early, but the shuttles only left on the hour. Since my intent was to sleep as much as possible it did not make sense to kill 30 minutes waiting. So I just went back up to the room, left money for that extra night for Ben, and tried to get to sleep as quickly as possible.


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