Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Visions of retirement

Posted by Brad Mills
One of the founding members of our club, Arnold Keaton, had a retirement reception today. The first game ever played at our club was between the two of us. Arnold's vision has degenerated over the last few years, and as a result, he's not been able to play with us recently as much as he did in the past. I understand that situation has improved somewhat, but with retirement right around the corner, I suspect he has other things in mind for now.

However, his soon-to-be former colleagues seem to think he needs to come back to Scrabble club. One of the gifts they presented to him was a low-vision Deluxe Scrabble set. Everything came in the same box as the non-glary "deluxe" board, but the board itself was quite different. For one thing, there was a complete absence of color - everything was black and white. (High-contrast color schemes are helpful for those with difficulty distinguishing colors.) For another, the tiles were plastic and silk-screened with a flush surface (non-braillable), much like Protiles, with thicker than normal characters on them. (I personally think Bob's version of these are better.) And finally, a real plastic grid, just like on the older boards, instead of the papery-thin grid Hasbro has subjected us to over the last several years.

This had every appearance of being a genuine Hasbro product, but I don't remember ever seeing it on Hasbro's website or on It is, however, available on Amazon and comes from Maxi-Aids. It's entirely possible Maxi-Aids bought a bunch of deluxe boards, disassembled them, inserted their own high-contrast playing field, repackaged them with the thick-fonted tiles, and is reselling them. (Hey Maxi-Aids people: seriously, check out Protiles!)

Arnold was pretty pleased with this gift, and announced to the group that I direct the club in Charleston - then turned to me and said, "Brad, go ahead and give a plug for the club." I didn't expect the guest of honor, at his own retirement reception, to yield the floor to me for the sole purpose of getting the word out to a roomful of people... but since arguing with him is often illogical, I did as he requested.

So, perhaps when he grows weary of fishing, tinkering in the garage, and watching the History channel... we'll see Arnold return to Scrabble. I told him with this new board he had no more excuses. My fingers are crossed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Studying Tips from a Beginner

Posted by Tina
Over on my personal blog, I blog a lot about Scrabble and, more specifically, my dedication this year to Scrabble tournaments (my Whirlwind Scrabble Tour). This was a decision I made after a tournament in Pittsburgh where I did so poorly that, to me, the event has simply become known as "Pittsburgh." The good thing about hitting the bottom, though (or coming real close to it), is that it's often a turning point. So I decided it was either time to let it go and just play casually or to buckle down and put in the work to do better. After giving it very little thought (because the decision was easy), I decided to go the buckling down route.

And by buckling down, I mean studying. For me, was time to get serious. If, by some chance, you're looking to get serious about Scrabble,'s what I've done so far and I've seen some good progress:

The first person I consulted was our club's director, Brad Mills. Brad helped me get past the block I had on the (now seemingly simple) task of memorizing my three-letter words beginning with K. (The trick was a mnemonic.) He also supplied me with my very first set of Scrabble flash cards. Flash cards can be based on any type of word list but they're commonly based on "bingo stems." (My first set is the most common stem called the "TISANE's.")

At the same time, this first level in studying for me meant not only memorizing other three-letter word lists (after moving past the mental block with K's), but using the awesome, free program called Zyzzyva. Within Zyzzyva, I could study my word lists (simple recall) and use the program's Cardbox function to learn to recognize words in their scrambled form. The Cardbox function retests you on words periodically based on whether or not you got them correct before. It's designed to help you gain long-term retention of the words and, on its face, it seems to do exactly that. (If you use Zyzzyva, click the donate button and slip a little cash to the designer, Michael Thelen.)

After becoming comfortable with the words on my first set of flash cards, I added those words to my Cardbox. So, at that point, it had every three-letter word in it plus the TISANE's. I access my Cardbox every day (which right now displays about 70 anagrams a day as long as I don't skip) and, at the same time, I keep adding to my three-letter straight recall memorization (also using Zyzzyva).

The word list recall is mostly rote. Sometimes a word will stick with you, though, for some silly reason. When I see the letters BIO, the lyrics "Obie Trice, real name, no gimics!" go through my head and I remember that BIO is also OBI. Sometimes it backfires, though. For instance, the letters DHO do make the word HOD, but do not make Homer Simpson's "DOH!"...but I always think it anyway.

This three-pronged approach to studying really seems to be working. Using word list recall, anagram recognition, and flash card study of bingos, the process feels balanced but at the same time not too elementary. I've found that pacing myself is important (or it just gets too hectic and nothing sticks) but that also, sometimes a stroke of inspiration or motivation...or just curiosity...will lead to some special challenge. (Yesterday, for instance, I decided to go ahead and add my "Q without U" words to my Cardbox. It was like adding a little Tabasco to your french fries...and had the desired effect.)

Oh! And sometimes I throw a little Aerolith play into the mix. It's similar to the Cardbox function of Zyzzyva but adds a timing function and displays random words every day. You choose from daily word "challenges" that are 2 to 15 letters in length, based on your selection. This program is yet another angle to learn and test yourself on Scrabble words and I think it adds another dimension to how your brain stores and recalls them. (Thanks to Brendan for suggesting Aerolith to me at the last tournament. Again, if you use the program, maybe consider donating a little money to its designer.)

So, at this level...(a relative beginner's level)...just getting the words in your brain is a huge part of it. Of course, getting them back out is also important. In Scrabble's upper levels, people are able to take on much more complicated, strategic approaches or even a very Zen approach (like Joe Edley). Heh...maybe its easier to be Zen about it if you know a bazillion words. Maybe someday I'll be able to let you know.

In closing, I'll focus on something I'd mentioned earlier. If you're considering studying, or starting your Scrabble study, consult your director. It's highly likely that she or he has devoted a good deal of their life to the game. That level of dedication does not come without the knowledge of the tools that are available, good strategies, and the accumulation of some really good advice. And play in your director's (and other directors') tournaments! The experience you get there is the practical application of all this theory and will help you figure out what works for you.

The town of Scrabble, WV

Posted by Brad Mills
Lynne Crowley recently ventured up to Scrabble, WV and got pictures of some local signage. Oh yeah... check it out. Of note, the town of Fairplay is five miles northeast.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Huntington results for July 19, 2008

Posted by Brad Mills
Here are the results from the Huntington Scrabble Club meeting held on Saturday, July 19. Due to people having to leave early and take byes for various reasons, we had eight players in round 1, six in round 2, and four in round 3. It made for an interesting and varied session.

Aaron McGuffin 3-0, +207
Tina Totten King 2-1, +159
Brad Mills 1-1, +116
Brad Smith 1-0, +57
Shelley Schiavone 1-2, -74
Rob Stanton 1-1, -89
Martha Mills 0-2, -64
Amy Lilly 0-2, -312

Bingos played were as follows:
Tina Totten King: MESSAGER* (93), AIRATES* (81), EMBODIER (70)
Martha Mills: STUNNED (70), EATERIES (68)
Rob Stanton: VOYAGES (100)
Aaron McGuffin: DOTTERS (72)
Shelley Schiavone: STORIED (64)

There were also a few notable non-bingo plays, including EQUIPT* (70) and JOSHES (60) by myself and either JEANS or JEERS (90) by Shelley Schiavone. Shelley had the non-go MOLTINg / MoONLIT at one point as well.

I loved the EQUIPT* play because Aaron McGuffin and Rob Stanton had just finished a game where one of them played RUINT*, which prompted a discussion among the three of us about verbs which take an irregular -T suffix for past tense (VEXT, for example). I then got to play EQUIPT* against Aaron, and he held it for at least two minutes but eventually let it go.

Aaron reported he's on the verge of getting the Directors Test completed and submitted, and the Huntington club will likely have its own number and be fully NSA-sanctioned within a month or so. The great hope is that this new club will become another source for tournaments in the Mountain State and another "stepping stone" in the West Virginia / Kentucky / Ohio club and tourney circuit. We are, in fact, discussing venues for next year's tourneys - and I'm anticipating the club will grow quite a bit once classes are back in session at Marshall (the club's meeting site is right next to the campus).

Thanks to everyone who's been supporting the Huntington club thus far. Growing things properly takes time, patience, and a series of small steps. For those who've helped contribute any of these over the last few months, you deserve proper commendation - as our combined efforts are starting to bear fruit.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008


Posted by Deadpan Alley

*Disclaimer: I do not play Scrabulous at work.