ECHIDNA you not

I’m sitting in Zensaki, a restaurant in downtown Perth, watching little plates of sushi, sashimi, maki, and food-I-can’t-identify pass me by on a conveyer belt that circles around the room. You grab the plates you desire—it’s the 3.95 per plate lunchtime special. They all look delicious, but I’m afraid that in my eagerness I’ll reach for an ikra and dislodge the other plates from their moorings. There will be sushi all over the tables and the floor and I’ll be thrown out of Zensaki forever. So I order from the menu and realize how long it’s been since I’ve used chopsticks. Or had sushi. Marty’s not a sushi lover, and we live in Charleston, Illinois. Enough said.

There are sushi places everywhere. Five on this stretch of Barrack Street alone. There are Korean B-B-Qs and Dim Sum Cafes and Filipino eateries and Indian restaurants. (Only one McDonalds, as far as I can tell.) The stereotype of Australia I’d taken with me—a land of beefy rugby playing and crocodile-wrestling mates—has been quickly replaced by an image of a place with almost as many Asian Australians as (stereotypically) husky white Aussies. What we term “interracial couples” back home are so common here that the term loses its meaning. At least in Perth. I have to be careful not to generalize. We go to Melbourne next and maybe everyone will look Icelandic.

I pay for my bento and decide to go to the Art Gallery of Western Australia. Museums are free, as are the city buses that take you to the museums. There is free universal access to healthcare. The minimum wage is high; you don’t tip in restaurants because of this. Oh, the horrors of social democracy. But don’t you worry. Capitalism is alive and well—there are more self-made millionaires in Perth, for example, than in any other city in the world. There’s a Prada and Ferrari and Mont Blanc and lots of fancy fresh juice places. I’m sure there’s an underclass—I suspect it’s the Aborigines—but everyone I’ve seen in my ten days seems content and sober and very tanned.

Speaking of tanned.  I put sunblock on my face and arms and wore sunglasses and a stupid-looking hat in order not to get burned.  I overlooked my neck. My neck is now red while my face is pasty white. I am now a redneck.

The Art Gallery of Western Australia is housed in an unassuming building near several other museums.  Inside—gleaming wooden floors, comfortable yet edgy black leather benches, huge rooms. Most of the paintings are huge as well: sweeping landscapes, oversized human bodies, large abstract canvasses by Aboriginal artists. There’s an interesting/disturbing Lucian Freud, Naked Man with Rat, that’s in the same room where some kind of performance art is taking place. At least I think it’s performance art.  There’s a table with chairs in the middle of the room. Two women are talking very loudly about sex.  There are three wigs on the table—blonde, red, and dark brown. In a corner of the room there’s a man sitting on a metal folding chair. Above him a sign reads Sex Talk.  I hurry out—I’m anxiousI’ll somehow be pulled into this unsettling tableau. Who knows what might happen?

I decide I need coffee. There are as many coffee shops as there are sushi bars. Apparently the idea of having sushi and then a big cup of coffee to wash it down with strikes Perthians as perfectly normal. No Starbucks here–it’s great to be in a country where many different coffee shops vie for customers. I’ve fallen in love with a type of coffee called Flat White. It’s coffee with pretty white foam on top, but there’s more coffee than foam so it’s not really a cappuccino.

I get a coffee to go and then walk back to the hotel along the banks of the Swan River, once called the Black Swan River because of the black swans found here. I prefer the kookaburras because they’re less pretentious, having no ambitions to the ballet. I walk slowly. I am no ballet dancer. A few days ago I tripped while walking down Adelaide Terrace, holding a cup of Flat White. I landed on my hands and knees–the minimal dog pose in yoga, I think they call it. Several construction workers ran to my aid, helped me up, asked whether I needed an ambulance. Okay, maybe they didn’t ask whether I needed an ambulance, but that’s what I told Marty.  During Scrabble tournaments I can’t get his attention and must resort to various fairly minor falsehoods. I told him there were deadly spider sightings at the Scrabble tournament venue, but he just ignored me.

Deadly spiders (and snakes and jellyfish) aside, the nature here is phenomenal. King’s Park and Botanical Garden is phenomenal. The sun here is phenomenal, better than the sun we have back home. The Indian Ocean is phenomenal. I went whale watching. I was dubious at first about the whaling company’s 98% percent success rate in sighting whales, as was Marty. “They probably send out big wooden planks into the ocean every morning,” he said. “And then point them out as whales.” I’m pretty sure what I saw were not wooden planks, unless they were wooden planks capable of jumping out of the water. I tried to take pictures, but I’m a lousy photographer and I kept missing the leaping whales (or planks.) So what I’m going to do is buy some postcards of breaching whales at the airport—no, wait, that’s a dangling modifier or some kind of bad grammatical thing: I’m going to buy postcards at the airport of whales breaching. I’m going to cut out the Welcome to Perth headings and then impress my friends with my “photographs.”

I could have gone swimming with dolphins. Wild dolphins, not those poor creatures in Florida that are kept in dolphinariums and have to endure tourists pawing over them and taking selfies. The brochures here stated you can’t feed or touch the dolphins, just swim side by side with them. I was fearful I might get one of those (rightfully) resentful dolphins sick and tired of people swimming in their territory. Also, the price for the swim was 200 dollars. Also, the tour operators make you wear a wetsuit. I was afraid I couldn’t get into the wetsuit or, worse, get out of the wetsuit. I’d have to waddle back to the hotel looking like a giant drunk penguin.

Since this is a Scrabble blog, I have to come up with something Scrabble-related, I suppose.  Oh, Marty played ECHIDNA for lots of points! This is what I remember about ECHIDNAS from high school biology. Most people aren’t aware of my photogenic memory: Echidnas /ɨˈkɪdnə/, sometimes known as spiny anteaters,[1] belong to the family Tachyglossidae in the monotreme order of egg-laying mammals. The four extant species, together with the platypus, are the only surviving members of the Monotremata order and are the only extant mammals that lay eggs.[2] Their diet consists of ants and termites, but they are not closely related to the true anteaters of the Americas. Echidnas live in Australia and New Guinea. Echidnas evidently evolved between 20 and 50 million years ago, descending from a platypus-like monotreme.[3] This ancestor was aquatic, but echidnas adapted to being terrestrial so they could live life on land.[3]



Interview with Doug Lundquist

Congratulations to Doug Lundquist, the winner of this year’s Arden Cup Scrabble Tournament. The Arden Cup, named for the late, beloved Chicago-area Scrabble director, Bob Denn, is held over the Memorial Day weekend and consists of twenty games of Scrabble.  Doug is known for his calm demeanor, quirky sense of humor, and excellent strategy.

Doug, you’ve worked your way up in the Arden Cup over the years, winning Division Five, placing second in Division Four, and then first, first, first in Divisions Three, Two, and One.  Is there a name for such an achievement? Scrabble Cycle, like they have in baseball?

There isn’t but maybe there should be. Since division winners at Arden get trophies, “collecting cups” sums it up, although I’ll be forever haunted by the division 4 gap in my collection.

Can you tell us how/when you became interested in Scrabble?

My parents had a set and I found it when I was maybe five or six. I really liked the tiles even though I didn’t quite get the game. I remember being frustrated at being unable to score any points with a blank, so I used a green marker to put an X on one side of a blank. Because, you know, you can drop OX/AX for 50pts. Over the next thirty years, I played against humans and computers, joined a meetup group, and eventually got the bug enough to try tournaments.

 What do you remember from your first tournament?

 I hadn’t studied much; I mostly knew the threes and not much else. A week or so beforehand, someone had played the very high probability ASTONIED against me, and I had no idea if it was good. In the actual tournament I played like the novice I was, chickening out on WRENCHER, falling for phonies (STEELERS* and PHILIAS*) against the eventual winner and missing vowel dump words to clean up bad racks. I dimly recall that CIAO would’ve helped me a lot at one point. But my opponents were novices, too, and I did well enough – had to lose my last two games to avoid winning my division.

 After that, I knew my word knowledge was inadequate but getting better seemed not worth the trouble and I gradually drifted away from the game. A couple years later, I looked online for word study tools, found zyzzyva, got back into tournaments, and have been learning words and missing sleep ever since.

 I know this may sound trite, but do you have favorite words? Favorite anagrams?

 My favorite phony is XANTHAL*, which I actually thought was good when I played it. Confused CANTHAL and one of the many XANTH- words, I suppose. I like obscure words starting with X (XERUS, XERIC, XENIC, XENIA, XERARCH, etc.) because they’re so rare in real life. Other than XENON and XYLOPHONE, I don’t think I knew any before Scrabble.

 If you could play Scrabble with any person in the world, living or dead, who would be your choice and why?

 Hmmm. Ten years ago, I might’ve said Charlize Theron, on the condition that the loser had to sleep with the winner. Of course, nowadays, I’m far too married and respectable for that. So, maybe D. B. Cooper? (Charlize, if you’re reading this, my wife gave me a pass!)

Tell us a little about your life outside Scrabble? What’s interesting about you?

 I have a wonderful family: wife, three-year-old son, three-month-old daughter, and two reasonably well-behaved parakeets. We just moved to Evanston from Chicago and I miss the food but I’m losing weight which I suppose is a fair exchange. I played tournament chess through the 80’s and reached expert rating in high school. I’ve had three suspicious moles excised. I was in the navy for six years as a nuclear-qualified mechanic: two years of training, four on an aircraft carrier. I mostly lost my sense of smell in a bizarre smelling salts incident during basic training and ever since I’ve eaten a lot of chili peppers. I had a ruptured appendix for about a week before I had symptoms and saw a doctor. It took me fifteen years to finish my bachelor’s degree and seven to finish my PhD. I teach at UIC (business & technology classes) and really am grateful they kept me on after I finished my degree there.

What’s the most money you’ve won in Scrabble? What did you do with the money?

I think $800 for one of my Arden wins. Traditionally, I buy sushi for my wife & me after any tournament, win or lose. Other than that, I can’t think of any memorable purchases. The money’s nice but it just kind of melts away for everyday expenses.

If someone wrote a biography about you, what might the title be?

Unprovoked Revenge: The Cautionary Tale of Doug Lundquist.


Words of Love

We’d been dating for four months. We talked on the phone every day, sometimes for hours. He met my mother and asked her to teach him a few words of Lithuanian. Things were going very well on all levels. After one particularly intimate and pleasurable moment, my then-boyfriend and now-husband looked deeply into my eyes. “I have something to tell you,” Marty said, stroking my hair. This is it, I thought. The first “I love you.”

He sighed, drew in a deep breath, and proceeded to whinny. He continued to whinny, throwing back his head, flaring his nostrils.

“Please stop whinnying.”

He continued like a horse in some old western.

“Do I need a whip to make you stop?”

Marty couldn’t understand why I disliked his whinnying so much.

“It’s a pretty good imitation, don’t you think?” he said.

“I was expecting something different. Perhaps something spoken.”

I put on my coat and headed for the door.

“Wait, wait.  The whinny was animal language for …..”

“For what?”

“For, for……..uh, love,” he said in a barely audible voice.

Over the years, Marty’s terms of endearment have changed.

“You are my pigsney,” he said one day.

“I beg your pardon.”

“Pigsney. It’s a great Scrabble word. It has an anagram. Espying. And it takes an –s.”

He introduced me once in public as his “little pigsney.”

“I am not your little pigsney,” I stormed off.

He then began calling me his DOWSABEL, which was a step up from PIGSNEY, but not by much. As far as I’m concerned, DOWSABEL is the name of a cow.

The best of the endearments learned from studying Scrabble words was LEMAN.

“Daiva, I just want to tell you that you’re my leman,” Marty said.

“Is that a high-class lemon? Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

“What do you want me to call you, then?”

“How about She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed.”

Sometimes Marty calls me Dutzky, which means nothing and is not a valid Scrabble word, not even in Collins. I like Dutzky, pronounced Doot-ski, because it’s a real pet name, one that emerged naturally and solidified over the course of time.  I love it most of all when Marty calls me Daivute, which is an endearing diminutive of Daiva in Lithuanian.

I’ve had my own names for Marty, some of which I can’t say in public. Occasionally I’ll call him Zebu, which is a species of South Asian cattle. He is not really cattle-like—I like zebu because it’s one of the first unusual z- words I learned when I took up Scrabble.

We call each other sweetie a lot these days. I like sweetie. It implies a level of comfort that takes some time to establish, I think. You don’t say “Sweetie, can you move your big feet so that I can see the television” in the very beginning of a relationship.

This morning my sweetie and I went over a list of words that begin with LOVE and have extensions. Among them are LOVEFEST, LOVELORN, LOVERLY, LOVESOME, LOVELILY (which can be an adverb or an adjective, and, no, I can’t use LOVELILY in a sentence), LOVEBIRD, LOVESICK, and, if you’re playing Collins, LOVERED and LOVEBITE.

My favorite love word, however, is LOVEVINE.  I won’t tell you the meaning. I guess you’ll just have to use your vivid imaginations.





Scrabble is Like High School

Note: This is another guest blog. Danielle Rogner, a student in my creative nonfiction class at Eastern, wrote this as a kind of mini-essay to add to her final portfolio. She’s a fantastic writer–I’m trying to convince her to go on for an MFA in creative writing. And to join our Scrabble club.

Scrabble is Like High School

L’s are the cheerleaders who wear their uniforms on Fridays and are invited to every party. They are almost always welcomed and appreciated for their upbeat personalities and the positive potential they bring to any social situation. Despite the fact that they can memorize the names of every OPI nail-polish shade but can’t remember the first column of elements on the periodic table, they somehow become every teacher’s favorite. But ask anyone, even another L, and they will tell you that if you have too many of them at once, you’re at a loss.

O’s are the band geeks. Sometimes they walk around in pairs, clinking their clarinet cases as they step in sync with the beat emanating from their headphones. When an O with a tuba steps into the hallway, everyone makes way, trying to negotiate a new path around. O’s are generally not hated—just usually ignored. Unless they are really good. Then they are put on display in front of everyone and praised for their talent.

R’s are the jocks. Everyone pretends to love them. Their names are scrawled onto windows with bright paint, printed on the backs of their girlfriends’ t-shirts, and announced over the loudspeakers at the games. Really, they aren’t any more special than any other pimply, insecure teenager, but for some reason, when you pick up an R, you’re pleased.

Z’s are the AP kids who huddle over their advanced calculus textbooks and feverishly try to squeeze an impressive amount of information onto 3×5 inch notecards. They are the social outcasts—the kids who never seem to be wanted except for when a teacher introduces a dreaded group project. They can be awkward and challenging to work with, but can be easily ignored on the edge of the tile rack until you need to take advantage of them. If you are lucky enough to get an AP kid in your group, they suddenly glimmer with the radiance of a Triple Letter Score.

S’s are the female athletes. Some are competitive and play to release their aggression and teen angst. They will get in your face on the field or court and stir up trouble when they assume they belong in the center of attention. Some S’s are well-rounded perfectionists, trying to add a sport onto their long list of bests. They are responsible, generous, and can usually attach themselves comfortably onto any group. The rest just have a genuine love for the game and don’t care if they are on the starting lineup. They willingly wait on the bench until they are called into play. They may just be add-ons, but they are happy to help.

Q’s and U’s are the hopeless romantics. They are always together. Usually, they can be found at a table in the back of the library gazing into each other’s eyes, or less discreetly making out in the middle of the hallway. Most students, annoyed by the incessant display of affection and slobber, simply push them to the side and move along.

X’s are the art freaks who sneak out the unguarded emergency exits to smoke weed between English and economics. They are usually left alone and given weird looks as they draw peace signs and dead trees on each other with ketchup packets. No one really knows what to do with the X’s.

E’s are everyone else. They are favored, kind, flexible, and almost always welcomed. They are the one you go to when you need someone you can count on. They are the best friend. They are the “get along with everyone” type. They are exceptionally average.


Why Don’t We Just Play Bingo?

Note from Daiva: The following entry is written by my husband, Marty Gabriel. I am swamped with work and haven’t had much time to play Scrabble, including Facebook Scrabble (sorry if you’ve been waiting 28 days for my move.) Marty will be a guest blogger. He is an expert at the game and is also pretty insightful and funny. I’m proud at his attempt at blogging, and even prouder that he’s mastered the fewer-less distinction.

The Elmhurst Thanksgiving Scrabble tourney is over and I’m receiving the first place envelope containing $250 that goes to the champion of the Collins division.  I’ve won my last three games to finish with an 8-4 record and am surprised to have surpassed the early leader in the division, who has ended with four straight losses. I’m happy, but somewhat embarrassed about this unexpected outcome. After suffering through a couple of shellackings earlier in the day, I’d been careful to complement the victors, Melissa Routzahn and Bill Rexhausen, on their well-played games, but I’d also bemoaned a sustained period of exceptionally unlucky drawing spanning nearly fifty games that began in London during the recent World Scrabble Championship. Before my tenth game in Elmhurst, a rematch with Bill, I’d thwacked my tile bag against the wall next to my seat in a semi-comic attempt to knock some luck into it more loudly than I’d intended, causing heads to turn. “I’m amazed and thrilled to have won the tourney, but I know I won’t be getting the sportsmanship award,” I sheepishly admit at the CSW awards ceremony. Melissa likes this remark enough to post it on Facebook.

In London I’d drawn twelve fewer blanks than my opponents in the twenty-four game main portion of the WSC and ten fewer blanks in the fourteen game follow-up tourney for WSC also-rans who hadn’t qualified for the eight player WSC playoff to determine the world champion.  I’d also had fourteen fewer esses in those thirty-eight games. When I grumbled to Daiva about this, she responded, “Yes, and you’ll continue to draw like this the rest of your life.” After I drew just one blank in my first four games at Elmhurst her remark appeared prophetic.

The leave simulator at , the go-to site for serious Scrabble players, lists the true value of a blank at 28 points and the true value of an ess at 8.5 points for international dictionary play (CSW). Each is actually slightly more valuable in CSW than in standard North American dictionary play (TWL). I was very encouraged to have had the eleventh highest scoring average in the WSC, pleased to have finished in 37th place with a 13-11, +446 record in that event, and satisfied to have finished  7-7, +55 in the follow-up, considering my lack of primo tiles. Top rated Nigel Richards, universally acknowledged as the greatest Scrabble player of all time, won the follow-up tourney after shockingly finishing in eleventh place in the marquee event. One can only imagine the kind of tiles he’d endured.

Back in Illinois I’d explained what transpired to my parents, who enjoy following the major tourneys online. My mother suspected foul play. ” What about that Dave Wiegand? How come he never has a bad tourney?” she asked. I explained why Dave is beyond reproach; his annotated games show an extraordinary ability to play nearly flawlessly extremely consistently. And, like Nigel, he’s a good sport.

Good sportsmanship in Scrabble is manifest in many ways: scrupulously following the rules, congratulating an opponent following a loss, being gracious in victory, not disturbing players at other boards, and not complaining about one’s tiles. Former national and world Scrabble champion, Brian Cappelletto, my mentor ten to fifteen years ago, was extremely conscientious about playing properly, unfailingly  gracious in victory or defeat, and appropriately stoic during stretches of poor drawing. He also displayed a keen sense of humor. “Why don’t we just play bingo,” he’d say to players who whined about bad tiles.

Being down twenty-eight blanks over a stretch of three tourneys wouldn’t have elicited a peep from Brian, but he wasn’t oblivious to the role that luck can play in Scrabble. When I asked him if he’d drawn poorly after he’d disappointingly finished fourth at the 1996 NSC in Dallas, he recalled having a stretch of seven straight games without a blank and how he’d been fortunate to have won three of them. He added that winning two out of five such games would be about as well as one could expect to do usually. But he typically disdained conversations about luck. My demeanor has improved over the years, as I’ve tried to emulate Brian, but I’m still prone to vent toward the end of a prolonged drawing drought.

Showing a sense of humor is easier, though, especially when I’m playing an amiable opponent. Following his lopsided win, Bill begins our second game by wishing me good luck. I am taken aback by this and ponder my response. I don’t want to respond in kind because that would be disingenuous. Bill has had good luck already and he’s used it to kick my ass. Now it’s my turn. If Bill was a low-rated and relatively unskilled player and we were playing a mere club game, I might wish him good luck, hoping to have a more competitive and interesting game, but this is different. “I won’t insult you by wishing you good luck,” I say.

At an adjacent board a player chuckles. The player had lost twice to Bill the previous day and posted a somewhat unflattering message on Facebook, regarding his frustration at losing to Bill, a lower rated player. I’d heard about it later that night and told Bill in the morning I thought he was quite underrated and mistakenly disparaged. Bill and I were scheduled to play back-to-back games a couple hours later and I feared emboldening him beforehand, but encouraging him seemed appropriate; I think Brian would have approved.

So my remark has added meaning. To emphasize my point I explain to Bill that because he’s such a good player, I cannot sincerely wish him good luck.

“Let us not come to fisticuffs,” I say instead before elaborating. “I told Dave Wiegand this before we played a game for $3000, the championship game of the 2010 Dallas Open. His response was, ‘Whatever it takes.’”






Not a Funny Blog Entry

Or maybe it is?

What’s funny anyway?

Dying is easy, comedy is difficult, said Groucho Marx or maybe it was Karl Marx, or perhaps Jack Lemmon or Edmund Gwenn (Santa Claus) or Madonna or Miley Cyrus.

I paraphrase and tell my students: “Dying is easy, writing is difficult.” They think I’m either crazy or a genius.

Scrabble is difficult and often not funny, though it is fun, at least more pleasurable than grading English 1000 argument papers that begin with “In my opinion, I believe….”  and “In today’s time…” I’ve told them they can’t begin a paper with “In today’s society,” but apparently they’ve found a loophole. They make up their own citation styles, a mixture of MLA and APA and God knows what else. I’ve told them that at least two of their sources need to be print sources.

“What do you mean by ‘print’ sources’?” a student asked.

I patiently explained, then added: “Are there any more questions?”

“Can we go now?”

Writer’s block isn’t funny, either, though I suppose having nothing to say is better than writing a really crappy essay or story or Scrabble blog entry.

But I DO have something to say.

I’m frustrated. The new Scrabble words go into effect January 1st, which means I should be seriously looking them over. There’s some confusion as to whether there are lists for these words or whether they have to be culled from the new dictionary like lentils from the ash heap in the original Cinderella story. Also, a lot of players are moving to Collins Scrabble, which uses the world dictionary and includes many more words. Should I start studying the new words when I have papers to grade and committee meetings to attend and WebMD to peruse? Should I go bi-Scrabble and play Collins? What to do, what to do?

I don’t like change. What’s so bad about being stuck in a time before Al Gore invented the internet, before Lil’ Wayne rapped bling bling, before some disaffected, unwashed youth became all emo?  The Scrabble Dictionary Committee should choose a year and stick with it.  (Note: bold-faced words are currently not in the North American Dictionary and I’m too lazy to check whether they’re good in Collins.) Or maybe we should revert to a previous time period such as the Renaissance or the Middle Ages. The Dictionary Committee could read everything that was written during the time of Chaucer and compile a new dictionary.  I know only one Middle English word that is good in Scrabble, and that is the glorious yclept.

I should add that I’m not the only person losing sleep over the new words. Melissa Anders Routzahn posted the following on Facebook:

“I was dreaming last night that I was studying new words, such as the  pair  GULU*/LUGU*. Now I’m going to have an extra level of anxiety when I’m playing, because I’ll be wondering if I’m putting down real words or ones my brain made up in my sleep.”

Melissa is NOT an anxious person unless she’s eaten the wrong cheese or her ale is not up to snuff, so her FB post must be taken seriously.

Other changes I’m conflicted or not crazy about:

1. For months on Facebook Scrabble I was drawing great tiles and plowing over my opponents like the Patriots (or the Packers or fill-in-the-blank) mow down the Bears. Now, all of a sudden, I’m losing games to players who’ve played a month of Scrabble in their entire lives.

2. Nigel Richards. He should always be in the top five of any tournament. (Yeah, yeah, I know that he won the smaller tournament.) The slow overshadowing of Richards by human players is unnatural. To quote from King Lear: “These late eclipses in the sun and moon portend no good to us. “

3. Recent changes to my PayPal account. Recent changes to policy blah blah blah.

4.  Recent changes to my body. I don’t mean the added pounds and drooping boobs—the added pounds actually help to prop up the boobs. No, I mean my head. No, not in that way. In a neurological I-don’t-know-what’s-happening way. The left side of my head goes numb and I’m getting headaches on the same side. They’re different from my migraines and not really painful, just scary. I’ve had an MRI done. I’m claustrophobic and was hoping the MRI guy would give me some Valium and maybe some extra to take home, but he just told me to relax. It wasn’t too bad except for the sound—construction workers drilling on my head. The results were normal. Doctor tested for diabetes, thyroid disorder, vitamin B deficiency, MS, and LSD. (Just kidding about the last one. Acronym overload.) Everything okay. So I’m set to see a neurologist at the end of JANUARY.  (Insert bad swear word here.) I’ve been to a massage therapist and feel all “floaty” afterward, but the numbness remains. My head is okay in the morning and gets progressively worse as the day goes on. I don’t feel it when I’m teaching or really engaged in a project, so it may partly be psychological. My psychiatrist doubled my dose of anti-depressants and told me to start using my SAD lamp and also to get back to exercising. We’ll see.  My fears: 1) I have some rare disease that will completely incapacitate me or 2) the neurologist will tell me to cut out all caffeine. If you know me, you know which is more fearful.

Marty is still in London.  He participated in the Mind Games tournament. Oops—Mind SPORTS. We Skyped for the first time. (Will skype be on the new words list?) There are many advantages to Skyping but one disadvantage is that you can’t really knit or grade papers or study Scrabble words if the conversation gets boring.

Marty wanted me to write about his best games. He sent me five or six via email.

Maybe next year.






“What’s your secret to a happy marriage?” younger friends sometimes ask.

Okay, maybe they don’t ask me this, but I’m sure they’re thinking about it.

“The secret to a happy marriage remains a secret,” I announce, quoting Henny Youngman.

Marty and I repeatedly break the rules of matrimony set forth by experts such as Dr. Laura, Marty’s parents, and the Bible, advice such as “Do not let the sun go down on your wrath.”

There are times I’m so angry I lie in bed next to my husband and mumble something about marriage being overrated. This happens most often when I’ve had a long day at school and I come home and Marty asks whether I’ve been fooling around with the remote because “it seems to have stopped working.” There are times he’s so angry—I’ve laughed at him for not knowing who Sylvia Plath is—that he ignores me when I try to apologize. I storm out and tell him I’m going to sleep downstairs. I then make a loud stomping noise, wait ten minutes, maybe have a snack, and then get back into bed. “I’ve decided to forgive you,” I tell Marty.

It’s our eleventh wedding anniversary today. We’re doing something really romantic to celebrate—Marty is going to play Scrabble all day with Scott Garner, who’s driven all the way up from Memphis to spend Labor Day weekend here.  Meanwhile, I’m driving to Champaign with a new friend for some shopping. Do I mind that I’ve been replaced in Marty’s Scrabble affections by Scott? Not a bit. I still play Scrabble with my husband.  We go to tournaments. I’m just not as much into Scrabble as Marty is. Do I mind that our anniversary is basically spent apart? No. I believe that making my husband happy is my duty as a wife. Plus, Marty gave me fifty dollars for shopping, in addition to buying me the Cuisinart juicer I wanted.

We also had a nice anniversary dinner on Thursday in Champaign after my court appearance.  Although the judge found me guilty of failure to yield, he lessened my fine, which was fine with me. After dinner we went to the Scrabble club all lovey-dovey. (Me and Marty, not the judge.) When John Fultz, the director, asked whether I’d mind playing my husband, I purred “Of course not. It’s our anniversary. Eleven years of wedded bliss.” Everyone oohed and aahed, though I suspect they may have been snickering behind our backs.

Marty wanted to play Collins, but my brain cells had all been used up in court.

My husband almost always wins when we play.  Thursday, however, I drew all of the good tiles. After a few nice plays, I was ahead.

“Can you hold your tile bag up higher?” Marty asked.  “And look away.”

“Are you accusing me of cheating?”

“Those are the rules.”

Things got worse when I successfully challenged off his GERMINS#.

“That’s the SINGER stem,” I announced in a very loud and important voice. “That’s WE LOVE THE CRAZY POP SOUND OF BOY GEORGE.  No M in WE LOVE THE CRAZY POP SOUND OF BOY GEORGE.”

“In Collins there are three bingoes with M and SINGER. And one of them is GERMINS#,” Marty said very slowly and, I thought, rather menacingly.

I won the game.

A hush fell over the room.  (Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little.)

“Well, this is going to be a very long drive home,” I muttered.

But then Marty said, “Good game. You played really well.”

He’s been saying this lately when I do win, which kind of takes the fun out of gloating.

But it also makes me love him even more.

Happy anniversary to my Zebu.


Division Three

Buffalo, New York.

Day Two of the Nationals.  No, wait.  It’s Day Three.

People begin to blend into one another, especially in my division—Division Three.  Or maybe it’s Division Two.  Let me check my nametag.  Three.

Yesterday I sat down at Table 5, my assigned place for the first game of the day.  Everything looked different, kind of hazy and Twilight Zone-like.

“Are you Diana?” I asked a young man with glasses.

He looked at my nametag.

“You’re in the wrong division. This is Four.”

My score sheets look like the scribblings of a drunken monkey trying to learn our numeral system.

I can’t seem to find my way out of the convention center back to the Hyatt. I should have brought some bread crumbs.

The Nationals will do this to you.

Unless, of course, you’re a sharp and steady player with an already firm grasp of reality.

“Have you played any interesting words?” my husband asked last evening. (I managed to get out of the convention center by following a group of players from Division One.)

“I played words.”

“I played WINSOMER for 98 points—a double-double—and then later ETTERCAP, which is only good in Collins, for 80 points, and also WHISKER for 116.  I scored 487 in ten moves. My opponent went first and scored 501 in eleven moves.”

“Good for you.”

“If you write about this remember to put the # after ETTERCAP to signify that it’s Collins. You don’t want to unintentionally mislead people.”

“God forbid.”

“An ETTERCAP# is a spider. The variant spellings are ETHERCAP# and ATTERCOP#.”

“If you don’t stop this minute I’m calling hotel security.”

Marty is playing in the Collins division, which uses the international dictionary. Collins is a tough division, as is Division One.  And Two.  And Three is no piece of cake. Four—well, I could do very well in Division Four. And I could probably sweep the student division, where everyone is in grade school.

“I do remember an interesting word I played,” I tell Marty.  “I played PENIS!”

This tickled my opponent, a very nice and proper young man, to no end. A few turns later he played AROUSED! We giggled like naughty school children.

“I’ve never had a game like this,” my opponent said excitedly.

To top it off, I played CACA.

This is the difference between players in Collins and Division Three. Collins players make words like ETTERCAP#.  Division Three players make CACA.









It’s Good in Collins

We are driving to Indianapolis for a four game Early Bird and an eight game Scrabble tourney. Marty is quizzing me on Collins two-letter words.  For those not in the Scrabble-know, the Collins dictionary includes words used not only in the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia, but also in many of the originally non-English speaking British colonies. It’s the more linguistically logical dictionary; words such as FEEDING and CLEANING, which do not take an -s in TWL, do so in Collins. (I’ve forgotten what TWL stands, but I think it’s The Wimpy Lexicon.) Words also make their way into Collins much more quickly than they do into TWL.  The interjection MEH, for example, is good in Collins, but not in the Little Dic, as it’s sometimes referred to.  And EMO, first used in the US to describe a type of post-punk-ish music, is not good in the Little Dic.  But, yes, it’s good in Collins.

The reason Marty is quizzing me on Collins is because he needs me to play Collins in the Early Bird. For a tournament to be legit you have to have four players and so far there’s only three.

“So how much are you going to pay me for this?” I ask. “Because I’m going to get clobbered.”

“You’re only expected to win maybe a half of a game. Think of it as an adventure.”

I don’t understand the half-game thing, but that’s because my PhD is in English.

I already know some of the twos because I play Collins on Facebook with two of my former graduate students, one from Egypt, one from South Africa. I even know some of the threes—ZOL, for example, which is Emile Zolas’ nickname, and ALF, which was the name of the alien who liked to eat cats on the sitcom ALF.  (And the favorite show of my ex-husband.) And DOH, the expression made popular on my favorite television show of all time.

I also know some longer Collins words because Marty is always saying things like “Here’s an interesting word. But it’s only good in Collins.”

I’m surprised how easy it is to learn the Collins twos.

KY and NY are abbreviations of states.  IO is either one of Zeus’ lovers or the last word of the refrain to Old McDonald Had a Farm. In Lithuanian, JA is the accusative form of the pronoun SHE.   As far as I know, there is no Lithuanian Scrabble. I can see why—people would go crazy.  JI, JOS, JAI, JA, JOJE—five cases for one lousy pronoun. And that’s just the singular feminine. Add the masculine—JIS, JO, JAM, JI, JAME—and the plurals for both genders–JIE, JU, JIEMS, JUOS, JOMS, JOSE, etc. etc.—and what you get is J overkill.  There are also a lot of words with K.

The first person I play in the tournament is Marty. I know how to play my husband—he is slow and I am fast (most of the time.) I can sometimes get him on time. But his memory is so much better than mine. He has better board vision. Even his handwriting is better. And, of course, he spends much more time studying words. In order to beat him, I have to get good tiles and play well and quickly.

I get good tiles and play well and quickly.  I start off with a bingo. I think. (Yeah, my memory is not great.) I even make a Collins bingo: DUALISE.  I know that the only word with those letters in TWL is AUDILES, but Marty has taught me that in Collins words that end in -IZE will also be good ending –ISE.  As the game goes on and it’s pretty clear I’m going to win, I see steam coming out of Marty’s ears, like in one of those cartoons from the Sixties. I’m REALLY careful to hold the bag way up high when I’m drawing in order not to be called on any rule infringement.

When I do win, however, Marty is gracious.

“Congrats,” he says. “You played very well.”

“Praise from Caesar is praise indeed.”

He pauses and smiles.

“Though it was my opponents you were supposed to beat.”


I lose the other games but have a lot of fun. I gain a Collins rating that’s a little higher than my TWL rating.  I’m not about to COLLINIZE (NOT a good word, even in Collins) the Scrabble playing world, but, yes, I’ll definitely play it again.







Yes, I Finally Got Off My Ass and Wrote A Blog Entry

 My excuses for not writing in the Scrabble blog for months:

1)    I have to cater to Marty’s every whim and desire, which leaves me little time for anything else.

2)   I’d forgotten my WordPress password.  After trying over three hundred combinations, I finally got in!!

2)  We’ve had a very long winter in Central Illinois, so I’m probably still in shock that it’s not 15 degrees outside. Also, I’ve had recurrent bouts of bronchitis made worse by stress caused by students who ask questions such as the following:

            Student: Why did I get a C on this paper?

            Me: Because you wrote a C paper.

            Student: What do I need to do to get a B on a paper in this class?

            Me: Write a B paper. 

             I add that we’ve gone over this in class when I handed out the departmental grading guidelines in addition to sample A, B, C, and D papers. (My other two classes were great. One class even brought me Hostess Twinkies, which I don’t need but which I like. I told the students I had a deprived childhood because of my immigrant parents’ ban on snacks with funny names.)

            I hear fellow teachers and parents complain that students come into college with poor grammar skills. I don’t know if this is true. Most of my students know what a sentence is, though the term “phrase” throws them off.  For the most part they use the correct verb tenses. It’s their vocabularies that leave much to be desired. Examples: “The character has a mental mentality” and “The story gives off a feeling of badness.” One solution would be to have them play Scrabble.

            I’ve learned a lot of new words playing Scrabble.  It’s true that many are words I will never use in real life: ENTASTIC, DORMIENT, CENTROID, NONINERT, and INERRANT.  Okay, maybe I would use the latter two, as in “The students are very chatty today. They are unusually NONINERT” and “The professor is INERRANT.”  

            Some of the words I learn from playing Scrabble or studying Scrabble word lists.  Others I learn because Marty is my Scrabble coach.  He takes his job seriously.

            Marty: What’s ORIENT with an M and a C?

            Me:  MACRONITE.

            Marty: There’s no A.

            Me: MERCINTO.

            Marty: Nope.

            Me:  Can you give me a hint? What does it start with?

            Marty:  I.

            Me: You what?

            Marty: No, it starts with an I.

            Me:  IMONCERT.

            Marty: You’re not even trying, Daiva.

            Me: What’s the second letter?

            Marty: N.

            Me: INMOCERT?

            (Prolonged and disgusted silence on Marty’s part.)

            Marty: It begins with a five letter prefix.

            Me: INERT something?

            Marty: You have a Ph.D in English?????

            Me: Okay, I get it. INTER something.

            (Look of intense concentration on my face.)

            Me: INTERMOC is a word?

            Although my anagramming skills leave much to be desired, I’ve done fairly well in my last two Scrabble tournaments. I think I won something in the Arden Cup, and here in Pittsburgh I’ve placed second in Division B!

Yes, I’m not in Charleston, but in Pittsburgh, which I love and not only because I placed second in Division B and won a lot of money and 12 ratings points.

Other things I love about Pittsburgh:

1)    The views from way up high. You can look down and see the city and the rivers and the sports stadiums from several lookout spots. I must admit, however, that Heinz Field, home of the Steelers (not a good SCRABBLE word, BTW), is somewhat effeminate what with all that gold, and also kind of small, at least compared with Soldier Field.

2)    The fact that the name Heinz in everywhere, which makes it easy to sound knowledgeable about the city: “You make a right on Heinz Street and then you’ll cross the Heinz Bridge until you get to the Church of Heinzology.”

3)    The Cathedral of Learning, which includes the International Rooms, of which the most impressive is the Lithuanian room.

4)    The food, including the all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet at the Holiday Inn Express. I also like the way people here spell BURGER: BURGHER. (Which IS a good Scrabble word.) You know, after Pitts-BURGH.

5)    The people. Most of the people. Maybe not the drivers. Yeah, the drivers aren’t that great. I think it’s all the hills.