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.