Friday, January 30, 2009


This is the third part of my series of -ergence-themed posts. I was going to call this one "Two-Timing" but realized "Divergence" ties my ideas and past posts all together.

I mentioned in my last post that "The Big Bang Theory" is currently my favorite show. This is mainly because of the brilliance of Jim Parsons who seems cast as a supporting actor, but who usually steals the show. He's a young gangly actor who seems to have studied the comic stylings of both David Hyde Pierce and Rowan Atkinson. Again, the pilot begins with the two main characters discussing the mysterious properties of the dual slit experiment. The weirdness of quantum physics comes into play in that electromagnetic radiation seems to behave differently when you're looking at it directly versus not looking at it.

A while back I recorded a Nova episode about Hugh Everett's son Mark's quest to learn about his late father's work. Everett's theory was that whenever a quantum event happens, such as a physicist deciding to look at a dual slit experiment, the universe splits amoeba-like into two universes and both universes go on their happy way. This is very hard for us mere mortals to understand because we have both intuition and third grade science class telling us that matter has mass and takes up space. Where do you hide a whole second universe of matter where it won't interfere with traffic in this universe? Anyway, Mark Everett talked of two selves: one which took a hiatus from his music career to revisit some painful memories of his father and one who just stayed home on his front porch and smoked. One more footnote: I watched the mediocre movie "The One" where Jet Li plays a monomaniacal universe hopping serial killer who gets stronger every time he kills his parallel self.

Whew! No wonder I don't have readership. Get to the point already! Last June, I visited my brother in the bay area. As I was leaving, my sister-in-law gave me my brother's old Palm Tungsten computer. At first, I tried to put chess software on it, but finding it was only capable of playing about 1600 chess or so left me wanting more. Eventually, I found a program for playing Scrabble. It was great: no tiles to clean up or keep track of around the kids, no scoresheets to tally. It even looked up obscure words for you.

My wife and I really got into playing Scrabble; so much so that we both signed up to play our first Scrabble tournament this past Martin Luther King weekend at the Sparks Nugget. The Scrabble tournament was actually three tournaments in one: an early bird special on Friday, the main event from Saturday through Monday, and night Scrabble on Saturday and Sunday evening. My wife and I only signed up for the early bird, which was a 10-hour, 8-round round robin with the other 7 people in your rating group with a rematch in round 8 versus whoever is closest to your performance.

Scrabble ratings have some resemblance to those in chess with the range of almost all players between 500 and 2000. Since I've always been above average in chess, I went in kinda cocky thinking that I should at least make about a 1200 provisional rating. It was a miserable, humbling experience. Basically, I lost to everyone except that my wife and I split our fourth-round game and the rematch of doormats in round 8. My provisional Scrabble rating is 500 which is comparable to 150 in chess. My wife won one more game than I did and is rated 551.

So yeah, I've been unfaithful to chess. ChessLoser wrote a nice awkward conversation a year ago that sums up our twisted relationship with chess. Chess is still a much greater game than Scrabble. There's the luck factor of drawing the right tiles that offends the meritocracy of chess. But it's interesting that there is a much more even gender balance for Scrabble including in my own household. There might even be more women. I wouldn't recommend a Scrabble tournament for picking up hot chicks, though. My round 2 opponent who ended up second in our 10-person division has about a 2000 Canadian chess rating, but he had chosen to emphasize tournament Scrabble. There's a small bluffing factor in Scrabble for playing legitimate-looking phony words. Time control was G/25 with 10 points per minute penalty for overstepping on the clock.

A strange thing has been happening to me lately. I've been staying up nights playing Scrabble against my handheld computer. It's a junkie drive that I remember having with chess a long time ago. Partly it's because my handheld computer is annoying and deserves to be put into its place, yet it keeps on beating me. Another dysfunctional relationship with a board game, this time 15x15. There is a crazy aspect to tournament Scrabble that is virtually identical to chess. I've heard so many good things about Word Freak that I'm going to have to read it soon. Perhaps I'll read it back to back with King's Gambit to compare the crazy.

Scrabble has reams of words, extensions, and hooks with bingo stems to memorize. There are also rack management and board management strategies which are sort of like the balance of offense and defense in chess. Don't paint yourself into a losing corner. My fifth round opponent had been tracking all the tiles that were played and at the end of the game, he knew that I had four I's and a couple U's, so he milked his plays in the endgame to maximize his winning spread. His 300-point spread against me became the decisive tiebreaker in winning our section.

I think I'm going to straddle both universes for a while. Sometimes I'll be a particle. Sometimes a wave.