Mark vs Cancer

Sunday, May 20, 2007


Here is an innocent looking boy, smiling cutely and inviting you to play a game of Scrabble with him. Sure, you think, he's only 3 years old. I can whoop him easily enough. And so the game begins. You play, he plays, and the tension mounts. He is hanging with you with every word. Is he hustling you? This kid is good!
He's pulling you in, but there is no escape now. He has the lead, and it's your move. Consider it carefully. If you don't play it right, the kid will win, and you will wallow in freakish misery forever.
(Hold on! Scroll down to the next photo, and then stop!)

Your letters are on the rack at the bottom of the picture. It's your move. Can you salvage the game . . . and your pride?

Have you made your play? How many did you score? Twelve? Thirty? Sixty?

Not bad. But did you realize that, with the board in front of you, you could have scored FOUR HUNDRED AND SIXTY EIGHT POINTS with one word? That's right--468!!!

Now scroll down to see this amazing word placed so expertly on the board, and consider carefully your profound inferiority to my brilliant Scrabble powers.

QUIZZING, baby. QUIZZING. (Yes, QAT is a word, too.)

You, dear reader, have been humbly instructed this day by the Scrabble Master, as has our innocent young player. You might want to record this event for your posterity, though you shall surely never forget it as it has been seared into your soul.

As for the boy, I have taken him on as my young apprentice, and am teaching him the ways of the Scrabble Force. There are always two. I fear one day he may rise in rebellion and usurp my supremacy, but for today, I have reasserted my dominance, and the student has not yet become the master.

Explanatory Note: I play way too much computer Scrabble, as you can probably tell. Grant loves to play with me, and he actually has a good rudimentary understanding of the rules and strategy. "Put it on the red square, Daddy." Sometimes we'll get the real board out, and move the letters around. He gets to pick whatever letters he wants, and thus he usually spells JOY or GRANT or MOM or DAD. The above example was not a real game, but an attempt to create the highest scoring word possible. I think you could tweak things here or there and pull a few more points out, but basically this word in this situation is as near to Scrabble perfection as you can humanly get.

But seriously, I am GOOD. Sometimes I dazzle myself with my own brillance. I can defeat the "Advanced" level on the computer nine times out of ten, and my average score per game in 347 points. Most games now, I will use all of my letters on one word at least once and get the 50 point bonus.

What are my secrets? Glad you asked:

  1. I have discovered the higher level of game strategy, and I do not go for the fanciest or most obscure or most creative words. Rather, I go for points, baby, points. Every time. Relentlessly. Points are my only guiding star. The flashy words will come, but never at the expense of points.
  2. You must master the small words, like "AA," "OE," "UT," "XI," "JO," etc. There are hundreds of these small obscure words in the Scrabble dictionary, and you must learn them all in order to maximize your playing opportunities and word combinations.
  3. Never make a play that does not include at least two words, or words in at least two directions. This way, you double your points everytime.
  4. Play defensively. Do not leave a triple word space wide open for your opponent to exploit. If you must, play a lower scoring word on this space in order to prevent your opponent from using it.
  5. Make your high-point letters work for you (X,J,Q,Z), but don't hold onto them at all cost, or it will hamper the rest of your game. Get rid of them in a fairly quick manner. Take your points, and get on with it.
  6. Your mid-range letters should do the heavy lifting. Use your H, P, K, W, and Y wisely, and get them on double or triple points spaces every time. (But get rid of V quickly. It's a very hard one to utilize.)
  7. Finally, you must learn to EXCHANGE. I cannot overemphasize this. (Well, actually, I guess I AM overemphasizing this, just like pretty much everything else in this post. But you must understand, Scrabble is a big part of my life and I have invested many hours at great personal sacrifice to my wife in order to acquire this knowledge.) If you have a rack full of vowels and low scoring letters, then pull the trigger, dump your rack, and start fresh. You can't win unless you're playing with mid- to high-points letters, and you will be better off taking a one round zero than in trying to score points with AAEIURS.

I hope you found this post as invigorating as I have. We all must seek for our greatness in life. I happen to have found mine on the Scrabble board.

Four hundred and sixty eight points? Sometimes I amaze even myself.

You're welcome. :)


Mark said...

Clarification: I made a slight mistake in taking the pictures of the Scrabble board. I should have had the "N" in "Node" already on the board, and then the "Z" in "Zits" still on the rack. Only than can you arrive at 468 points, as the Z is on the double letter that then gets rolled into the TWO triple word scores of "Quizzing," not to mention it is then included as a double word score for "Zits."

Pure genius . . .

Tankfos said...

My inferior mind cannot understand or fathom your superiority in the game of scrabble.

Goose said...

You keep your nasty Scrabble, I like Uno or Stratego. This is taken from a movie, kind of, can you name the movie?

Matthew said...


I must challenge you on your hypothetical game. Please note that I do not mean to impugn your Scrabble aptitude, which is indeed formidable. But extraordinary claims, such as "...sometimes I dazzle myself with my own brilliance", etc., require extraordinary scrutiny.

I am generous. I forgive your small error of not placing N on the board prior to your masterstroke. I certainly wouldn't challenge "QAT" either, since, as everybody must already know, it is an herb native to Africa that it is an herb, chewed in that part of the world in a similar manner to tobacco, for its stimulant and psychoactive properties.

No, my challenge is of a much more technical and nitpicky nature. Look at the crux of your play: NODES. Notice the E. This silent E is concommittantly used to spell the word "ES", pointing downward. What kind of a word is that? has, as its only definition of the word (and I quote), "The symbol for the element einsteinium." That cannot stand.

While I am not familiar enough with Scrabble arcana to definitively say whether or not this "word" is allowed, I think I can safely say that abbreviations, acronyms and symbols are not allowed. If such were the case, why, I could simply place the letter E (mathematical symbol of the natural logarhithm, i.e. 2.71828) anywhere on the board and count it as a turn. In Scrabble, acronyms and symbols are a slippery slope that ultimately can ruin a game!

At first glance this may sound like a minor quibble, but I insist -- had you (or your "opponent"?) not been able to earlier play the word ODE as a precursor to your 468-point, dragonslayer play of QUIZZING (admittedly, a clever play), then you wouldn't have been able to play your N at all, let alone link your entire rack to the two "triple word score" squares.

Hence, in my opinion, your play collapses like a house of cards in a stiff gust of wind. All on account of that little gremlin, ES.

I suppose you could've meant the Latin infinitive, "es", meaning I believe "to be", but that doesn't hold up either. Are foreign roots allowed? I don't think so.

You indeed have a very clever head for Scrabble, and no doubt you would beat me 9 times or more out of 10, were I to play a tournament with you. However, in this case I have seen through your smokescreen of witty writing, as well as your sly misappropriation of a two-letter word. What do you have to say for yourself?

BTW: congrats on Justin, 3x papa! Your cute kids don't get you off the hook on this one, however. I demand a response!

Mark said...


You're on my turf now, so my rules.

Actually, the offical Scrabble rules will suffice, found at

First, about your one-letter word proposal, "E".

From rule number one, " . . . player combines two or more of his or her letters to form a word . . ."

By my count, the letter "E" does not meet the standard of two or more letters, therefore no points for you.

Second, what words count or do not count?

Again I quote from the "Setup" section of the official rules:

"Before the game begins, all players should agree upon the dictionary that they will use, in case of a challenge. All words labeled as a part of speech (including those listed of foreign origin, and as archaic, obsolete, colloquial, slang, etc.) are permitted with the exception of the following: words always capitalized, abbreviations, prefixes and suffixes standing alone, words requiring a hyphen or an apostrophe."

Note that the official rules do not endorse one dictionary over another, which could lead to chaos. For instance, I may propose the use of the appropriately named "Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th Edition," and you may suggest "Bob the Builder's Big Book of Words." My choice would contain an exhaustive list of all known words in the English Language, a compilation of the four major leading collegiate dictionaries.

Your choice would contain far fewer words, though colorful claymation illustrations galore.

To avoid this chaos, the National Scrabble Association offers this information on its official website under FAQs:

Q I use one dictionary, my friend uses another. Which one should we use when we play a game?

A The word source for school and family play is the Offical SCRABBLE® Players Dictionary, Fourth Edition (OSPD4). For words that are longer than 8 letters, we suggest Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (MW11). It was just publshed in 2005 and updates will be made in the next publishing.

Q What word sources were used to update the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary?

A The four dictionaries used as sources for the update of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, 4th edition (OSPD4) and the Official Tournament and Club Word List, 2nd edition (OWL2) were:
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition (published 2003)
American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th edition (published 2002)
Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition (published 2002)
Random House Webster's College Dictionary, 2000 Second Revised
and Updated Random House edition (published 2000)

In addition to the new words found in the Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, the editors at Merriam-Webster also provided all of the additional acceptable new entries from the 2005 printing of the MWCD 11th edition as well.

Q What word source do NSA members use at clubs and tournaments?

A NSA members use The Official Club and Tournament Word List. It contains no definitions. The second edition (OWL2)was published in 2006 and became the official word source for NSA Clubs and Tournaments March 1, 2006. It will not likely be updated until 2013 or later. For longer words Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition (MW11).

Q If we don't own an Official SCRABBLE® Players Dictionary (OSPD) what word source should we use?
A Your choice. Use whatever is convenient and that everyone agrees upon.

I use the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary as included on my Official Scrabble computer game, which defines the word "es" thusly: "ess." The word "ess" is then defined as: "the letter S."

I will leave you to ponder on the curiously recursive paradox of a word that defines a letter phonetically and yet in its very definition utilizes the actual letter rather than a phonetic spelling. Let it suffice to say that there are many things under the heavens and earth that are not easily understood, and yet continue to exist in paradox, Scrabble being no exception, neither Geraldo Rivera.

To conclude: I believe that, through this comment on my own post, I have accomplished two important things: first, I have indisputably refuted the improprieties you have alleged in my stunning 468 point magnum opus; second, I have utterly reasserted my Scrabble superiority and virtuosity.

Touche, mi hermano and verbal sparring partner. And thanks for the congrats on Baby Justin; he's a keeper!

--M.A.R.K. (30 points on a triple word score)

Goose said...

I'm with Matt on this one. Es ain't no word.

Tankfos said...

I don't know about all your dang rules and dictionaries. "es" most certainly is not a word. I noticed this on first reading your blog but was too scared to challenge you but Matt was brave enough to challenger you superiority. Cheater!!!!!!!!!!!!

Dad said...

Not that my two cents is worth even a dime, but I think you two are both full of it.

First of all Mark likes to obfuscate the rules by all that gobbledygook about dictionaries and such. He uses big words and obscure and I might say obtuse thinking to confuse and befuddle us mere mortal. But his Worland mind tricks will not work on me.

What? Do we have more than one language....we in the English speaking world? Of course not. Either it is a word or it isn't a word. I learned in my 7th grade English class that you can't use a word in its own definition. Therefore, Es is officially not a word in the traditional sense of what a word is.

Of course, we know Mark is non traditional in about every way imaginable way but he has never been one to let the rules stand in his way.

Also Qat is misspelled big time. Everyone knows that only one word in English is spelled without a "u" after a Q. (another tidbit from my 7th grade class)

That word is Qatar, the Middle East country, so Qat is missing something and might be okay as a foreign word but definitely is not a legit English word. Spell check does not pick it up as a word either.

The whole thing turns out to be a big scam.....I would have thought better of the Worland Wonder.

The one thing he can say is he is a proud papa, but he can't claim anything when it comes to Scrabble as he has lost all perspective and credibility with this sham of a post.

End of line. We are off to watch the finale of Lost.


P.S. Since Matt's challenge holds true, you lose all your points and Grant wins.

Matthew said...


Calm down. I only wanted an explanation, and one has been given.

I think that the Scrabble dictionary's definition of ES is bizarre and self-referential (as well as a cop out), but if the rules of the game and the manufacturer's official dictionary allow such a silly "word," I won't argue.

The fault lies in the dictionary, not with Mark -- although it's really lame of him to use such a cop out. But as you of all people know, Dad, copping out can be a sure path to victory, and victory is it's own justification. I'm sure Mark would agree.

That is, if he's telling the truth and he's not making all of this up. That would be below even him -- or you.

QAT is a word not of English origin -- but I have seen it used and spelled in English contexts often enough that I can't see a problem with it. It is also spelled KAT or KHAT. Think of it as analogous to how we spell al-Qaida or al-Qaeda, or Khadafi, or Qaddafi, or Khadafy etc.

So you win Mark -- for now. But don't think it's because I'm deferring to your authority -- far from it! Simply put, I intend to use this newfound knowledge of Scrabble rules against you in the future. You have been forewarned.

Dad said...

My point exactly. It is not an English word no matter how you cut it. If you used Adieu for instance and that is in the Webster dictionary, it is a violation of the Spirit of the rules of scrabble if not the letter of the law. It has to be an english word, not a word that has been absorbed into English.

It is a flagrant violation of rules that is at stake here, not which dicitionary you use.

Qat falls into that category. Clearly a rules violation. Grant wins!!

Shame on you Mark for trying to pull a fast one on moi!!


Goose said...

You are all wrong. I win because I am the greatest. Case closed.

Angie said...


I truly felt enlightened by reading your post and wouldn't have thought to study or challenge your board set-up. Maybe I was distracted by the extraordinarily cute scrabble opponent model...

Angie said...

By the way, I think you win the prize for most comments on a single post.

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