March 6th, 2008

Word Up, Yo

The English language is a beautiful thing. Oh, sure, it’s a difficult one – I can’t imagine trying to learn it as a second language (“The tough coughs as he ploughs the dough” anyone?) – but it can be downright lovely. I love the way some words sound, the way they roll off the tongue. I often get phrases stuck in my head the way some people get tunes stuck in theirs.

I’m not sure if it’s my love of words that makes me love Scrabble or if it’s the other way around. Either way, there’s hardly anything I like more than a good game of Scrabble. My preferred method is to sit down to an actual game board and feel the tiles and spin the board and enjoy the conversation over the game. I’ve not played timed games, and I’m not sure I’d like it. The slow pace of a casual game suits me well.

I’ve literally been around Scrabble for as far back as I can remember. When my dad would have deacon’s meetings at church, my mom would play Scrabble with the other deacon’s wives. I would watch sometimes, but when I was a kid, it was boring to me. I didn’t really understand it. and I certainly didn’t know most of the words they were playing.

I don’t remember when it was I tried it the first time, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t do much better than “cat” and “food.” I didn’t play again for a long time.

The summer of 1995 is when I began playing in earnest. I traveled with a summer drama team and my mom and dad bought me an Official Scrabble Dictionary before I left on tour. I bought myself a travel edition of the game to go along with the dictionary and played a lot of Scrabble during those 12 weeks. The thing about Scrabble is, the more you play it, the better you get at it. You learn new words and start to remember more and more with each game. It was a great introduction to the game I’d seen for so long.

Since I essentially learned how to play on my own, I followed the official rules included with my travel Scrabble. When I got home from tour and started playing with my mom, I learned that the deacon’s wives had varied a bit from the official rules – nothing major, just little things like end scoring and first tile rules, but they were in the rules, so like the brash young upstart I was, I suggested that’s how we play – after all, it’s how I’d played all summer… and how the game was meant to be played. To my dear mother’s credit, she didn’t smack the nonsense out of me and graciously adapted to this new way of playing.

There is something about playing by the actual rules that makes the game for me. They define and guide the game, making it the perfect balance of luck and skill that it is. Changes to the rules change the feel of the game and make it less enjoyable to me. “Let’s play a casual game!” you say. “Let’s include proper nouns and let me look up words in the dictionary to see if they’re real words before I play my tiles!” “Oh,” I’d reply, “and here I thought we were going to play Scrabble.” I don’t care for variations like Literati for this same reason – it’s not Scrabble. I have no desire to play Super Scrabble, either. What good is a score of 500 if it’s artificially inflated by the changed board? A 100-point word in Scrabble is a heckuva play. I imagine that a 100-point word in Super Scrabble happens if you accidentally spill your tiles on the board, what with its quadruple word score spaces and all.

I’ll never be a championship-level player, and I’m fine with that. I’ve read what they do to become championship-level, and I’m not ready to do that. Memorizing lists of 2-letter words and hooks and prefixes and the racks of letters you’re mostly likely to get — it seems a bit more OCD than I want to let myself get. I have a page-a-day Scrabble calendar, I know a few Q without U words, and I know way more 2-letter words than you might suspect existed, and I’m comfortable with that level for now.

As I mentioned, sitting down to a real board and playing is my favorite method, and a two-player game is preferred. More players changes the letter drawing and has more randomness to it. The two-player match is the true test of skill. I don’t play against the other person so much as I play against myself, trying to do better than I have before. I don’t even mind losing – though I wouldn’t want to lose all the time – as it’s the process I enjoy. Playing with someone who is better than me is a good way to learn new methods and new words, and I welcome it, even if someone (Marshall) has beaten me five straight times.

I play online these days, as Scrabulous has made it easier. Yes, it’s very clearly a rip-off of Scrabble and should be closed down by Hasbro (something they are in the process of, actually), but it plays exactly like Scrabble and has some great features, like letting you play your turn when you have the chance (rather than a whole game all at once), keeping track of your every bingo (using all 7 of your tiles for one word) and keeping track of your rating. There’s a version of it in Facebook that is particularly useful, and it says I’ve completed 79 games there and am in the middle of 7 more. I don’t like that I can’t converse with people while I’m playing, and I miss the feel of the tiles and being able to shuffle them manually, but I also get to play a lot more and against a lot of different people all over the country and the world. It also challenges my trust in people, because there’s no way to know if they’re using helpers or word-finders, and I have to believe they are not, and that’s a good exercise for my non-trusting self. After all, they have to believe the same of me, so it’s a fair trade.

I played Sudoku for a time a couple years back and was enjoying it, but found that I was having trouble doing crossword puzzles and playing Scrabble. There was something about the thought processes involved that made it hard for me to do both – logic versus language or some such. I gave up Sudoku pretty quickly.

November 7th, 2006

Crossword Answers

I’ve gotten some good feedback on the crossword puzzle in the last post, including one friend who called me 4-5 times about it to update me on his progress and try to weasel answers out out of me. I never gave him (or anyone!) the answers, but something I said during his last call spurred him into figuring out the last answer he was missing and he’s the first (and only, so far!) 100%.

If you just want the answers, click here. If you want the long, drawn-out version of the answers, read on!

1. My favorite author – Steinbeck, as in “John.” My favorite book of his is Of Mice and Men.
7. I apparently looked like one in high school – Muppet. My current screenname is an adaptation of it.
9. I have participated in the growth of The World’s Largest Ball of __________ – Paint. It is located in Alexandria, IN.
13. The Cynical _______. I met her in Dallas. – Tyrant. And you know? She wasn’t really all that tyrannical. Nor cynical!
14. I was in a wedding here earlier this year – Canada. Specifically, a town called “Yarmouth.” I think it was named after what a pirate tells you to shut when you’re talking too much.
16. My other 20-year friend – Josh. This one lost a little with the inclusion of the word “other” since the “first” one doesn’t come until later in the puzzle. incidentally, Josh is the one who got the 100% on the puzzle.
19. Internal organ that Internetians are most likely to steal – Kidneys. This is based on the urban legend of the people waking up in a bathtub full of ice and missing one. And by “urban legend” I mean “actual fact, you better believe it because it will most certainly happen to you, I’m not kidding.”
21. My “catchall” entries, “_________ of Nothing” – Apropos. Taken from a line in “All I Wanna Do,” a Sheryl Crow song that I don’t actually like that much.
24. I have played every game in this series and finished most of them – Tomb Raider. I know what you’re thinking, but it isn’t because of Lara Croft. I love the gameplay of the series – it tends to be just the right amount of difficulty for me without being too hard.
25. I spend too much time and money here – Best Buy. More money than time, really.
28. My favorite movie – Batman. Batman Begins is a better Batman movie, but this 1989 movie is more fun to watch.
29. Evil (but cute!) cat – Nutmeg. Beauty, as they say, is only skin-deep. And if she had her way, she’d flay you in the name of “research.”
30. My second-favorite superhero – Spiderman. There’s supposed to be a hyphen in there, but that doesn’t translate so well into crossword puzzles. Plus, this way you can pronounce it like it’s a last name: “Hi, I’m Jeff Spiderman. I just moved in across the way and your dog’s been in my garbage.”
32. He’s white & nerdy and so am I – Weird Al. I’m not as nerdy as the song claims he is, but I score pretty high on the chart.
35. Subject of an interesting book I read recently – Cadavers. The book was Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers.
42. I am resistant to it – Change. Especially pennies. Ha! Really, I like routine and rarely enjoy variations.
43. I have had mixed results dealing with this site. Current status: I don’t trust it. – eBay. I’m right around a 50% success rate and it has done nothing to help my faith in my fellow man.
44. My current ringtone – Mahna Mahna. It was featured on the first episode of “The Muppet Show” and it instantly cheers me up when I hear it.
46. The name of the improv group I’m part of – One Size Fits All. That is so not true.
48. I can only play up to “Medium” difficulty – Guitar Hero. While I have played a few songs on Hard, I can’t do it very well and I don’t enjoy it.
49. Fellow I’ve collaborated with on four Theater Hopper strips so far – Joerules. That’s his screenname, but he really does, art-wise.
50. My term for a person (me) who refuses to watch movies on videotape – DVDlitist. See, the last “D” in “DVD” ends in the same “E” sound as the “E” in “elitist,” so that’s why that works.
51. I occasionally make this kind of cake – Twinkie. But it’s been a long, long time. Too long, I suspect.
52. I write these for videogames – Reviews. For two-and-a-half years now. Weird.
53. My favorite group – The Beatles. I realize the clue is misleading – group of what? Stars? Muscles? Latin participles?

2. My term for hiding out in one’s home and avoiding contact with others – Turtling. The teenaging, mutanting, and ninjaing are all optional.
3. I bought a miniature version of this Inuit statue – Inukshuk. I have it displayed in a bookshelf at the top of my stairs and see it every day and it still reminds me that “people have been here before.” it’s comforting.
4. I have two friends with this name – Brian. One in Wisconsin, one in New Mexico. They are both smarter than me.
5. My work and my life – Computers. It’s depressing sometimes. One good EMP blast and it’s all gone!
6. They are on every plane everywhere. Watch out! – Snakes. you might think this is an oversimplification but I can assure you that it is not.
8. Where I grew up – Wisconsin. It made me the hearty outdoors-loving soul you see today. Okay, so maybe not. But I do like cheese!
10. A hobby I’m trying to start – Origami. It isn’t going well. I enjoy the end results but get frustrated with the foldings.
11. My term for an online person – Internetian. I’m not sure which way I like pronouncing it, though. Making the last “T” a hard one is easier to say, but making the “TI” a “SH” sound makes it akin to “Martian,” which appeals to me.
12. My birthday – May six. Only six months away!
15. The country in which my farthest-away friend lives – Australia. It is also a continent!
17. The subject taught by my favorite teacher ever – Literature. She also taught English, but it is her Lit classes that were the more memorable.
18. Brand of chocolate that tries to ruin my life with the sayings on its wrappers – Dove. It has tried to get me to flirt, which is not a good idea at one’s job, I don’t think.
20. My favorite director – Tim Burton. There’s something about his warped view of the world – odd, but not scary – that appeals to me.
22. Where I side in an age-old debate – Ninjas. One ninja in one night could do away with a whole boatload of pirates, so I don’t even know why this is a debate.
23. _________ From School, a series I swear I’ll finish eventually – Memories. Wouldn’t it be great if I finished at least one thing I started this year?
25. I am afraid of them – Birds. Another misleading clue, as there are a hundred things that could go in here. Like “germs,” for instance.
26. _________ & Noble: where I get my hot chocolate fix – Barnes. When I was in first grade, I had a sorta-crush on a girl with this last name. Coincidence? Yeah, I think so.
27. All I Need To Know About Life I Learned By Watching _________ – Seinfeld. Seriously, I’m compiling a list.
31. Embarrassing character on my luggage – Darth Maul. But not anymore!
33. One of my 20-year friends – Dave. Who, at last count, was still missing three of these answers.
34. Nice cat, named after a Star Wars character – Dala. She is just about the sweetest cat that has ever lived.
36. Best. Boardgame. Ever. – Scrabble. I’m hoping to play a game or two of it this weekend!
37. My favorite NFL team – Dallas Cowboys. Some day they’ll be good again, I swear.
38. State I’ve only been to twice but have had a life-long interest in – Texas. And my two visits to it haven’t ruined that interest. I’m planning to go back in December. Maybe I should move there…
39. According to at least one friend, I have too many of these to keep track of – Quirks. I found that most people wanted to guess “movies.” Owning too many movies is another quirk, I guess.
40. My favorite female singer – Sheryl Crow. I can think of nothing else to add here.
41. My celebrity crush – Winona Ryder. *swoon* Uh… can guys swoon? I guess so, because I just did.
45. My home town for now – Lafayette. For all you stalkers out there, that’d be the Indiana version.
47. I finally bought a 30Gb version earlier this year – iPod. And I’ve enjoyed it for the most part, too.

So there you go. Hope you had fun with it, because I did!

August 4th, 2006

I Still Have My Kidneys

Two weeks ago some people I’ve never met came to Indianapolis and I decided to hang out with them. People I’ve never met coming to Indy happens all the time, I suppose, but I don’t normally decide to hang out with them. These people were slightly different because I at least sort of knew them from talking to them online. It was, in fact, the Official THorum Trip: 2006, and here is the day-to-day breakdown of what happened.


The schedule of events was supposed to be Angela arrives at noonish, Brian arrives at 1ish, and Andelyn arrives at 2ish. What actually happened was I got text messages from everybody saying there were flight delays. Angela’s flight was delayed because of weather, Brian’s because of mechanical problems, and Andy’s because of weather, too. Even though Brian’s first flight was delayed, he actually made his connecting flight and arrived on time. We went to the mall and had lunch and went to the arcade while waiting to hear from the other travelers. Andy’s second flight was delayed but she got there only a couple of hours late. Angela… well, Angela just about gave up on the whole trip. She was supposed to leave around 7 a.m. and didn’t end up leaving until around 1 p.m. By the time she got to Chicago not only was her connecting flight long gone but there were no other flights to Indy for the next two days! There was only one solution: road trip!

Brian, Andy, and I headed to Chicago and only almost died a couple of times. A semi-truck right next to us had a tire explode – literally not more than 5 feet from Andy in the passenger’s seat. Fortunately it was an inside tire, so we weren’t shelled with shrapnel, but it very loud and it frightened us. Chicago was also very loud and frightened us, but we found Angela and turned right around to head to Lafayette. We were all hungry so we pulled off the freeway to find a place to eat. We saw an Applebee’s and sent Brian to check to see if they were still open. Sadly they closed at 11 and it was now 11:15 or so. It was only after we’d pulled out and headed down the road that we realized we were still in Illinois and therefore on Central Time where it was only 10:15. We had a good chuckle and then went back to eat there. After that we got donuts at the next-door Dunkin’ Donuts and hit the road again, headed to my place for what was left of the night. We got to Lafayette around 2 a.m., played Guitar Hero until somewhere around 3:30, and went to bed around 4.


The four of us had lunch with Kat and Matt, so each of them could meet these other people that I always talked about. Now they know that the other people aren’t just figments of my imagination, which I think is probably good. After lunch I took the THorumites to a tabletop gaming store we have (The Game Preserve) because Brian was looking for a game called “Zombies.” The store had it and Brian actually proclaimed it to be one of the best of that kind of store he’d ever seen, so that was cool. Angie bought a Rubik’s Snake puzzle and some little rubber snakes that ended up being “Snakes on a Whatever We Can Find” for the rest of the weekend. I think Andy bought something, but I’m not sure what.

From there we went to Culver’s so they could have the second-best frozen custard in the world – they loved it, as I knew they would. (For the record, the first-best frozen custard is at Kopp’s in the Milwaukee, Wisconsin, area.) And then we headed to Indy so I could drop them off the hotel. I had an improv show that I had to MC, so I wasn’t able to hang out with them Friday night. Three other THorumites showed up, though – Michael, Harmony, and a completely different Mark – so they didn’t miss me much. The stories I heard had them playing Zombies and video games until early morning, so they had fun.


I slept in and finally got to Indy mid-afternoon, where I met Michael and Harmony for the first time. Completely Different Mark had to leave the night before, but I’d met him before so it would have just been gravy to meet him again. I think we ate somewhere for lunch, but I don’t remember where. We went a movie that could have been so much better considering the setup (My Super Ex-Girlfriend) but really was only kind of “meh.” Then we played games in the arcade for a really long time and went to Olive Garden for dinner – most “official” THorumite meetings have to involve a meal at Olive Garden. That’s just how it is. Our waiter/waitress combo were a cute little couple that had been married one day short of a year and looked like they were about 18 years old. They were adorable in their interactions with each other and we wished them a happy anniversary many times over.

Then it was back to the hotel rooms for videogames and a round of Scrabble. It will come as no surprise to you that I was viewed as some sort of Scrabble Nazi because I like to play by the actual rules. I had fun and I hope they did, too, even with the atmosphere of fear I created.


Lunch was pretty much the thing on the schedule for the day, and we ended up at a Steak ‘n Shake because there were some mockers in the group who had never heard of one and thought the food must be awful. Surprise! It isn’t.

After lunch, Michael and Harmony headed back to Ohio, I headed back to Lafayette, and everyone else headed to the airport. That was pretty much that – no one had any delayed flights on the way home or anything.

Here is a picture of us, widely accepted to be the best picture from the meet-up:

THorumites in Indy
Back Row, l to r: Brian, Me, Andelyn, Harmony, Michael
Front Row: Angela

When I told people that I was meeting some “Internet friends” for the weekend, they all pretty much reacted the same way: gritted teeth with dropped lower lip, concerned eyes, and a verbalization that indicated “This is not a good idea. Everyone on the Internet wants to kidnap people and sell them into slavery or harvest their organs or sometimes both.” I tried to explain that to my Internet friends I was an Internet friend and they (the person I was talking to) knew I was a real person and hadn’t taken their organs, but it never made a difference. “Be careful,” I heard from more than one person. I wasn’t really sure how to do that, but I assured them I would try. It turns out I didn’t need to worry. They were all great people (which I already mostly knew) and we had a great time just hanging out and talking and playing games. I had met Angela last summer in Florida but everyone else was a new meet for me. I talk to Brian on the phone a couple of times a week normally, but it was good to finally meet him in person. He’s one of my best friends and you really ought to meet your best friends some time, I think. Andy is sweet (if distracted – and I’m not sure by what!) and Michael and Harmony didn’t stab me, nor did the universe implode when we shook hands (for those not in the know, I say those things because we’ve found ourselves on opposite sides of many an issue many a time, and I’m alluding to what’s hypothesized will happen when matter and antimatter are mixed), and we had a great time together.

I have now survived several meetings with Internet People. This goes in my “Accomplishments” column – I take my victories where I can get them.

Well met, friends!