Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Tiles and Tribulations....

Not my pun, but one from "Word Wars: Tiles and Tribulations on the Scrabble Circuit". A documentary I rented from blockbuster today and that I HIGHLY recommend.

I rented it thinking it might have some interesting insights into the gameplay behind scrabble, what appeals to different players, especially competitive players and the like. As it turns out, there wasn't much along those lines, but there were three things in it that were great:

  • As a fan of word games (I play some Scrabble, Upwords, and Boggle at home, though I'm not that great at any of them - I also play a few of the yahoo/popcap/etc word games - By the way, Word Ninja is awesome, as is it's brethren, Kung Fu Chess, the guys at Shizmoo are awesome) - anyhoo, as a fan of word games, it was just fun to see master players at work, or at play, or whatever.
  • Surprisingly, it was a great character movie, as it contained the best characters - real ones! Quirky, interesting, strange people. Especially some of those in the bonus footage around the games played in the park in NY.
  • Finally, I'd not expected to get wrapped up in the energy of the tournament so much. I briefly played some competitive chess in college and went as far as the provincial (for you americans, that's like a state, only with WAY more moose) finals tournament. I remember the excitement of checking the states at end of day, seeing how others did, remembering the camraderie amongst nerds :-)

While not a huge thing, the film also does a really nice job of highlighting played tiles, pausing action, etc, in order to bring the viewer along without missing what otherwise would be details only accessible to other expert players.

There are several moments in the film that dance around making this point: Scrabble champions are losers.

By that I mean, they point out several times that by and large, these people have dedicated a significant portion of their life to studying and practicing the game - to the point where most aren't professionally successful, many aren't socially or romantically successful either.

The same was true of the chess scene when I briefly spent some time in it. In small regional competition my natural ability and moderate amount of time I spent practicing (i.e. time cutting class) did OK for me. But larger tournaments I ran into real players. Guys who *studied* the game, and other players games, and I couldn't match that.

*An aside: In some ways, I was a bit like Marlon in the film, in that while other players during provincials got an early night in to be fresh the next day, me and another player decided to go out bar hopping for the night. The guy I went out with had a very dramatic game the next day where he passed out at his table after making his first couple moves. His clock then ran down 2o minutes until he had 5 minutes remaining, when he suddenly woke up. So he then had to play speed chess while his opponent didn't. And he still won! Then we went out between rounds and, ahem, partook of the herb.

ANYHOO! I'm wondering if there's an equivalent here in other areas. Is the disfunctional, obsessed, scrabble or chess player really very similar to the workaholic CEO who's "married to the job"?

Food for thought. Anyway, go rent it! It's really good!

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