2011/03/15 T – Face-off

Two items today…

We just had the annual English Language Society’s student tournament of “speed Scrabble”.  I remember playing… maybe last year for fun and beating Elzinga, the faculty co-ordinator, and I had planned to participate in the next contest.

Speed Scrabble (like a similar game, “Banana-grams”) consists of drawing seven tiles, each with a letter and amount of points on one side, from a face-down pool in the middle, then forming your own grid out of them (without using a real board), simultaneous with the other players.  If you place all your letters, you announce the fact, and every body draws another tile, repeating the process.  Once all the tiles are gone, the game ends and points are counted, and any unplaced tiles are deducted from your total score.

So, I came to win… but so did about thirty other people, said to be many more than last year.  A few had just come for the pizza.  It was a little crowded, and we changed rooms after the first game.

There were slightly adjusted rules in this tournament: every draw required taking two tiles instead of one; letters were doubly counted if shared by two words; and any invalid words, at the end, were discounted doubly.

We had our first round, a four-person match, which permitted only the winners to the second round.  There were eight winners, who divided into two groups for the second round, from each of which the top two scorers were selected for the final round.  Another girl beat me rather seriously in that second round, Genevieve, but I was still number 2.  (She had chosen to spell the suspicious word “ki”, which she kept insisting was in the Scrabble dictionary as an alternate for “qi” [which traditionally was spelt “chi” — not given in the dictionary, although the Greek letter of the same spelling is].  I had asked what Chinese dialect pronounced that word as “ki” before retracting my wonderment. [I guess it could have been taken from Japanese, too…]  But even deducting it, she would have gotten 73 or 74, beating my 60 points.)

In the final round, we used a larger set belonging to Elzinga, with double the tiles.  I found myself with a Q early and had trouble keeping up, but finally pulled back into competition.  That girl Genevieve was keeping everybody rushing; I only called out the next turn a few times.

Somebody had taken too few tiles on one turn, so with the last two tiles left in the middle (one of which I grabbed just to keep the game moving; in fact, it had belonged to the guy opposite from me), I tried to ask whose it was while simultaneously trying to place my letter.  Suddenly, Genevieve ended the game.  I had one letter on me, F (4 points; some girl pointed out an obvious place for it after the game)… but, seeing that my sloppy arrangement had made me think two letters were unconnected when in fact they were adjacent, I hurried and grabbed off an invalid B (3 points), leaving me with two unused tiles.  I guess I may have been liable for that entire word, which would have sunk me perhaps 10 or more points… but, anyway, we began checking and scoring our grids.

Genevieve was counted at 134, while I had 124, and, minus the seven points, 117.  The other two, a cutish (but possibly false) Asian named Amy and a white guy, James Callero or something, were lower.

[(03/17): Pardon this insert.  This girl turned out to be Amy Takabori, known to me because of having sent out at least one English Society e-mail.  I found her Blogspot page…  While she shared one of my opinions about carelessness by BYU students toward an Indian festival they like to patronise, on the whole, I found her insufficiently Asian, overly worldly and form-centred, and seemingly intoxicated with her own breath — and beside those, attached to some white guy.  She probably will normal up a bit with age.  But there’s really some thing strange going on in the brains of these false Asians, making them hyper-verbal, hyper-expressive, sarcasm-prone, and things… and packing them like assembly-line dolls into their weird Asian-American social niche.  Look at Amy Tan.

I just don’t get along with them; I can’t trust them.  I don’t yet understand what kind of creature they are; but what ever it is, it’s not natural, but an alien hybrid…  My real issue is probably that I can’t abide their almost-perfect-but-forever-physiologically-coloured vocal accents.  And realer of an issue still is probably that I just don’t have any for friends, so they will always seem “other”.  Any way…]

[(2011/08/21): Due to one or more parties having searched this entry who were interested either in a like-named person or in this girl herself, and my having not wished to give any injury with it, I will try to clarify again that while I am still sensitive enough to both race and culture that I’m troubled to find East Asians severed from their linguistic roots (or, as I have termed them for their relative rarity, “false Asians”; I myself being, of course, a false European for my non-English side), and while I wish that all people everywhere enjoyed a vibrant sense of connection with their origins, my perplexion toward and criticism of such people, and this one particularly, has arisen in no small part not from anthropologic perspective but from my own embarrassing sense of social exclusion.  There was nothing really wrong with that lady student, and I didn’t know her anyway; I was just a little jealous, recognising that I couldn’t meet such cute sisters, so I took refuge in fault-finding.  I regret my pettiness.]

James found that he had an invalid connecting word that would have discounted most of his board, and declined to even have his points totalled.  Both Genevieve and I had a Z and Q each, and the others also had several extra pieces, so they seemed to be out of competition.  As I recall, Amy was some where around a hundred.

Any way, Genevieve had several more non-words again, Scrabble-fan words, that you only ever see in the world when playing that game; such things as “ta”, “aa”, “em”, “ens”, the utterly ridiculous “za” as a never-before-heard shortening of “pizza”, and the other Chinese variant, “qi” — actually, pluralised by her to “qis”, which is impossible in Chinese grammar any way.  Really questionable, whether that should be called English… (but, as it turns out, they were “in the dictionary”).

The victory was declared hers, ending the two- or three-year dominance of the Linguistics Department (she belonged to the English [Language?] Department; these were the two groups included in this society), and we all left.  Most had gone already; I had regretted their early elimination, but I failed to convince the organisers to allow a losers’ tier to keep the others in the game…

Of course, I photographed the boards to record my shame.

There’s James, sitting there…

…Genevieve’s and my boards…

…and Genevieve standing at the white board.  You’ll notice lots of improvements I could have made, had I been thinking quicklier.

So, you may be curious, like I was, about some of her words.  Returning to the library just now, I went to the on-line “official” Scrabble dictionary, http://www.hasbro.com/scrabble/en_US/search.cfm, and checked her terms…  I also Excel-filed our scores and found that she actually got 140, not 134.

Her non-words were all in there; but surprisingly, a word that we had all passed over, “gits”, taken by us as a plural noun, was not listed in that dictionary as a noun, but rather as a misspelling of the verb “get”.  Clearly it’s due to a deficiency in that lexicon; dictionary.com admits the noun as British slang (and dictionary.com more rightly omits “ki” except as a proper noun of another definition).  But, any way, since we had taken that official dictionary as our arbiter, if I had had the omniscience to challenge it and demand her unlisted definition, she technically would have lost the word [provided we were playing by a definition rule]; and since it connected others, the remaining words on her board would have also fallen against her, dropping her down to a very low 64, or else 97 if we only discounted the severed words once instead of twice.

Well… too bad for me.  I guess it was a good strategy on her part, to use so many non-words that people feared to challenge any thing she placed.  She did build a good board; she had mentioned that she’d been practicing for the past couple of months.  I had also intended to practice at least once during the society’s meeting last week, but, like a “rube”, I forgot to go, and was playing cold from last year.

My words had all been “pedestrian”, as organiser Lee also later described her own words — common and real enough that few people would ever want to check them in a dictionary; at times I re-formed questionable variants into less rare arrangements.  Though it stemmed by necessity from my own amateurishness, it does make for a better game to at least have a consensus of definability, since (as with Genevieve’s non-words) you could fabricate an argument that virtually any two-, three-, or even four-letter combination belonged some-how to English.  Even the “propriety” of proper nouns can be fudged a little.

Of course, the only thing to block such ambiguity is to rely on some dictionary or other… which raises technical and familiarity issues, as with our match, and fosters some amount of rule-spinning, as well as being inevitably imbalanced toward borrowings.  If we accept such foreign words as “chi”, meaning “air” or “energy”, then, if I borrowed it through Cantonese, I would just write “hei” on my Scrabble board, which means as little or as much in English as “qi” does.  The “official” dictionary takes the word as, “the vital force that in Chinese thought is inherent in all things”, and “hei” is precisely the same word and concept in a different dialect; but, as few times as “qi” has ever been written in English, “hei” has been written even fewer (though I wonder how often “ki” has ever been recorded).  Any way, in this case, it just becomes an easy trick word to get rid of your Q (not unlike the Arabic trick, “qat”) by using some new foreign romanisation system, pinyin.

Alternatively, I should for example be able to use Mongolian “ger” as much as the Slavic loan, “yurt”, which bascially shares its meaning; but because “yurt” was closer to Europe and was borrowed sooner, and printed in a few more books, it’s listed in the “official” dictionary (which inexplicably also includes its never-used, non-English plural, “yurta”), while “ger”, at least for a few more years, is absent.  It’s all gamecraft and rule-juggling, to stretch the bounds of the language in order to improve word placement.

I guess in the end it rightly degenerates to a debate between linguistics and literary English… and as favourable as I typically remain toward prescriptivism, this dictionary, this language standard, like all others, has its short-comings.

Well, Genevieve was a nice girl, and I wouldn’t have wanted to interrupt her joy with technicalities… but maybe I’ll privately raise the idea of having a referee challenge the player definition of all the words quickly by computer next year.

…Maybe not.  It might kill the mood…

So… Eve Okura was also there playing, a very handsome and smart TESOL girl, probably a graduate, who, as I recall, served a mission in what must be one of her homelands, Japan.  She perhaps comes through Hawaii.  She doesn’t know me; I think she’s attached, any way.  I’ve kind of admired her for… maybe my whole time here at BYU.

Any way, it was a shameful showing, all told.  I’ll have to tell my grandmother later, who trained me in Scrabble, and see if she still accepts me.  I can’t even say I’d do better against avid Genevieve in real Scrabble, since my biggest strength, from years of other-gaming, is quickness, which would be negated in real Scrabble.  And she was quick her self…

Oh well.  I was glad for the pizza slice.

The second thing… was that my jerk of a teacher, James Goldberg, who once discarded my essay without even reading more than a few lines of it, sent me an e-mail yesterday encouraging me to drop his class.  His reasoning, though jerkish, was correct: due to his strict policy against absences whereby he would levy a some-what severe penalty against the final grade, combined with an other strict policy against late papers (that I probably should have appreciated better, but let my self get confused toward after he lengthened my first paper’s dead-line in mock regret for having discarded it), he wasn’t sure he would be able to give me a passing grade for the semester.  He said he’d try to work some thing out if I wanted to, but he thought it would be better to re-take the class later; and, the withdrawal dead-line was this week.

After his e-mail, I had promptly gone to ratemyprofessors.com and left a comment about him expressing my dissatisfaction with his approach…

Still, I thought about his suggestion.  My 21 functional credit-hours (including a 4-credit-hour auditted class, Vietnamese, that I haven’t felt right about skipping, and my Thai class that I have recently skipped an entire week of, but should probably be skipping even more since the grade is meaningless to me) have been weighing me down quite a bit, and I wasn’t confident that I could catch up in this English writing class of Goldberg’s, even if he tried to start being helpful for a change.  I decided I’d take his advice, partly because of the logistics of it, but largely because I’ve really stopped liking the guy and will be happy to not have to sit through his long, less-productive classes any more.  Besides, he seems rather blatantly politically leftist.

This, of course, will delay my graduation.  Today I went and talked to the humanities advisor about it, Maridee Beeston, who has been wonderfully kind and helpful to me during my studies.  She provided me with an application to post-pone graduation till June, along with a second one requesting allowance to attend the big graduation ritual in April any way, as I had planned, despite not finishing the last class till spring term.  The graduation ceremony its self is not extremely relevant to me, but I’ll want to come back in August for it even less.  Since LDSBC, I’ve tried to participate in such form-based nonsense just to make my mother feel like her children aren’t mis-fits.

And, I may need to pay for this last class myself, since I’ve expressed to my mother more than once that her days of underwriting my tuition fees were finally over…  It will come out to about 800 dollars.  I’m not sure if I can get it before the fee is due, but, we’ll see.

One of the few open English writing classes in spring was at the BYU Salt Lake Centre, adjacent to LDSBC.  Since I’d be moving back to Salt Lake after this semester, I went ahead and signed up for it; it will be a shorter commute.  I think my bus pass is still good till August, too.  It will be fun to go back down there.

I can no longer consider shipping out any where for the summer, but I’ll be able to do so after summer…  That spring term finishes in June.

There’s a spelling bee tomorrow.  I’d planned to attend, but as we talked about it after tonight’s games, Benjamin (a Korean 201 classmate from last semester who had played tonight) scared me a little with some of his vocabulary.  I’m not sure I’ll be competitive in that thing, being untrained and rusty with specialised and foreign terminology…

The Hunger Banquet is this Saturday, as well as a retake of that free GRE I couldn’t take last time, and that I don’t really need.

Oh; the SID co-president and my Viet class-mate, Spencer Dorsey, just wrote and printed a pro-abortion article with his sister for the liberal BYU Political Review news letter.  Though only partially logical in at least two ways, I didn’t really have the heart to comment on it to him in Viet class today.  He means well…

Oh, yeah.  I found an excellent re-print of an old 1859 Cantonese-English dictionary in the BYU Book Store yesterday.  Actually, though the romanisation is a little tricky, it seems about the same as Cantonese currently, excepting the stupid new processes, and some word choices… and in some places, I wonder how perfectly reliable the author was… but any way, that was the Cantonese that Hosea Stout would have been in contact with… and if things had been a little different, that’s the dictionary he or his successors might well have acquired.  He undoubtedly had some social chain connecting him to that author, who affiliated with the London Missionary Society, I think.

Well, the author was John Chalmers.  It turns out this library has a copy of the book too…

Oh, rather, it’s on-line.  See if you can access it here.

That’s all.  I’ll comment here after losing that spelling bee tomorrow night.

-Steve Foster

—   —   —

(3/16 W, 22:57)

Well, we just finished the spelling bee… fifteen minutes ago, maybe. I actually had a lot of fun there.

This afternoon, I threw about 90 minutes into studying. I focused on my two-year-large cache of dictionary.com “word of the day” e-mail words, plus some glances over lists of TOEFL and GRE vocabulary I have. After that was Tibetan class at 17:00, lasting an other 90 minutes before the teacher uncharacteristically ran out of material and started anecdotalising. Whatever I had gained from studying spelling had leaked out of me, and I left at 18:30 to go cram again.

This time, I searched out a handful of “National Spelling Bee” terms… I couldn’t do very much before the thing started at 19:00. I walked to the venue, the Varsity Theatre, but it had been scheduled for a different event. Our bee had been moved to the… what ever it’s called, the open seating area over across from the food court in the Wilkinson Centre. I got there just in time to add my self to the list and take my seat. The seats were divided in two rows, one on each side of the foot-high podium and lectern. Facing the lectern was a table with three “spell-masters”, two girls and a boy, BYU students.

(My view at the bee.  I think this girl was the very first speller.)

When announcing this spelling bee, the English Society had sent out an e-mail asking for any willing helpers to aid with the officiating, but I thought the organisers would be sufficiently qualified, and expected that others would have responded to the request. In fact, no body had. I assumed the “spell-masters” there were competent, and they proved to generally be so, though they were perhaps new at the job.

There were twenty contestants, and three “rounds”, or word lists. Nobody really got out on the first one; maybe two or three people, I don’t remember. We each spelt three or more words before the second round began, with few others getting out. I noticed myself losing concentration when I stood up… losing that spectatorial context that lets you clearly picture and calmly consider the words when other people get them. When I stood, I felt like my frame of reference weakened, except only a phonetic one. Even when I had the words clearly, it was hard for me to keep my mind on the spelling. I probably needed to have practiced more. It’s been about two decades since my last spelling bee, I think… Still, the words were not hard.

Any way, the very first word had been slightly mispronounced (“interminable” with the emphasis on the middle syllable instead of the second), but the girl speller still got it right (she eventually fell to “precocious”, reversing the second and third letters, as “per-”; she later told me that she had heard it said that way… but, I’d heard it said straightly my self, and it unfortunately was clear enough that the meaning should have been apparent, being a common word). As the words increased in difficulty, there were one or two more mispronunciations from the judges, but nothing major, since the words, again, were common. “Transient” had been pronounced as “tranzhent” for some reason, but the girl reader corrected her self.

By chance, I was sitting right next to Genevieve from last night, an empty chair between us. On my left was Lauren, a very cute but slightly stocky girl. Several more seats to the left was Kaleo Li, a Chinese-descended young man, through Hawaii, who grew up here in Orem.

(The Orem kid.  There’re Genevieve and Lauren on the right.)

The game went on. Among those who were doing fairly, one guy broke the trend and got out on “abysmal”, giving it an I, and some got out after him. My words had been moderately easy, my hardest being “exonerate”, which I kept wanting to picture as “exhonerate” by some trick of analogy. I also got “ecclesiastical”, which I lost track of half-way through, but remembered. But finally, I was felled by “quintessence”. If I had thought clearly I would have joined it with “quintessential”, but instead I stupidly and hastily spelt it as “quintescence”, I don’t know why… purely on sound, I guess. Immediately after hearing my failure announced, I corrected my self to the two Ss; but, any way, I was out. I think I was some where around number 11.

The rest were about as bright as I was, I guess. I stayed to see who came out ahead, sitting up near the judges. One of the spellers, maybe number 14 or so, Kylee, was at my table with a BYU microphone in front of her; it turns out she was a school news person. She had lasted reasonably long, in light of that fact.

With about 8 or 9 left, and me sitting there at the front, the boy “spell-master” said another word wrongly… “infinitesimal”, neglecting to pronounce any vowel sound for the third I. The spelling girl, named Claire, who admittedly should have known the word even with it mispronounced (but, then again, if your mind goes blank, you don’t need mischief like strange pronunciations throwing you off), instead chose to spell it without that I, following the reading it had been given. As soon as she left it out, I went over to that guy and alerted him to the matter, and before she was called out, they decided to give her another word (she got that one right, but fell to an other word later… “albumen”, which she definitely should have known).

The boy spell-master later said another word very slightly wrong, “abrogate”, giving a schwa to the last syllable instead of a hard A. I vocalised a correction, and he corrected himself. After that, he started turning around and whispering “hey guy” to me for about every second word he read, asking me to come over and double-check the pronunciations before he said them. I was eagre to help, being an opponent of speaking errors, and especially not wanting any body sabotaged in this fair competition.

Appropriately, two guys, “Yanr” and Trevor, who’d been getting slightly simpler words, finally got out (Trevor was the companion of the first “interminable” girl). …Oh, maybe Trevor got out before me. I don’t remember. One girl stuttered her A and was called out, but some of us in the sparse audience mildly protested, as well as the speller her self, and they gave her an other word. She stayed for an other round, finally succumbing; I think her adversary was “troche”, which perhaps none of us knew. A boy dropped his U from “camouflage”, and was out.

(Trevor and his friend, the first speller, reflecting on their fortunes; there also lies Kylee’s microphone.)

A girl, “Dadne” or something, possibly partly Hispanic or something, but very methodical and correct in her spelling, got out on “chlorophyll”, omitting the second L that I also couldn’t remember. She was number 7.

Genevieve had been a little annoyed with the easy words given to others, as well as the mispronunciations. She did well with an unknown word, “cambist”, but, unfortunately, she stumbled a bit on a couple words she should have known, and eventually got out at number 5.

A girl I thought would win, Jennie, finally got tripped up over a vowel or something, and left as number 4. She had done excellently with some medical terms, including eczema and then psoriasis, which I had left the P off of in my mind. She turned out to be the sister of another boy there, Jordan, who was still in the last three. Also remaining were my former neighbour, Lauren, and that boy, Kaleo. At length, Jordan lost his footing over something not killingly hard, and was ousted at number 3. My own accuracy with the words had been steadily sinking, and at that point I was down to perhaps 85% mastery , or maybe even 80% or lower… but I surely would have stayed in if not for my mistake.

Lauren and Kaleo both put away several words; she did well with “logorrhea”, and he did exceptionally well with “autochthonous” (both of these, by chance, I had just barely studied from previous spelling bee lists, and I rued that I wasn’t still in the game). Eventually the three officiators ran out of words on their lists, and the boy spell-master turned to a massive dictionary to search out new ones, a couple of which were a little too easy (“reconnaissance”, gotten by Kaleo), some of which were normal (“Laodicean” and “Lotharingian”, the second missed by Kaleo), and the remainder of which were bizarre and scientific.

That Kaleo was very good at phonetic parsing, slightly more so than Lauren. With only the two of them, the game had reverted to double elimination, to be counted only if the next speller got their own word right. Kaleo was down by one elimination early on, but then for about 8 or 10 words, no body got any right. By that time, I was just sitting or standing right there behind the spell-masters to offer any needed pronunciation help or confirmation of word appropriacy. (For example, I had initially decided to advise that the -ae plural suffix have an “ei” [as “hay”] reading instead of the hard “i” [as “see”] listed in the dictionary — first, because I disfavour that reading, and secondly, because I thought it would unnecessarily confuse the spellers, especially in totally unknown words, and with them having reverted to phonetic re-formation. It seemed to work well.)

Sadly, the spell-masters, and every body else, lost track of the scoring scheme, and when Lauren was eliminated when Kaleo got a word right, they prematurely declared him the winner. I reminded them of the double-elimination plan, and how Kaleo had actually been eliminated before, making them now even. (In fact, I had run over to a computer once or twice, first to check a word and then to see if I couldn’t quickly pull up a new and better word list for the judges before realising they were moving expeditiously forward with the dictionary. So, I wasn’t 100% certain my determination of the spellers’ status was correct; but the spell-masters quickly agreed with it, seeming to remember clearly.)

However, by then, the audience was ready to leave, as well as the spellers. The two were called back to the stage, and, sensing that the contest needed to wind down, one of the girl judges announced a “sudden-death” stage, with the first correct spelling taking the victory. I forget the word, but Kaleo got it after Lauren missed hers, so he again was called the winner. Lauren seemed to be late going some where, and soon left. (I thought she might have felt disrupted over her wrongful previous loss, and I hoped she wasn’t just leaving upset.) I think the judges had wanted to congratulate her or give her a prize or some thing, get her picture…

As for the winner, he got a trophy and supposedly, according to the contest’s promoters, a coupon for a free product from “Jamba Juice”, a food provider there on campus. He was also interviewed by that Kylee; I over-heard that he had once, I think, participated in a national spelling bee, coming in at about 73rd place out of nearly 300. I talked to him after-ward and asked about his back-ground. He was fully Asian-Americanised.

 (The winner; that blonde head is Kylee.  [Unexpectedly, I saw what I’m sure was that Kaleo’s face later at school on an anti-pornography poster.] )

The spell-masters kept thanking me for pitching in and apologising for having missed some of the pronunciations; they turned out to be representatives from, I believe, BYUSA, without any particular linguistic orientation. Near the end of the contest, one of the girls had ascertained that I was a “linguistics major”, and at the end, they started asking me whom they could contact for the provision of expertise next year. I referred them to the linguistics department, explaining that many of us in the English Society had received an e-mail asking us to help, and that I was surprised no body had turned out. In gratitude, one of the girls handed me my own “Jamba Juice” coupon…

I had imagined yester-night that if I won anything to-night, I would see if I could auction it and donate the profit to Japan. By the time I got that coupon, though, almost every body had left. The siblings Jordan and Jennie were still there, numbers 3 and 4 from the game, and instead, I just offered it to them, to share how ever they wanted to. Jordan hesitated to take it at first, but I re-assured him that I had come in much lower than he. He seemed appreciative.

I helped the three organisers clean up a little, then left. It was raining nicely out-side, between there and the library…

So, that was my loss. It was quite an entertaining event for most of us, and none of the words were really extraordinary, at least till the end. I’m happy.

I’ll go home now. It’s 22:56; I’ve been writing this for… over two hours.

-Steve Foster

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2 Responses to 2011/03/15 T – Face-off

  1. Peter says:

    Hey there, you may be interested to know that you can play speed scrabble online 🙂

  2. agkcrbs says:

    (Uh, this turned out to be a legitimate site. I wasted a small piece of time there before getting discouraged by some of the high scores of the jobless players.)

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