Late-bird event, games 1–3, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 18, 2016

February 13, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 13, 2016

After acquitting myself fairly well in the 2016 Duke PBMT tournament, I decided to take one last bite at the Scrabble apple. I drove back to Duke on Monday morning, Jan. 18, to participate in a five-gave “late bird” side tournament.

I opened play against KE, the older woman whom I’d lost to by 24 points on Saturday but beaten by 76 points on Sunday afternoon. Playing second, she took an early 106-55 lead on the strength of her first two plays, MEZE 35 and UNMERGE* 71. (That bingo turned out to be phony, as I learned after the game.)

In turn four, KE put down REqUEUE/MOPER, a 66-point bingo. It came off the board after I challenged both words; as I later learned, MOPER is good but REQUEUE is not. (To prevent a player from gaining a competitive advantage, when multiple words are challenged during a tournament game, the computer simply states whether or not the play as a whole is good without specifying the invalid word or words.) Despite my successful challenge, KE led, 142-108, going into the fifth turn.

Things turned with my sixth move, SHIVERy/MOORS 74. KE responded with a 30-point play, YEH, but even so, I completed the turn with a 194-182 advantage. As it turned out, KE would not score more than 29 points in any single move the rest of the game.

Two things allowed me to pad my lead. One of these was VENT, my 33-point play in the seventh turn, which utilized one of those combos that tend to be high-scoring: The V was on a double-letter-score spot and the T was on a triple-word-score space. I was up, 227-198, following the turn.

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Games 13 through 16, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 17, 2016

February 9, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 9, 2016

My 13th-round game in the 2016 Duke PBMT tournament was against C—, who had beaten me by 26 points en route to a perfect 8-0 showing on Saturday. He still led our division, but he had just sustained his first defeat in the 12th round, a 48-point loss.

C—’s 11-1 record was still impressive, but I tried to take inspiration from that blemish on his record. And I was able to take a solid lead midway through the game by putting out TINNERS/HES, a 65-point bingo. C— challenged the play, but both words were valid. That left me with a 170-132 lead through seven turns.

My opponent was able to cut into my margin significantly with his eighth move, BASED 33. He trailed, 188-165, after that.

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Games 9 through 12, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 17, 2016

February 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 7, 2016

Of all the Scrabble players I’ve officially faced (51) in all the official Scrabble tournaments I’ve officially played (10), there is one person I’ve faced more than any other. X— is a local kid who might be a high school freshman or sophomore now. In 11 games, I had beaten him five times and lost six times. Our most recent meeting, in the 2015 Duke PBMT tournament, had resulted in a discouraging 366-263 loss for me, largely thanks to a nightmarish six-turn stretch over which I contended with such unpromising racks as NOOSSU?, IOOSSU? and OSSUVY?.

I entered day two of the 2016 Duke PBMT event with mixed feelings. I’d beaten four players by respectable margins and lost four games, with three of those defeats being close. On Sunday morning, I tried to view the glass as being half-full. I would build on the positive things and forget about the negative things.

My ninth game of the tournament, and my first game on Sunday, was against X—. I was anxious at first, especially after I used a bonus spot to play HEX for 36 points, only for my opponent to respond immediately by playing BOXES for 34 points, which put him ahead, 67-62, after three turns.

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Games 5 through 8, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2016

February 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 6, 2016

My opponent in game 5 of the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament was J—, a local player whom I had faced, and lost to, in a June 2015 tournament. He opened turn 5 with NUrTUrE/TOr/FINE 66, which put him up, 137-99.

I was behind, 221-172, in the eighth turn when I was able to play a bingo of my own: RECALLS/ROM 68. That put me ahead, 240-221.

I nurtured (get it? Get it?!) a slender lead for the next few moves. In turn 12, I found myself with a lousy rack: DIIORRS, which meshed poorly with the words that had already been put down on the board. I decided to swap everything except for the S. My draw wasn’t great — AAABDG — but it worked with the closed-in board much better than the letters I’d had. I held a 308-298 edge after the swap.

“You dirty dog,” J— muttered archly when he realized why I’d traded in tiles.

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Games 1 through 4, Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament, Jan. 16, 2016

February 6, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 6, 2016

My first game in the main event of the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament  was against P—, a local player whom I’d officially played twice before, in the 2014 and 2015 PBMT tournament main events — both losses. This time around, I held a modest 221-195 lead until the 14th turn, when P— played FONdeST, a 70-point bingo.

(A few quick Scrabble reminders: A bingo is a play that uses all seven of the tiles on a player’s rack; it’s worth a 50-point bonus on top of normal scoring. Also, a blank is indicated before use as a question mark; after use, as a lowercase letter. P— used two of them for her bingo.) I was unable to come back, and lost, 335-288.

Game 2 was against an older woman whom I had not previously faced. I’ll refer to her as KE. I trailed slightly, 125-111, after five moves. In the sixth turn, I played METTLEs 81 to go ahead.

KE responded with IXIA/MI/EX/TI/TA for 48 points.

Unfortunately, my draw had been horrendous: GNNSVVW. In turn 7, I traded in all of my tiles except for the S. KE played OAK for 28 points, which put her back up, 201-192.

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Spanked and spanked again: Three recent Scrabble games

February 5, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 5, 2016

Last year, I played in two Scrabble tournaments. I wound up writing more than 20 different posts about my participation in those competitions.

Recently, I played in the sixth annual Duke Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program benefit Scrabble tournament; it’s held in January on the weekend of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. That went pretty well, and I meant to put up several posts about those games. In fact, I still mean to — I just haven’t gotten around to it because I fell ill and was feeling awfully low-energy for a few days after my recovery. (I think I’m back to 100 percent now, thankfully!)

At any rate, I still want to write about the Duke PBMT tournament, but before I do that, I wanted to do a quick recap of a Scrabble encounter that I had last weekend. It involved three games against someone whom I’d expected to, but did not, see at the PBMT tourney.

G— is an extremely intelligent woman; I think she works as a biological researcher of some sort. Her Scrabble tournament rating is well north of 1,000 and has been for several years. (By comparison, my rating is currently at a lifetime peak of 644.) She also lives locally, so when I didn’t spot her at the January event, I wondered if she had fallen ill or possibly moved somewhere else.

That wasn’t the case; actually, she’d just had other plans for that weekend.

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I am poetry, I am grace

February 4, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 4, 2016

If you happen to venture over to my Favstar page and scroll down, you’ll find that my 10th-most-popular tweet says the following:

I had occasion to think of that tweet Wednesday afternoon thanks to yet another fashion misadventure.

Let me explain. I own, and have at my home in Durham, a white button-down shirt suitable for most business contexts and an off-white button-down shirt suitable for many business contexts. I rarely wear either of them.

On Wednesday, however, I anticipated doing some work on a freelance marketing project. I therefore decided to wear something appropriate for an office, even though I wouldn’t physically be visiting one.

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Coffee shop, SHOUTY LADY: Recent locally sourced eavesdropping

February 3, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Feb. 3, 2016

As is only proper for a 21st-century college town, Durham has a number of fine coffee shops, and as I wrote recently, one of my favorites is Respite Cafe.

But man, was I ever taken by surprise on a recent visit to Respite. Just the other day, when I walked in, I did a double take. There were a bunch of people in one of the back rooms, evidently because there had been some sort of leak, and one of the shop’s patrons — I could not immediately identify who it was — WAS SHOUTING AT THE TOP OF HIS OR HER LUNGS. The amount of hustle and bustle in the joint surprised me, and THE VOLUME OF THE CONVERSATION — OR MAYBE IT WAS MORE OF A MONOLOGUE? — took me aback.

I occupied my regular spot, doffing my jacket and pulling out my laptop computer. I ordered a pot of tea and an apple pastry and settled down.

SHOUTY LADY — for indeed it was a lady who was shouting, or AT LEAST TALKING AT THE TOP OF HER LUNGS — was impossible to ignore. I surreptitiously recorded a short video that captured her voice (and my armpit, my sweater and the coffee shop’s tile floor) and began tweeting some of her exchanges with her companion.

SHOUTY LADY was sitting with a quiet companion and relating, at length, a story about her misadventures in a university in the state of Arizona. I joined the discussion in medias res, so I don’t know how the whole thing started, but for some reason, a cabal of sinister university administrators allegedly arranged to have SL mugged and/or to have her backpack stolen; to impugn her sanity; to have police officers confiscate her guns (yes, multiple guns); and to have her first attorney act in cahoots with them.

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The promising but forgotten pilot ‘Earth Star Voyager’ delivers moderately entertaining science fiction content

January 29, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 29, 2016

My illness-induced quest for mindless entertainment extended beyond watching the dire Star Wars Holiday Special. Thanks to the magic of YouTube’s algorithms, I stumbled upon Earth Star Voyager, a three-hour television pilot from 1988 that I believe originally aired under the rubric of an anthology show known either as Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color or The Wonderful World of Disney.

I’m not sure whether the program was first broadcast on ABC, CBS or Disney’s cable channel. What I do know is that at some point, I saw at least part of it, and I remembered it fondly.

The premise is pretty straightforward: In 2088, the powers that be assign 115 mainly young officers and hands to the Earth Star Voyager, a new ship that features the Bowman drive, a cutting-edge propulsion system that can make crewed interstellar flight practical. Because Earth is a toxic, overcrowded dump, humanity is in desperate need of a new home, and a potential site has been found. Earth Star Voyager’s mission is to embark upon the first crewed excursion to another star so it can evaluate the candidate planet firsthand. Because the trip will take decades, the crew will spend nightly sleep periods in suspended animation; the ship also has a nursery to accommodate the children who will be born en route.

But the ship has only just gotten under way before Captain Forbes (Ric Reid) is ejected from an airlock, apparently due to the deliberate malice of an unknown crew member. That leaves the ship in the hands of its untested 21-year-old executive officer, Jonathan Hays (Brian McNamara), and his highly trained but inexperienced command team: Hays’s close friend, the 14-year-old computer specialist and all-around young super-genius Jessie Bienstock (Jason Michas); cocky navigator Huxley Welles (Tom Bresnahan), age 18; the 24-year-old ship’s doctor, Sally Arthur (Julia Montgomery, the female lead from Revenge of the Nerds); and the 22-year-old psychiatrist, Leland Eugene (Bruce Harwood, who went on to become one of The X-Files’s Lone Gunmen).

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‘The Star Wars Holiday Special’ is a widely mocked backwater in one of science fiction’s most durable franchises

January 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
Jan. 28, 2016

I came down with a cold last week, meaning that for a few days, it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything, or even to extract myself from bed. Once I started recovering, on Friday, I was in desperate need of mindless entertainment. (A bout with illness two winters ago, in 2014, led me to discover two smartphone games, Dumb Ways to Die and Smash Hit.)

That was one reason why I watched 1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special on Friday. There were a few others. One is that after seeing The Force Awakens earlier this month, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia trip for Star Wars, to the extent that I’ve watched a variety of short YouTube films on different Star Wars video games (mainly the past two versions of Battlefront and various editions of Rogue Squadron). Another reason is that one of the podcasts I enjoy, How Did This Get Made?, did an episode on The Star Wars Holiday Special late last year.

In addition, I had a very vague memory of seeing a snippet of the CBS special when it originally aired, and I recalled having enjoyed that bit. Finally, The Star Wars Holiday Special contains the debut of one of the franchise’s most beloved characters, the menacing bounty hunter Boba Fett, and I confess to being curious about his premier.

Frankly, just about every bad thing I can remember hearing about The Star Wars Holiday Special is true: It is poorly written, badly acted and shoddily produced. After watching it the other day, I couldn’t tell you what audience the makers were trying to reach or to please, and honestly, I doubt they could have told you that either while they were filming the thing.

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