Nerdiest. Injury. Ever.

March 18, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
March 18, 2015

This is the story of how, on an otherwise unremarkable Friday night, I sustained what may well be the nerdiest injury in the history of our species.

A friend of mine organizes many of the Scrabble tournaments and get-togethers in the Triangle area. He’s also the director and host of the North Carolina youth Scrabble championship, the winner of which gets to compete in the national youth Scrabble tournament. This year’s state youth tournament was held Saturday at the Chapel Hill school where my pal (let’s call him D.) works.

After meandering through some coffee shops, where I polished my recent post about my favorite books, I headed home for the remainder of what I expected would be a quiet Friday evening. That night, I sent D. a text message confirming that I’d be at the school at 10 and asking if there was anything he wanted me to bring.

“Maybe a timer if you have one,” he replied.

Before I relate what happens next, this history lesson…

When I dated the woman I refer to as Lady X, we regularly played Scrabble against one another. But an issue cropped up in our games: All too often, we…would…take…an…extremely…long…time…deciding…what…moves…to…make.

To counteract this tendency to prolong contests, I determined that we needed a timer. I had an early-generation iPhone at the time, but I wasn’t aware of any app that allowed the user to track two different countdowns. (It’s possible that none existed at the time.) So eventually, I purchased a chess timer.

Unfortunately, I don’t remember ever using that chess timer, because Lady X and I broke up. But I held onto it, imagining that the device would come in handy at some point. And when I got that text message from D., I felt certain that the chess timer’s day was at hand.

I grabbed the box from its spot atop one of my bookcases, extracted the timer from its packaging and unfolded the sheet of instructions. The paper said that once properly wound, the device should function for about 30 hours. It also cautioned against overwinding the device.

To be clear, a chess timer — at least, this chess timer — contains two clocks, one on each side. (Both clocks face the same direction.) If, say, the player on the right is contemplating her or his move, the clock on the right should be ticking. Once the move is made, the player presses the button over the clock. This action moves a lever that pauses her or his clock and starts the opponent’s clock.

In regulation Scrabble games, each player gets 25 minutes. Once a player (or a team, in the case of youth Scrabble) uses up that allotment, the side is debited 10 points for each additional minute or fraction of a minute that is used. A chess timer allows one or the other of its clocks to be running, or neither; it’s not possible for the two mechanisms to operate at the same time.

I made sure that both clocks were wound — but, as it turned out, they were already pretty tightly wound. In fact, the port-side clock appeared to be 100 percent wound. I hope I didn’t damage the mechanism, I thought after realizing that the knob didn’t need to be turned at all, let alone as far as I’d done.

Having accomplished this preliminary task, I decided to let the clocks tick down to make sure that everything was in working order. This was simple, of course: I just let the timer do its thing, occasionally pressing a button to activate one clock or the other.

Alas, I noticed a problem. The port-side clock would run, but its ticks weren’t as loud as those of the starboard-side clock. Worse yet, after a minute or so, the port-side mechanism would stop working. I could get it to resume movement by pressing down on the button and setting the other device in motion and then tapping the button to restart the port-side clock, but obviously, this was far from ideal.

I repeatedly tapped the buttons, starting and restarting both mechanisms. But the port-side clock kept on manifesting irregularities, no matter how much I ran the clock or how much I fiddled with the winding knob.

My chess timer has a transparent plastic case. After a while, it occurred to me to inspect the timer’s insides.

In doing so, I made a discovery: The reel that held the belt that provided tension for the port-side clock appeared to be off-kilter. Whereas the reel on the starboard-side clock was parallel to the back of the case, the one on the other side was sitting at a funny angle. Something was obviously wrong, perhaps because I’d overwound the clock.

At first, I wasn’t sure how to adjust the reel, especially because the instructions warned that the case should only be opened by a professional. But then I realized that there was an easy way to adjust the reel — using the winding knob. Simple, right?

Err… not so much. I took hold of the knob and tried to manipulate it without winding it. That is, I wiggled it.

This innocent motion provoked a violent reaction. All of a sudden, the tension on the reel was released, and the knob rotated sharply. The metal knob’s movement knocked my hand away.

This stung a little bit, and with good reason: The knob made a fairly deep gash on my right index finger, just above the middle knuckle.

I walked into the bathroom, put the finger under some running water, gently blotted away most of the remaining blood with some toilet paper and reached for a Band-Aid. Before I could apply said Band-Aid, I had to clear away the blood again. Because of the location of the gash, the bandage kept slipping; I applied a second one to keep the wound covered.

Even so, blood kept seeping through the Band-Aid. Real talk: I briefly worried about bleeding to death overnight. But after a half-hour or so, the flow of fluid seemed to slow, and I decided that I was likely to be able to sleep through the night without becoming a corpse.

Which (obviously) is what happened. The wound looked a bit ugly, but by Sunday I didn’t bother bandaging it. It’s slowly closing up; even if it leaves a scar, it just wasn’t a very serious wound — fortunately.

Still, sustaining an injury due to Scrabble must be a pretty rare thing. I think this may make me eligible for permanent nerd-dom.

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