Ever since I read Word Freak, an exposé on the world of competitive Scrabble by Wall Street Journal sports reporter Stefan Fatsis [wow, such a convoluted sentence, simply to avoid having to write “Fatsis’s”], I’ve been obsessed with improving my Scrabble game. (Excuse me, my SCRABBLEÂ® Brand Crossword Game… er… game.)
For a couple of nights, SLP was into it (why does that sound dirty?), but she just couldn’t match my endurance (again… why?). So I had to resort to playing against the computer. I’ve been playing tournament style to boost my (unofficial) rating, playing mostly against the 1220-rated “Veteran” (whom I beat about 2/3 of the time) and the 1400-rated “Smart” (to whom I lose about 2/3 of the time).
Tonight my rating finally topped the 1300 mark (against Smart, no less), and I celebrated by playing one more game against Veteran. And therein came my greatest moment.
Veteran had set up the triple word column on the right edge with LAVE, and my draw that turn included the Q, the Z, and both blanks! I stared at the board for a moment before realizing I had a most unusual play (if it was actually a word). And so it was that I laid down QUIZZER through the E in LAVE, with the Q on the triple word and the (real) Z on the double letter, using the blanks for the U and the other Z, giving me 99 points. If only I’d had an S on my rack, I could have hit the other triple word as well, for a triple-triple-bingo, worth 356 points! (That’s among the highest possible scores for a single word, even though, as a fairly pedestrian word, it doesn’t carry as much cachet among Scrabblers as words like QUIXOTIC or MEZQUITE.)
I still ended up winning the game with several other high-scoring moves, including a ballsy (if anything Scrabble-related is ever even remotely “ballsy”) multi-turn set-up that allowed me to play EXITS on a triple word for 49 points, after having already milked the X for all it was worth. I almost screwed it up though. I had played LURID early on, to which I later added the double XI. Already I was planning EXITS, but I was missing the T. So to try to build it up even more, I played RIDE while waiting for the T, but… d’oh! I really should have just played RID, because I needed that E! Naturally the T landed on my rack in the next turn, but we were getting close to the end of the game, and I didn’t have an E! Without counting, I assumed they were all on the board already, but I got one in my second-to-last draw, and EXITS appeared! On the final turn, I was left with AINRT on my rack, which fit nicely in the same area to turn ER into TRAINER for the victory! 447 may be my highest single game score ever.
Yeah, I’m a geek. But I represent! (Saying that makes me even more of a geek, doesn’t it?)
Wow, looking back at that screenshot, I’m even more impressed with myself (if that’s possible). Tournament play uses a clock, just like chess, with each player limited to 25 minutes total (going over the time limit carries a steep penalty at the end of the game). When I first started playing computer Scrabble a couple months back, I’d usually use up almost all of my 25 minutes, but in this game my clock read 17:34 at the end, meaning I had only used 7 minutes and 26 seconds for the entire game! Of course, as usual, Veteran only used 15 seconds. One time I think the computer only used four seconds for the whole game. I think the computer needs a handicap on the tournament clock: the player gets 25 minutes and the computer gets 25 seconds. Yeah, that sounds fair.
I’ll stop now. If I go on, I may just have to beat myself up.
Update May 23, 2007: It doesn’t appear to be exactly the same game, but it’s close enough… Taito is releasing a version of Turn It Around for the Nintendo DS!
“You can’t stop rounding the wheels…”
I’ll save the long, self-consciously witty set-up here. I have a lot of other stuff to cover. Right to the point: I have discovered the most insane Japanese video arcade game ever. It is called Turn it Around!! and is manufactured by Taito, the Japanese video game juggernaut that brought the world Space Invaders back in the late ’70s.
In Turn it Around!! you play head-to-head with a companion through 20 wildly varied and occasionally incomprehensibly bizarre game rounds. I think ultimately each round is merely a pretext for cranking a big yellow wheel around and around as quickly as you can, but I’ll let you be the judge. Let’s have a look….
Round 1: Arkanoid
“Return the ball with the paddle to wipe out all the bricks!”
This whole fandango starts off deceptively tamely, with the classic Breakout-inspired Arkanoid. An unsuspecting gamer might come upon this and think, “Hey, I remember that game! I think I’ll give it a try!” They clear the screen, awaiting another round of brick-smashing fun, only to be presented with….
Round 2: Sherbet
“Prepare 10 glass bowls of sherbet as quickly as possible!”
What the…? It is your job to dispense a tasty frozen desert into a glass bowl faster than your opponent. O… K… But never fear (OK, fear!), it gets far stranger….
Round 3: Potter’s Wheel
“Turn the potter’s wheel to work out pots!”
These oversized superimposed heads remind me of a particularly annoying commercial the Georgia Lottery is currently airing, wherein a suburban dumbass is fantasizing about riding in the rodeo, when in fact he is riding his lawn mower. It culminates in him roping a plastic deer lawn ornament. This round of Turn it Around!! looks almost as fun. At least the characters in the game seem to realize how stupid the whole enterprise is quickly becoming.
Round 4: Takoyaki Dumplings
“Skillfully cook ‘Takoyaki’ dumplings!”
Now we’re talking! Apparently, Takoyaki preparation is a cross between baking muffins and the African bead game mancala, but incorporating scalpels and light-emitting, irradiated foodstuffs.
Round 5: Elevator
“Transport the customers to their requesting floors!”
I don’t really know what to make of this one… suffice to say, if the love child of Mega Man and one of the Powerpuff Girls is manually operating the elevator, I’m takin’ the stairs.
Round 6: The Safe
“Adjust the dial to open the safe!”
Would-be bank thieves take note: Playing this game will not help you master your craft, unless you limit yourself to banks that keep their money inside Easy-Bake ovens.
Round 7: Birdman
“Fly with the human power aircraft as far as possible!”
I’ll think of something funny for this eventually. Frankly, I’m feeling a bit shellshocked at this point.
Round 8: Crash the Robot
“Destroy the giant robot!”
Watch out! The irradiated Takoyaki dumplings have congealed into a humanoid form and are attacking Tokyo! Can you save the populace in time?
Round 9: Camel Try
“Skillfully carry the ball to the goal!”
This looks like a fairly straightforward game in the vein of Marble Madness. “Skillfully carry the ball to the goal,” they tell us. Doing things skillfully is obviously very important in Turn it Around!! There’s just one unanswered question here: WHY is this game called Camel Try??? What does that even mean? (OK, there are two unanswered questions. Maybe more. But that’s a start.)
Round 10: The Drunkard
“Take the drunken colleague to the railway staiton?” (sic)
Ah yes: In case it wasn’t already apparent for a variety of reasons that this game will never be seen in the United States, this one clinches it. Around here, killing people in the most violent ways imaginable is considered “family entertainment.” In Japan, beer is sold in vending machines on the street. Enough said. Frankly, I like Japan’s idea better.
Apparently in this game you not only have to steer your teetering, tipsy companion to the train station, but you have to help him resist the allure of the… er… “ladies of the night” as well. I can see all the Japanese parents now, fighting each other at the toy store to get the last copy of the GameCube version for little Yoshi to play at home.
Round 11: Golf
“Timing and speed to hit the ball is important!”
After Saturday night’s drinking binge, there’s no better cure for that hangover than a nice, relaxing round of @!#?@! golf. I don’t know how that Japanese text in the golfer’s speech bubble translates into English, but I think it’s fairly close to what Q*Bert used to say.
Round 12: Grabbing Cash
“Skillfully catch the cash thrown down from the balloon!”
Here’s another round that simply would not work in the States. If some idiot in a hot air balloon is tossing money into the void, any red-blooded American would just grab a rocket launcher and blast ’em out of the sky. (Only in a video game, of course.)
Round 13: Fishing
“Operate the fish drag as instructed to catch the big fish!”
I’m really… trying… to think… of something… for… this… one…. Oh, come on. Who can possibly think about fishing when that deranged neckless lunatic awaits us in the next round?!
Round 14: Hammer Throw
“Accumulate power to throw hammer as far as possible!”
OH… MY… GOD…!!!
The only thing I can think of is the old SNL skit where Phil Hartman is a weightlifter on steroids. He attempts to lift some absolutely insane amount of weight, and succeeds only in ripping both arms right off of his body. But that’s the fantasy world of TV, not the mind-blowing reality of modern video gaming. What would really happen is what we see here… the guy would just strain and strain… until every capillary in his face exploded simultaneously.
Then again, this is just a still frame from an animated video game, and maybe I’m interpreting it incorrectly. This could also be a recreation of the face-melting climax of Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Round 15: Parasol-Man
“Get him out of the cave!”
Hmmm… a sidescrolling platform game. Yawn. Parasol? Whatever. OK, this is about as weird as anything else here, but it just doesn’t stand out! I can’t even think ï¿½of anything funny to say about it! Let’s move on…
Round 16: Sushi Bar
“Serve such particular kind of sushi as the customers wish!”
Now we’re talking (again… the food ones seem to excite me most — maybe it’s lunch time)! It’s the Japanese take on the classic arcade game Root Beer Tapper (which I am sure was not root beer in Japan, if The Drunkard is any indication).
So, you’ve got an aspiring model with pupil-less eyes, like that creepy guy in Tom Petty’s “Running Down a Dream” video, you’ve got the Japanese dirty old man, who has just worked up a big sushi appetite groping women on the overcrowded bullet train, and you’ve got Buttchin Fauntleroy, in from Brussels for the day in his red velvet suit with frilly cravat. The big question, which one wants the squid roe, and which will have the yellowfin tuna. C’mon, quick! That stuff only has an 18-second shelf life!
Round 17: Swan Runner
“Turn aside obstacles and get him out of the cave!”
OK, you have to go through this tunnel, avoiding obstacles. I can accept that. But why do the obstacles include a bunch of bananas, surrounded by a mysterious PVC pipe force field? And why are you riding a swan? For the love of God, why are you riding a swan??? OK, clearly I am starting to take this whole enterprise a little too seriously.
Round 18: Pinch Hitter
“It’s now 2-down and bases are loaded. Be aggressive to make a big hit!”
Baseball. OK, I understand that. Quite possibly the common denominator between American and Japanese culture. (Well, that and Masaharu Morimoto.)
My confusion with this particular game is technical. Note that your player is a 3-D modeled (albeit poorly) polygonal object, but the umpire and other players are all bitmapped sprites. This is almost as visually jarring as Capillary Man in Round 14. OK, not really. But from a design and technical perspective, I just don’t get it. (This is the point where my computer nerdiness just gets in the way. I apologize. Please take a moment to ponder the next image as I beat Professor Douchebag Q. Poindexter into submission.)
Round 19: The Malicious Lord Proxy
“A regular scene in the historical plays. Intently round the wheels!”
The Taito web site describes the premise of this round as a “regular scene in the historical plays.” Now, granted, I know very little about either of the traditional Japanese forms of theater, Kabuki and Noh (other than their names, which I of course have just taken great pride in showing off), but I have to wonder how much of a role bikini-clad blondes play in the Japanese theatrical tradition. Whatever it takes to bring that enormous phallic symbol into action, I guess. (I know someone will be… er… intently rounding the wheels tonight.)
I am struggling to find a witty, eloquent, or even marginally-intelligent way to say this, but I can’t… damn, those guys are funny! (Although I will note with some unease that the guy in orange on the bottom looks a little like a Japanese Louie Anderson.) I like the name, too. “The Malicious Lord Proxy” is definitely not someone you’d want to cross. It’s a bit jarring to see the great cartoon-style design on the characters in this screenshot, and to contrast it to the godawful hack jobs they did in some of the other rounds. (I’ll spare you the unpleasantness of revisiting Round 14.)
Round 20: Skateboard
“Play attractive performance!”
I’m spent. And I think the designers of the game were, too, by this round. The description on the Taito site is “play attractive performance.” I guess that pretty much wraps it all up. Or not.