Monday, 30 September 2013

An Introduction to Scrabble Terminology

This post will introduce two oft-used Scrabble terms: "phoneys" and "bingos". For readers who thirst for more, Word Buff has an entertaining Scrabble glossary.

A phoney is a non-valid word, i.e. a word which does not exist in the dictionary being used for a given Scrabble game.

Lately I have been playing more Scrabble online than on a physical board. The online games are set up so that every word is checked against a dictionary, making it impossible to play phoneys.

In general this setting suits us best, but I miss the fun that would often ensue in a physical game when someone played a phoney and tried to convince the rest of us that it was a valid word. This was especially fun with Priyanka, who made up sentences to make her phoneys seem more convincing. Two examples from a game last year:
Agraze. As in, the hills are agraze with cows.
"Zanshir" is a middle eastern beverage. You know Omar Khayyam's famous lines: "I sat beneath the olive bough / Zanshir in my hand."
Efforts as good as these probably deserve more points than real words.

A bingo is a word which uses up all seven letters on the rack and earns 50 bonus points.

The two people I play most often are both slightly better than me. They know all the two-letter words and most of the threes, rarely waste a blank for a play of less than 50 points, and structure their game strategy around the formation of bingos. When playing against them, it is rare to have a game with less than two bingos.

But games like the one which finished today are rarer still: my opponent and I made four bingos in five consecutive plays ‒ an occurrence sufficiently unusual and satisfying (at least for my level) that I deemed it worth posting about.

The bingos were RECOuRSE (77 points), DOUBLiNG (72 points), RESIGNER (72 points) and EMENDATE (86 points).

Friday, 20 September 2013


Some things are obvious to nerds, but less obvious to the rest of us. From two recent coversations:

me: Some guy did a 24-minute loop of Manhattan in a BMW Z4. But he got arrested because he made a dashboard camera recording of the ride and uploaded it to YouTube.
Anasua: It is no longer necessary to say the words "to YouTube".
Surya: Obviously I am acquainted with the Scandinavian genre of crime of fiction...
Saha: Surya, there should be no "obviously" before that sentence.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

The 1/27720 Sheppey Asparagus

It is said that Jiro Ono, perhaps the finest sushi chef in the world and a fanatical perfectionist, always uses his own palm to measure the quantity of rice for each piece of sushi, because an assistant's palm would introduce inconsistency.

My approach to cooking is far less exact. Onlookers are often alarmed to note that I don't bother to measure out spices and condiments, preferring instead to pour apparently arbitrary quantities from the containers directly into the cooking pot.

However, following the introduction of a new cutting board in our kitchen (a standard Sainsbury's cutting board, which Anasua engraved with a laser from her lab), guests can be sure that their food will have evenly-chopped ingredients.

This asparagus tip, for example, is 1/27720 of a Sheppey. As Douglas Adams fans may know, a Sheppey is a unit of length, defined as the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque.

Below left is a photo of sheep grazing on snow on a Himalayan hillside, taken at ~1 Sheppey. Below right is a sheep seen on a day walk in Kent at a distance of much less than a Sheppey.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Not Bloody Margarine

Detractors of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!® say that the product is so obviously inferior to real butter that no one in their right mind would actually say, "I can't believe it's not butter." This is not strictly true. I personally know of at least two instances when this phrase was used, though perhaps not in the way the manufacturers intended.

First instance: A few months back, having gone to the supermarket to buy butter, I bought a tub of I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!® by mistake. When I got home, I realised my folly and exclaimed, "I can't believe it's not butter!"

Second instance: Anasua looked in the fridge and said, "What is this crap you've got? I can't believe it's not butter!"

Anyhow, owing to our extreme reluctance to throw food away, we bit the bullet and finished it (mostly by consuming it as a substitute when we ran out of real butter). But as is my wont, I retained the tub for storing real butter.

The problem was that in the course of our epic struggle to finish I Can't Believe It's Not Butter!®, we had grown to loathe the sight of the tub itself. It seemed that anything stored in that tub, even real butter, would seem unappetising. So I have covered the repulsive packaging (see top left photo) with a home-drawn replacement that leaves the beholder in no doubt about the contents of the tub.