Sunday, August 27, 2006

Of Scrabble, Dungeons and Dragons, Teaching and Perhaps Life

I was at a dinner party last night and sat across a woman that is a scrabble player. I mean a serious scrabble player. She is a member of the Scrabble Club in her city and travels all around North America to play in Scrabble tournaments.

She insisted that she was not a very good player but enjoyed the challenge, the atmosphere and the people. It is a reason for her to travel and makes the entertainment part of her life purposeful. I don't really believe she isn't a very good player though. She is well-read, articulate and intelligent.

I found all of this interesting. As I was growing up I believed that Scrabble, Bridge and Chess were 'intelligent' games. You have to think and strategize to be good at any of these games. Chess however was the King of intelligent games. Unlike Bridge and Scrabble, in Chess, both players begin in exactly the same spot, with the same ammunition as it were. Bridge and Scrabble are games that challenge the player to make the best of their assets and to use strategy to gain the advantage. Through my University years I discovered that Poker was akin to Bridge and Scrabble in that way.

As my children grew up my notions of 'intelligent' games changed. My sons became immersed in Dungeons and Dragons - the game itself and assorted similar games. As I watched I quickly saw that these games demanded similar kinds of thinking. Although there was an element of chance (though it is parallel to the chance in Bridge - shuffling and distributing the cards - and the chance in Scrabble - blindly picking tiles) the really good players had very good game memories, could see the large picture and had strategically planned out several possible future scenarios.

I learned something about Scrabble from my conversation partner last night. I asked how she studies in preparation for the game. As she talked she mentioned anagrams - using the same letters to create many different words. She said that many players memorize anagrams - in at least two different ways. For instance the letters that make up the word 'satire' can be use individually or together to create 88 different words and if you either add a letter or substitute a letter the number of words possible rises exponentially.

So what does all this say about teaching and maybe even life. You have to know a lot, you have to think about it, it gets confusing, you have to work with what you have been given, you have to predict alternative futures in a strategic way, it isn't about doing better than your opponent it is about doing the best you can with what you have at hand.


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