Wednesday, January 7, 2009


For about a year, I've been playing this online game called Eight Letters in Search of a Word. I put it in the sidebar, but I hadn't announced. Consider it announced.

It's a competitive anagrams game. If you do play, here's a hint - type the words in. Don't use your mouse. You'll be way too slow to get a decent score if you do. It took me a while to figure that out. Of course, I hadn't read the directions. They're on the site somewhere.

You may be wondering what the point of this entry is. It's not just to suggest that you play this game.

It's to talk about me, of course.

I'm pretty good at word games. However, I never win Eight Letters in Search of a Word. There's some other players on that site who are unbeatable. At first, I thought these people must be cheating and getting their computers to play, but I got an insanely high score a few times and realized it was possible. Now, that doesn't mean that there aren't folks who are cheating, for I find it hard to believe that some of these people always get such impossibly high scores. But then again, they just may be consistently brilliant at playing. Unlike me.

When I play, I'm consistently inconsistent. Here's the game: there's eight letters that always make an eight letter word. You type in as many words as you can in the allotted time (one minute?) and hope that you find that eight letter word in the process. I'm amazed at how sometimes I'll think I've exhausted all the possibilities, have found the eight letter word, and then discover that another player has a score twice as high as mine. Take the word "generals", for instance. Can you think of two other eight letter words that you can make out of its letters?*

Well, I couldn't think of the two others in one minute. I was too busy typing in four letter words. Sometimes I'll play this game and feel golden, finding the eight letter word right away. It just hits me intuitively. Other times I can't see a thing. I'll stare and stare at the words and they mean nothing.

This seems to be the way I am at most everything. Sometimes I excel and other times I'm terrible. There's usually no middle ground.

I used to play pool almost every night. I tried and tried and never became consistent. This almost got me killed one late night. Seriously.

I was hanging out at an after-hours club in New York City. I'll admit that this was a dangerous place to hang out, even if you do absolutely nothing but sit at the bar. The place was filled with drug dealers. It was on the corner of the street that I lived on, and opened at 4:00am in the morning. There was some sort of secret way to knock on the door to get in, and I have no idea what it was. I have no idea how I knew was it was, come to think of it.

It was the kind of place where you didn't want to look at anyone the wrong way. I sometimes played pool there, but I always played with someone I knew. I was playing a game, quite terribly, one night, when another couple asked if we wanted to play for money. My friend said, "Sure." The game was for fifty bucks. I have no idea why he agreed, but he was a good pool player.

So, we started to play. Every shot I made was a terrible. Everyone was laughing at me. They had already seen I was a terrible at pool, so it wasn't any kind of surprise. But my partner was playing well, and the last shot came down to me. What a shot it was. There were two balls left, sitting near the corner pocket, with the eight ball slightly closer.

I wasn't sure my friend even had fifty bucks on him and I hadn't gotten one shot in the whole game, so I was determined to get these shots. They were hard, and the likelihood of my making them was low, especially the way I had been playing. But I got 'em. This wound up being a big mistake.

The fellow we were playing against picked up my friend by his shirt and starting yelling at him that I was a shark. He wanted to beat the crap out of someone. He was yelling about us all stepping outside. Then he started to say something about killing us. All over a game of pool.

The odd thing is that I have no memory of how this resolved itself. Obviously, I'm still alive. My friend is still alive, too. I do know that I never went back to that club. I never had any business hanging out there in the first place. I wasn't a good pool player, a drug dealer, a prostitute (or any other kind of criminal). I just happened to be up at odd hours.

Anyway, noone threatens to beat me up for playing a great round of Eight Letters in Search of a Word after I play a lousy round. And that's how I play. I'm not a word game shark, just an inconsistent thinker and game player.

Image notes: These images are both of East 14th Street in New York City. I found them embedded in an excerpt from the book, "The "New Woman" Revised
Painting and Gender Politics on Fourteenth Street", by Ellen Wiley Todd, which can be found here. I used to play pool at Julian's Billiard Hall on 14th Street, which was on the second floor. For all I know, it's the same pool hall that's advertised in both the photograph and the drawing.

*enlarges and gleaners

1 comment:

BitterGrace said...

I'm glad you survived the pool hall encounter. Poolrooms do have a strange allure. My dad actually made his living shooting pool for a while, when he was young. He was a good player all his life. Dave and I got in the habit of going to play at a place in Nashville years ago, but then one night we wound up at a table next to two other couples, and one of the women had clearly had the shit beaten out of her, probably by the guy she was there with. Something about her was so...I dunno what--tragic, disturbing--I never wanted to go to that place again.

Anyway, about inconsistency, it's kind of a great quality, isn't it? It's a good teacher, in that in puts limits on the way we tend to over-invest in a fixed idea about ourselves.