Andrew Pollack's Blog

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A hard fought loss -- ah well... -- and how ADD meds impact my Scrabble playing.

By Andrew Pollack on 12/07/2005 at 07:54 AM EST

Given the other news this morning, I thought I'd post some lighter stuff as well. I got beat last night in Scrabble by my wife. Again. We've had a long running series of games and over the years she's ahead by about 5% of games. Last night was painful. Have you ever had Scrabble hands that were just one after the other terrible? I had great letters and no vowels, multiple duplicates of difficult letters, or great words with no place to put them. Barb started the game -- her first move -- with a 7 letter word and 50 point bonus. I fought hard, but lost at the end by about 10 points at around 350 total.

Barb has always been better at getting words into niches with high point values --often by making two or three words at a time all jammed together. I've always been better with just a much wider vocabulary. Last night I played pretty well and got some great multi-word scores and sent her to the dictionary several times for words (we do not penalize for challenged words in our games). She just played better and got some great letters at the right times (I had good letters, including the J and X and one blank, but she got both S's, the Z, the QU combination, a blank, and so on). Oh well.

Our games have some odd twists in them. First, because we (ok, its me) refuse to use a timer. Second, the time we play is after the kids are off to bed at the end of the day on those rare nights when we have an hour or two to spare. This is the time of day for me when the ADD meds are dropping off. Its led to interesting observations:

On the ADD meds, I'm all about verbs and adjectives and I can almost always make something good happen out of a string of ugly looking letters. Fortunately Scrabble doesn't allow proper nouns. That's good for me because when I'm on all my ADD meds I am for some strange reason severely reduced in my ability to access proper nouns from the dusty and disorganized regions of my brain where they seem to hide. As the ADD meds wear off, I'm at my worst. These drugs are powerful things and as they drop off there's a bit of a drop below normal function. I can be forgetful or tired -- or sometimes even have a brief but strong headache. I'm also extremely distractible. If the T.V. is on during the game as I'm coming off the meds, I cannot play at all. Once the meds are completely out of my system, as long as I'm not tired (its late by that point) my ability to come up with some obscure word from nearly any letter combination and tight board is amazing (unless the TV is on or I have my laptop next to me and I'm doing email or something) but I'm completely useless when it comes to taking advantage of those magic multiple word combinations. This last may just be a practice thing.

Isn't strange how these drugs have such subtle effects on how I think? I wonder if its like that for everyone and we just don't notice. I've heard some people treat foods as drugs -- altering their behavior and thinking by eating different things. I think I believe this is entirely possible.


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