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Home | Opinion | Op-Ed: Advice for Graduates: Learn to Play Scrabble

Op-Ed: Advice for Graduates: Learn to Play Scrabble

As the class of 2019 sets out into the new world, I thought I would share some words of advice that come not from me but rather from Scott Wakefield, an Assistant Professor, and Chair of Illustration at RMCAD in Denver.

Professor Wakefield came up to my daughter after she had received her diploma and left her some advice about being successful. I thought I would share it with you:

To be successful in your career you need to understand the game of Scrabble.

In Scrabble, each player is given 7 random tiles with a letter on it. The more difficult the the letter is to place in a word, the more it is worth. A “Q” is worth more to a player than an “A” or “E” for instance. Players try to place words on a board, crossword puzzle-like until all the the pieces have been played. Some places on the board are also worth more than others, so the trick is to combine the best use of the seven blocks of letters and points on the board.

Now, some players have a strategy of trying to use as many of their letters at a time, trying to hit a home run with every turn. In life, that would be like someone that is always trying to create the bestest, newest next big thing.

However in Scrabble, as in life, there are times when the letters you have received are not immediately useful. If you have received a S, Q, N, F, V, L, and a D, there are not a lot of words you could spell. You might sit there and get frustrated with your turn, growing more angry that the letters you have are essentially worthless for spelling a word.

But in Scrabble, as in life, perhaps the best strategy is not always to spell the 7 letter word. Sometimes, a player’s best move is to look at the tiles on the board already, and build on them, instead of trying to create a big new word from scratch.

Suppose the word on the board is RACE. A pretty good word. Another player might add the letters TRACK to it, making it RACETRACK. An even better word. But with the tiles you have been dealt, you could make RACETRACK into RACETRACKS. Even better. An excellent example of collaborative work.

Building on that which has already been built, instead of trying to begin from scratch. Which is easier? Coming up with a seven letter word or just adding an “S” to what has already been played? With only a single letter, you have created a ten letter word.

Bernard of Chartes in the 12th Century stated “nanos gigantum humeris insidentes” or “standing on the shoulders of giants” was a way that a dwarf could see farther than an average man. Isaac Newton, in a letter to Robert Hooke said that his discoveries were only possible because ”If I have seen further it is by standing on the sholders [sic] of Giants.”

Using the tiles that have been laid out on the playing board before you is a way to play the game effectively, and a way to win.

Play the tiles that have been played before you. Build on what has already been built. It isn’t cheating. It isn’t stealing. It is playing smartly. Sometimes, evolution is better than revolution.

The iPhone, considered a revolutionary product, was merely a set of tools collaboratively created by merging many parts that had already been created into a new form factor. 90% of the iPhone was already in place before the final product was created.

Apple added the “S” to the word already on the board.

Stand on the shoulders of giants. Play the tiles on the board. Good enough to win at Scrabble. Good enough for Newton. Good enough for Apple.

Good enough for you to win.

***

Author: Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

Feel free to leave a comment.  Read his previous columns here.

About Tim Holt

Tim Holt is an educator and writer, with over 33 years experience in education and opines on education-related topics here and on his own award-winning blog: HoltThink. He values your feedback.

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