# On the blank tile

There is a very well-known board game in which contestants put words on a grid that interlock, and they score points and play against one another. Each player has seven tiles, each with a little black letter on it, except for a couple of blank tiles that can be used by players as any letter at all–wild cards, so to speak. The playing board is a colorful grid marked with special squares such as “double letter” or “triple word” and players win by using both the grid and their letters to the greatest advantage, which is all very straight-forward, but just like chess, knowing the rules and developing a strategy are two different things. The blank tiles, which show up sporadically, are a strategic mystery in almost every sense. What point value, for example, constitutes using a blank? Thirty, forty, fifty? Or do you only use it for a seven letter bingo which brings in an extra forty or fifty points? The blank tile is a kind of promise for things to come, a bonanza of points yet to be achieved, an investment in the future. Yet, the blank tile is also a mystery because it doesn’t have a value at all–no points are associated with playing the blank. Even a lowly “a” will get you one point any day of the week, but the blank must derive its value from the other tiles being played. The blank tile brings no value of its own, so while it might be a “z” in “zeta”, that particular “zeta” won’t be worth more than 3 or 4 points. So the blank tile continues to be blank in many ways, unwilling to give up its chameleonic identity, blending with the other tiles as players plot their next moves.

# On the blank tile

There is a very well-known board game in which contestants put words on a grid that interlock, and they score points and play against one another. Each player has seven tiles, each with a little black letter on it, except for a couple of blank tiles that can be used by players as any letter at all–wild cards, so to speak. The playing board is a colorful grid marked with special squares such as “double letter” or “triple word” and players win by using both the grid and their letters to the greatest advantage, which is all very straight-forward, but just like chess, knowing the rules and developing a strategy are two different things. The blank tiles, which show up sporadically, are a strategic mystery in almost every sense. What point value, for example, constitutes using a blank? Thirty, forty, fifty? Or do you only use it for a seven letter bingo which brings in an extra forty or fifty points? The blank tile is a kind of promise for things to come, a bonanza of points yet to be achieved, an investment in the future. Yet, the blank tile is also a mystery because it doesn’t have a value at all–no points are associated with playing the blank. Even a lowly “a” will get you one point any day of the week, but the blank must derive its value from the other tiles being played. The blank tile brings no value of its own, so while it might be a “z” in “zeta”, that particular “zeta” won’t be worth more than 3 or 4 points. So the blank tile continues to be blank in many ways, unwilling to give up its chameleonic identity, blending with the other tiles as players plot their next moves.

# On stroller blocking as an Olympic sport

Call them whatever you want–useful, weird, bulky, broken–but baby strollers are going to be a new Olympic sport at the next games in Brazil in 2016. Just like bobsledding, there are different modalities, but all have to do with how well the driver of the stroller can block a sidewalk, a supermarket aisle, a street, an escalator, there will be different landscapes in which the stroller athlete will have to successfully block anyone from getting past them. The Olympic committee hasn’t finalized the rules yet, but some of the different modalities will be mother, baby, and dog, or mother, baby, and grandmother. They are also planning modalities which include other siblings, multiple family members, and fallen toys. Strollers will be categorized by cost, construction, width, and size of tires. All team members will have to be from the same country. There will be a special modality for colapsable strollers, people who eat ice cream, and mothers who cannot stop talking on their cell phones. Crying babies in the rain will occur on the final day of competition, featuring cross mother-in-laws, lost fathers, a dog pooping, the police, and multiple neighbors of varying sizes. There will be a special modality in which the parents carry the child and push an empty stroller while they both talk on their cell phones, the dog pees on grandma, and the older sibling skins her/his knee while rollerskating. Stroller blocking is not for the weak of heart, and all participants must where helmets (and men must wear hard cups). The sport has been criticized in the past for its overt violence.

# On stroller blocking as an Olympic sport

Call them whatever you want–useful, weird, bulky, broken–but baby strollers are going to be a new Olympic sport at the next games in Brazil in 2016. Just like bobsledding, there are different modalities, but all have to do with how well the driver of the stroller can block a sidewalk, a supermarket aisle, a street, an escalator, there will be different landscapes in which the stroller athlete will have to successfully block anyone from getting past them. The Olympic committee hasn’t finalized the rules yet, but some of the different modalities will be mother, baby, and dog, or mother, baby, and grandmother. They are also planning modalities which include other siblings, multiple family members, and fallen toys. Strollers will be categorized by cost, construction, width, and size of tires. All team members will have to be from the same country. There will be a special modality for colapsable strollers, people who eat ice cream, and mothers who cannot stop talking on their cell phones. Crying babies in the rain will occur on the final day of competition, featuring cross mother-in-laws, lost fathers, a dog pooping, the police, and multiple neighbors of varying sizes. There will be a special modality in which the parents carry the child and push an empty stroller while they both talk on their cell phones, the dog pees on grandma, and the older sibling skins her/his knee while rollerskating. Stroller blocking is not for the weak of heart, and all participants must where helmets (and men must wear hard cups). The sport has been criticized in the past for its overt violence.

# On crazy eights

Just recently a student asked me how to play Crazy Eights. Needless to say, I was filled with lots of mixed emotions. First, the very fact that this student did not know how to play a standard game of my childhood made me reflect on how things change from generation to generation. The digital revolution has sidelined these simple analogue games that I still cherish. All of that means that I belong to a bygone era that will never return. Computers, video games, digitally mediated communication have pushed “cards” out of the national consciousness. That the student did not know how to play such a simple game also made me ponder the complexity of a society that has no use for simple entertainment, here represented by cards and their analogue existence of four suits and thirteen individual designs. “Cards” are now digital, and you can play all of the digital poker you want. Crazy Eights is a simple game, but perhaps that is what makes it complex. You give each player eight cards, you set up a “draw” pile (face down) and a “play” card, which, in turn, each player must either match the suit or the number. When you run out of cards, you win. You may change the suit by playing an “eight.” If you can’t play, you must pick a card until you can play. Whoever plays their last card first, wins. When explained in such basic terms, it seems rather boring, but let me assure you that my friends and I got hours and hours of entertainment out of this simple game. Perhaps the pleasure one derives from the game is less about winning, per se, and more about the social interaction of playing the game. You don’t need any screens of any kind to play, but you do need a deck of cards, which is very old technology. You need to learn to shuffle and deal. You need someone with whom you might play.

# On crazy eights

Just recently a student asked me how to play Crazy Eights. Needless to say, I was filled with lots of mixed emotions. First, the very fact that this student did not know how to play a standard game of my childhood made me reflect on how things change from generation to generation. The digital revolution has sidelined these simple analogue games that I still cherish. All of that means that I belong to a bygone era that will never return. Computers, video games, digitally mediated communication have pushed “cards” out of the national consciousness. That the student did not know how to play such a simple game also made me ponder the complexity of a society that has no use for simple entertainment, here represented by cards and their analogue existence of four suits and thirteen individual designs. “Cards” are now digital, and you can play all of the digital poker you want. Crazy Eights is a simple game, but perhaps that is what makes it complex. You give each player eight cards, you set up a “draw” pile (face down) and a “play” card, which, in turn, each player must either match the suit or the number. When you run out of cards, you win. You may change the suit by playing an “eight.” If you can’t play, you must pick a card until you can play. Whoever plays their last card first, wins. When explained in such basic terms, it seems rather boring, but let me assure you that my friends and I got hours and hours of entertainment out of this simple game. Perhaps the pleasure one derives from the game is less about winning, per se, and more about the social interaction of playing the game. You don’t need any screens of any kind to play, but you do need a deck of cards, which is very old technology. You need to learn to shuffle and deal. You need someone with whom you might play.