LAGOS--Nigeria is beating the West at its own word game, using a strategy that sounds like Scrabble sacrilege. By relentlessly studying short words, this country of 500 languages has risen to dominate English's top lexical contest. Last November, for the final of Scrabble's 32-round World Championship in Australia, Nigeria's winningest wordsmith, Wellington Jighere, defeated Britain's Lewis Mackay, in a victory that led morning news broadcasts in his homeland half a world away. It was the crowning achievement for a nation that boasts more top-200 Scrabble players than any other country, including the U.K., Nigeria's former colonizer and one of the board game's legacy powers. "In other countries they see it as a game," said Mr. Jighere, now a borderline celebrity and talent scout for one of the world's few government-backed national programs.
Look, there's plenty of boring industrial robots on the floor of the Las Vegas convention center for CES. But I've got to hand it to the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) -- it really knows how to make a demo fun and interactive. The company combined a number of its technologies into a robot that is able to sit and play Scrabble against a human opponent ... and win.
You can learn a lot about a person from the way they play Scrabble. Do they show off their SAT vocabulary or only know dirty words? Are they rule-sergeants or are they so competitive that they will stop at nothing to beat someone who is half their age? It seems his Scrabble strategy involves aggressive rule bending in order to win a game against a high school-age opponent. SEE ALSO: After losing trust of its users, Facebook assigns them a'trustworthiness' score This little Zuckerian anecdote comes to us from an extensive New Yorker profile about the Facebook CEO's approach toward the myriad problems currently facing the social network, and whether he's equipped to solve them.
You can find Lynda Woods Cleary playing Scrabble every Tuesday at a Panera in Princeton, NJ. Cleary, a 68-year-old retired financial consultant, has been playing every week for 20 years since founding the Princeton Scrabble Club in 1998. When I asked her if she's ever disappointed to draw certain tiles, she looked surprised, even hurt. "Oh no," she said with an Alabama twang. "I want each and every one."
Beating people at Scrabble is already no contest for computer programs, which can easily memorise entire dictionaries. Now a Scrabble-playing program has gone one better by playing dirty. Developed by Eyal Amir and Mark Richards at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the program is able to predict which letter tiles other players hold, and use this information to choose moves which block a high-scoring word that an opponent might otherwise have played. This aggressive gaming style gives it the edge over previous Scrabble programs, which focus solely on maximising their own scores. To predict what tiles other players hold, Amir and Richards's program begins by eliminating those tiles that have already been played.