Sorting The Sheep From The Goats

On 24th May last year, I mentioned Worldwide on-line Scrabble. It was just before then that Becky had introduced me to this phenomenon. There is a very companionable network of people of all ages and nationalities who enjoy this game. It is possible to have numerous contests in progress at any one time because those on the other side of the world from each other do not all play at once.

Through this medium I have enjoyed more than 3,000 games and corresponded with many new friends.

Alfred Mosher Butts, during the Great Depression was a jobless American architect who invented and developed the game as entertainment for his own family. ScrabbleLike my friend Mike Kindred, the games inventor, he made the prototypes himself.  This pastime first saw life commercially in 1938, and by the time of his death in 1993, was popular the world over. I wonder whether he ever imagined how it has developed with the assistance of the World Wide Web.  A real board, tiles, racks, pencil, paper, and even dictionaries, can now be dispensed with, as we sit pressing keys.

The on-line facility is administered by Facebook, and has, until an arbitrary date last Sunday, been a free service without advertisements.  On that day the plug was pulled on all our existing games, 53 in my case;  the statistics of our performance were wiped out; and most importantly of all, we were no longer able to play with some people with whom we had formed long-distance corresponding relationships.  Overnight we were presented with a newly designed board with strange-looking icons, and a set of statistics, for all except three players, starting from the new date.

Some people may not be bothered about stats, but the more competitive of us enjoy trying to improve, or just hold onto our positions.  I personally don’t mind starting this from scratch, but do want it to make sense.  After only four completed games, Becky’s highest word score is 88; her highest game score is given as 85.  For those who don’t know the game, a word is part of a game.  Becky’s are not the only set that don’t compute.

There is a facility for starting a new game with a friend.  I merrily put in the names of some friends I had been playing with for months.  They were not known.  On the other hand, a row of Facebook friends, many of whom do not play Scrabble, was presented to me as containing potential opponents.

So, Barbara, if you read this, please understand I will not rest until I have found you again.

For many years Chambers Dictionary has been the standard one for use with Scrabble.  Not since last Sunday.  The only rather good improvement I have found is that it is now possible to play in a number of different languages.  Once you have realised that the standard one in use is American.  Most of us, of course, didn’t think to check that.  Our first games therefore rejected many familiar words until we sussed it.  And of course, it is not possible to select a different reference source during the course of a game.  Even the British English dictionary has changed.  The chosen one is now Collins.

There are a number of spritely young things like Barb and Christian around on the circuit, but most of those, like me, who have enough time to spend playing Scrabble, are a little resistant to change.  It’s not that we are stuck in the mud, as I am sometimes when I venture into the New Forest, but just that our memory sticks are a bit full.

Now why has this happened?  The cynic in me puts it down to commercialisation and the profit to be made from advertising.  Yes, the games are now interrupted by advertisements.  Ah, but you don’t have to have them.  You can pay for your games to be ad-free.  Either way, a profit is made.  Q.E.D. (For those who didn’t have the benefit of a Jesuit grammar school education, these three letters at the bottom of the proof of a theorem, stand for ‘quod erat demonstrandum’, or ‘so it has been proved’).

Having spent far too much time trying to get my head around this novelty, I walked the Football Green/Bull Lane loop. Soay sheep in field of buttercups The tinkling of bells in a field just after I entered the lane, heralded the presence of what I thought were rather small goats, the kids almost obscured by buttercups. Soay lamb I watched, fascinated, as these horned creatures enjoyed the pasture.  Pondering about the collective noun for goats, I thought it must be a herd, but on the other hand, perhaps it was a flock.  This uncertainty helped me with identification, for, further up the hill, a woman was sweeping her gravel driveway.  I asked her.  She confirmed it was a herd.  ‘Have you seen some?’, she asked, sounding intrigued.  ‘Yes, in that field’, I replied.  ‘They are not goats, they are sheep, Soay sheep.  They are prehistoric’, was her clarification. I thanked her.  Well, they did all have horns.

Jackie produced a tasty liver and bacon casserole dinner followed by dutch apple pie for our evening meal.  I finshed the Carta Roja with it.

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