Q&A with Carl Johnson

Carl Johnson is a top Scrabble player from Oregon who has been in the top 20 for the better part of the last 8 years. He is currently ranked in the top 20 players and has won major tournaments such as Oregon Tile. He works at Intel and also enjoys blogging.

Q: What is the reason you play Scrabble?

Carl: I find Scrabble to be an infinitely fascinating game. Well, I really enjoyed the game growing up, and… one summer, after my freshman year of college, I was bored and started playing online, and I realized I was quite good at the game, I think I won the first 12 games in a row, and it just so happened one of my roommates played in a Scrabble club, so I went… and it’s been a really great experience.

Q: What is the difference between competitive level Scrabble and everyday Scrabble?

Carl: That’s a great question… I think it’s that tournament players don’t know and don’t really care to know the meanings of the words they play… and if they do it’s only incidental. That’s the big thing.
Another one is that games are always one-on-one, and that games are timed… and it’s not so much competitive as interacting over a shared activity.

Q: Describe the ups and downs of tournament Scrabble.

Carl: Well of course when you’re winning you love the game and when you’re losing you hate the game, it’s always that kind of love-hate relationship. And I get an adrenaline rush whenever I play. When I sign up I start studying just so I can maximize my chances of winning. There are times when it just doesn’t do any good, I won’t get very good tiles or I make mistakes I shouldn’t be making. it can be very discouraging… it’s something I can imagine most players deal with on some level.

Q: What is the most important thing that you’ve learned playing Scrabble?

Carl: The most important thing that I’ve learned is exactly how my brain works. I started playing in college… that was when I first got serious about word lists. The dictionary contains over 100,000 words, which is more then the brain can handle without serious, serious study. The more I studied, the more intimately I became aware… I could almost feel something in my mind changing.

And I found I could extend that to my college career. By the end of college I found I didn’t need to study for tests as much just because my primary hobby was memorizing things. So I could look at the information for a test once or twice and I’d know very intimately when I really knew the information.

Q: If you had to give a new player one piece of advice, what would it be?

Carl: Well, the biggest stumbling block for most new players is the words just because many of them won’t seem like words or be words that are used in everyday speech. Many of them will not seem like words.
One of the first words that I came across is ULU, and I was like: oh, that can’t be a word. And then I looked it up later, it’s an Eskimo hunting knife, there’s an ulu.com where you can buy the knives. And I was like “okay these words actually do have meanings.”
I think it’s important to note even though you might not know them that these are real words, they do have real meanings. Many of these words may not be used much outside of the game but if you’re a new player, just learn as many of those types of words as possible is crucial.

Q: What is a memorable event that occurred during a Scrabble tournament?

Carl: So I was playing an opponent… I won’t name any names, but I was playing the final game of a big tournament, and we had already played twice: he was kind of a newer player while I was more established. Anyway, we were playing for first place to win the tournament and I was pretty far behind but I had a bingo to go out, and I knew it wasn’t quite enough. So I played my bingo and all of a sudden my opponent throws his pen all the way across the room and got really irritated… until he realized he still won by a few points.