Q&A: Reigning Scrabble Champion Reveals His Favorite Letter, Fun Tricks And Embarrassing Stories

Stumble upon him in Portland, Oregon, and you’d be excused if you mistook Conrad Bassett-Bouchard for just another 20-something. After all, the University of California-San Diego graduate spends a lot of his days working at a popular food truck and playing Settlers of Catan with his roommates. He fits the mold.

But Bassett-Bouchard, 25, isn’t your normal 20-something. He’s the reigning North American Scrabble champion, and he is in Reno, Nevada, this weekend to defend his crown after unexpectedly taking down Scrabble legend Nigel Richards last summer.

In the lead up to the tournament, we spoke with Bassett-Bouchard over the phone about the letter he loves, the letter combinations he hates, his tips for casual players, that awkward feeling when your best word is one that makes you blush and more.

The main thing people wanted me to ask you for is maybe one or two tips or philosophies for the casual Scrabble player.

Number one is definitely learning the two-letter words, it’s pretty much essential. And from there you can use your knowledge of two-letter words to make parallel plays, so you can play two, three, four, five words at once instead of one and then your score will go up drastically.

In terms of two-letter words, what do you think are the one or two out of the ordinary ones that people should memorize?

I guess people are pretty good at thinking about it now, but “QI” is pretty essential because [Q is] the worst tile and it’s a really good way to get out of having the Q. And then probably “JO” because the J is not actually a very good tile and people don’t necessarily know that, so I think it’s a helpful one to just get of it quickly.

I wonder if there’s a favorite —> Read More

Can Artificial Intelligence Make us Stupid

Changing technology stimulates the brain and increases intelligence. But that may only be true if the technology challenges us. In a world run by intelligent machines, our lives could get a lot simpler. Would that make us less intelligent?

The Age of Machines
After the Industrial Revolution, machines began to replace manual workers. The process played out in agriculture as well as manufacturing so that hordes of agricultural workers were displaced and forced to move to cities to make a living.

When machines took away much of the manual work, people became less physically active and gained weight. Sedentary lifestyle contributed to a worldwide epidemic of obesity and related metabolic disorders such as heart disease, secondary diabetes and kidney disease.

As our bodies rested, our brains were forced to work harder, however. It is much more difficult to navigate a congested modern city than it is to move around in a small rural village, for instance. Modern jobs are also more complex and time urgent and they require more education because employees need to process new information quickly.

Even during our leisure time, our brains work harder due to greater availability of books, and proliferation of audiovisual media, for entertainment, study, music, news, and so forth.

Now in the Internet age, the volume of information grows exponentially along with sophistication in electronic technologies. The number of people with whom we interact electronically grows by leaps and bounds thanks to the ease of use of social media like Facebook and Twitter.

All of this extra work for our brains makes us more intelligent. That helps explain why human intelligence increases steadily from generation to generation in all developed countries, a phenomenon named the Flynn Effect. Of course, there are other reasons, including —> Read More

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