Saturday, November 19, 2005


Scrabble: The Anti-Drug

Nicholas Blincoe in today's Telegraph relates an amusing tale of Graham Greene:

The playwright Michael Meyer travelled around the world with Greene in the 1950s. Greene had promised opium-smoking and other tropical decadences, so Meyer was disappointed to find that Greene had packed a portable Scrabble board. The nightly Scrabble games almost ruined their friendship. The problem, according to Meyer, was that Greene's spelling was "deeply dubious", and the pair did not have a dictionary. During a stay in Tahiti, Greene produced the words "zeb", which he claimed was an Elizabethan word for "cock", and "quoign" which he insisted was Shakespearean, quoting: "Yon castle's quoign that Duncan's spirit haunts."

Meyer thought the line was as dubious as Greene's spelling and, in the sultry Tahitian nights, tempers frayed. The pair were still arguing when they reached San Francisco, months later. They ran straight from the ship to a second-hand book store and found a dictionary. The word was in, spelled "quoin", which satisfied Greene, though as Meyer pointed out, "quoin" would not have landed on a triple letter score.

Speaking of such things, while in Seattle I ran into Vinnie Wilhelm, a recent grad of the Writers' Workshop and one of my old Scrabble sparring partners. Vinnie's mulling a book idea that you will certainly be reading between hardcovers in a couple years or so -- it's pretty great -- but in the mean time, you'll just have to settle for his recent interview with Daniel Alarcon:

Vinnie: I'd like to begin with oral sex. In "City of Clowns," the second story in your collection, you provide one of the most compelling instances in recent literature of a man performing cunnilingus on a woman who is wearing stilts. I think we'd all love to hear whatever you feel comfortable sharing about the genesis of this scene.

Daniel Alarcón: In Lima I briefly dated a girl who owned a pair of stilts. I can't really say much more about it, except to add that I write fiction and have an active imagination.

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