Archive for May, 2013

Scrabble vs. Spell Tower

Over the past few months, I’ve got quite into both Scrabble and Spell Tower. I got into the first because when Rebecca and I moved to Pittsburgh, we didn’t (and still don’t) have an active television, so in our desperation to fill our evenings with something other than spending money eating at Pittsburgh’s variety of restaurants, we decided that we’d play Scrabble, one of the few boardgames that was in the house we’d moved to. Roll on several months later, we’re still playing it, albeit upgraded slightly to the iPad version.

Now, one of the great things about the iPad version is that it has a built-in dictionary, along with a cheat-sheet of all the legal two word letters as well. It was once we figured that the two letter words were the key to success (there’s a nice story about this here) that we saw our scores ratchet up into the 300+ range (on the iPad, we usually play together against the computer). 300+ isn’t amazing, but still, it’s better than the ~200 we were getting playing on the regular hardcopy of the game (although it’s nowhere near the almost unbelievable 830 points scored in this game...). Normally the computer will play words that have us scratching our heads asking ‘is that really a word?’, but there are a couple of the two letter words which also make us go ‘huh?’. Words like AA, ZA, UT, PE and so on, but they’re all legitimate words and if you can get something like XU or XI on a triple letter word square, you can quite easily rack up around about 50 points. Weirdly, though, you can’t play DA (colloquial for ‘father’, but also a heavy Burmese knife, apparently) in the US edition of Scrabble, but it’s acceptable in the UK version.

A few months after playing hardcopy Scrabble, it started to get a bit stale, so I downloaded the game Spell Tower for the iPad. Spell Tower is slightly different to Scrabble in that instead of placing tiles on the board, you trace a line across letters on the board, and once you make a word, the letters around it are deleted. A minimum of three letters is required to make a word, and the longer the word, the more points scored (my personal best is INSULATORS for 940 points, but it’s not at all transparent how the words are scored).

Spell tower gameplay

So in the screenshot above, the word created is SERPENTINE, and that then deletes all the letters in pink around the line. In Spell Tower, there’s a few different modes, with the two main ones being 1) to score the highest number of points from a full board and 2) to stop the board from filling up (kind of like a tetris for words). Both are good fun, but the more I played it, the more I realised that the underlying dictionary is very different to that of Scrabble. For example, the following words are all acceptable words in Spell Tower, but not for Scrabble: SLOOMED, FIEST, TINTY, and TILERY. Conversely, almost none of the plural two letter Scrabble words are accepted in Spell Tower, so you can’t have AAS, ZAS, QIS, or KIS. I’m not sure why it’s been designed in this way, since words like BET, ADD, SIT and so on are all fine, but at least with Scrabble you have an official dictionary, which isn’t the case with Spell Tower. This kind of put me off Spell Tower a bit, because it eventually became a game of trial and error to see what words worked and which didn’t, and in a game where you can actually lose, that got quite annoying. And in Scrabble, you can play things like the following (EVICTION for 194) and feel quite smart and smug for having spotted it (credit to Rebecca for playing this word, not me!).

EVICTION for 194

The Social Linguist

Edited volumes: Worth it in the long run?

So, I eventually managed to finish off the edited volume I’ve been working on for over two years now, and with that, I can rest easy that my REF return is all done. It was a real relief to send the final version off, and all that’s left is the proofs and the cover-art, although I’m sure that I’ll find out even more horrors are in store for me when I get to that stage! In any event, it’s been a massively beneficial experience for me and I’ve learnt loads about managing expectations, dealing with peer reviewers, trying to tie all the chapters together, structure, content, word limits etc etc, but I still have this nagging feeling at the back of my head of ‘was it worth it?’. Now, this mainly comes about because edited volumes are, for better or worse, not as highly regarded as that peak of academic achievement, the all-glorious journal article. This is primarily because a) chapters are (usually) solicited by the editor rather than submitted by authors, b) the peer-review process tends to be somewhat less rigorous than that for journals and c) chapters for edited volumes tend not to be rejected regardless of peer-review comments (the line of thinking is, I suppose, that if the editor solicited the chapter, then it should be accepted).

With all the above in mind, then, you’d think that no right minded academic would think about doing an edited volume, especially an academic at the early part of their career (like me!). I mean, I spent over two years working on this, time which might have been better spent doing peer-reviewed articles (which I did during that time anyway), or working more on the book. But of course, edited volumes come out all the time, usually done by well-known and established academics, so they can’t be *that* bad of an investment?

I think there’s two sides to this really. The first is that yes, you probably shouldn’t invest too much time doing an edited volume at the beginning of your career. The time spent between soliciting chapters (or doing a call for papers), sorting out and deciding which chapters to accept, sending out rejection letters to those you didn’t want, preparing the proposal for consideration by a publisher, doing the response to the reviewers, having the proposal rejected anyway, doing the proposal all over again, liaising with contributors to keep them up to date with what’s happening, eventually having the proposal accepted, setting out deadlines for authors, finding peer-reviewers to read chapters, liaising with reviewers and authors, reading and commenting on all the chapters, writing your own chapter, finding someone to do the foreword, reading peer-reviewer comments and deciding what the authors need to address, writing your own chapter, re-reading re-submissions, re-doing *more* comments, finishing your own chapter, finding a map for the book, getting copy-right permissions to use the map, cross-checking all the bibliography entries, proof-reading everything, doing the introduction, finding a reviewer for the introduction, dealing with their comments, re-doing the introduction, paginating everything, doing the pre-publication checklist, writing the table of contents, the table of figures *and* the table of tables (all with the right page numbers), finding out that you missed a page number out and having to the that all over again, deciding that you don’t like the order of the chapters and having to change pagination again, doing contributor biographies, writing the catalog description (50 words), the website description (150 words) and the blurb (200 words), getting contributor agreements, sending all the paperwork to the publisher, and deciding that you just don’t have enough time to do the index so you’re going to outsource it to a professional indexer (fully recommend this btw), I could have written another two journal articles on top of the ones I *did* write while doing all of the above.

At this stage of my career, more publications is always a good thing, but the other side of it is that I have gained an incredible number of skills I otherwise wouldn’t have had I decided not to do the edited volume. Not least among these was learning to co-ordinate a group of highly-skilled academic researchers from around the world in producing a fairly substantial piece of work which will (hopefully!) be a major contribution to work on sociolinguistics in Scotland.

I would say, though, that doing an edited volume wouldn’t be high priority on my ‘to-do’ list post-PhD, and I’d always recommend targeting peer-review publications first and foremost. But once you’ve got a few of them under your belt, I think that there are worse ways to spend your time in academia than doing an edited volume (although I’d probably advise against this if if you’re on a US-based tenure-track position, since journal articles will likely count for far more in your tenure bid than edited volumes would. My guess is that’s why most edited volumes in the US come from already-tenured professors, whereas in the UK, early career researchers publish edited volumes as well as journal articles).

So yeah; edited volumes – more work than I realised, but worth it.

The Social Linguist