Johor Bahru Iskandar Malaysia tail

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The Phenomenon

Phillip Edwin-Mugisha is well known in the international Scrabble community for his entertaining diarising. Here is his account of his adventures at the 2011 Causeway Challenge.

Nov 23
Dear Die-Hard Fans
Perhaps I shouldn't be writing this until the ticket is in my hands but in principle my ticket has been approved and a flight itinerary is being plotted as we speak. Yes, I can feel the palms going sweaty, the heart rates spiking and the gooseflesh rising. For the thousands and thousands of you out there who give a damn I shall be flying out to Johor Bahru this weekend.
A seminal moment in the History of the beloved Sport, after the 45 games it will never be looked at in the same way ever again.

The Phenomenon

Friday

Dear Beloved Scrabble Addicts
Ahead of the Causeway Challenge The Eagle has just been spotted lurkingly menacing around Doha International Airport in Qatar, moving with the deceptive sleekness of a shark beneath the calm blue waters. At a time like this your hearts will skip a beat as unfortunately health issues have to be mentioned. I left Kampala where it was pouring for days, raining cats and dogs. The Equatorial sunny temperature had plummeted, it was colder than a witches armpit.
As a result the face of the game has had to fight off a flu. But the most disruptive element might be the eye problem that has suddenly emerged. We can speculate on 3 theories. It could be that my silky glamorous long film star eyelashes are curving into my eyeball like an ingrown toenail! Or I have been reading too hard; or else the Tile Gods, to punish Elie Dragoon Dangoor for totally ignoring to slap the much anticipated 24.5 points handicap per match on the most potent player in the game thereby leveling the Global playing field, have decided to take matters into their own hands by ensuring I play 45 Premier games with one eye!
Therefore if you catch me wearing shades its not that my Scrabble future is so bright (which of course it is) or that I want to look like a notorious Drug Enforcement Agent ala Brett Smitheram but that I need to protect my optical orb from sudden flashes of light.

The Phenomenon

Sunday
Dear Die-Hard Fans
Golden sandy beaches.
The artistically splashing waves of the sea.
Graceful airborne sea gulls calling in the scented air.
The picturesque sight of palm trees swaying in the breeze.
Heavenly scents wafting in from the calming sea..
A glorious sunset painted in the sky by the hand of God Himself.
Wonderful, exotic Malay, Indian, Thai and Eastern cuisine. The most hospitable, civilized human beings on the planet, a real class act. (These guys match Ugandans!)
What's this, Paradise Found, or a Panupol Fairytale? Neither actually, this is the stunning setting of Johor Bahru, scene of genius Michael Tang's famed Causeway Challenge. The Eagle has flown in in high spirits and is currently undergoing intensive mental preparations. But what about the infamous, despicable incurved eyelash, getting more attention than David Beckham's metatarsal in the Asian 2002 World Cup? And the other ailments?
Well, thanks for asking. The flu has been fought off, it never had a chance to get full-blown, finding it difficult to penetrate the adamantium molecules. The optical orb still bears watching.
Anyway, as I said before, meditation has begun.

The Phenomenon

Monday
Hi Dear Scrabblers
The flu came back with a vengeance. I woke up at 3 am with night sweats and a sore throat. That's a side effect of adamantium, it doesn't work! I couldn't sleep so for the next 3 hours I read through some gaps in my vocab until the crack of dawn. DAWNLIKE/WANDLIKE. But do these combos ever appear on my rack? Fat chance. Anyway, a lemony honey mixture is currently doing wonders. The optical orb problem has cleared, the Scrabble Gangster shades have been dumped for the regular geeky, nerdish spectacles which is an ominous sign.
48 hours down and counting. Across the border in Singapore Aaron Chong has beaten a bunch of heavyweights in that nation's Open. Aaron who? Oh yes, its the winner of the WESPA Best Story Competition. Hmm. The chap doesn't know the meaning of defeat these days. Let's all lean back and see what gem he's gonna write this time. Anyway, the Singapore Open wasn't rated so I am actually happy I missed it. If I want to play unrated games there's no need for me to travel 8000km to South East Asia, I can do that perfectly well going hammer and tongs at Geria Richard in our backyard.
Speaking of ratings, a cursory stroll through the players currently listed in the Causeway Premier Division website section reveals that my 1866 rating is very puny. How weak are we talking about? They suggest that the Eagle has flown 8000km to finish in the BOTTOM half of the field! I will give you a few minutes to laugh your head off.
But seriously let's take a look at some matchups. Let's say, Edwin-Mugisha (1866) vs the Aussie wunderkinder Alastair Richards (2011). That's a stunning 145-point differential in his favour. E-M vs a man Aaron Chong has just thoroughly disciplined, a certain Nigel Richards at 2103. (Boy, is Nigel cock-a-hoop those were unrated games.) That's an obscene 237-point difference. What does that signify? Does it mean if Nigel gets to Table 1 on any of the 5 days he's gonna be taking each game by what, 250 spread? There I go again cracking silly jokes. I apologize for making your sides split.
By the way does anyone know Sam Kanthimathi's WESPA numbers? His rating is of special significance to me, second perhaps only to the Global Number One Ranking some of us will be chasing.

The Phenomenon

Tuesday
Dear Scrabble Addict Homeboys
About my question concerning our Beloved Sport's rocket scientist cum multi-millionaire (at least in Ugandan shillings) Sam Kantimathi, I don't have to worry about his rating or even that of the talented Dragoon. I can now set my sights higher.
I am able to report a clean bill of health. Almighty God is obviously listening to the prayers of my Fans.
We are being lovingly caressed by drops of rain which I walked through to register a little while back. Ran into Michael Tang who not only says the eyes of the World are on me, but that I have no excuse not to be number one. Others have already slapped the Crown on my head. Talk about pressure. How on earth did I get into this position? We must find the dodgy character who has been hyping up The Phenomenon and give him 10 lashes. But seriously, as Muhammad Ali said before flooring the "invincible" Sonny Liston;
"I am gonna shake the World!"
Speaking of invincibles, sick (as in great) World Champion Pakorn and bad (as in good) World Champion Nigel are in the heezy (house) as they say in gangsta rap. But I am sure you want to hear about more fascinating characters.
Oh, the graceful Jocelyn Lor, President of Malaysian Scrabble. She reminded me we took pictures together in 2009 which were in a hard disk that was stolen together with her laptop from her house. What! If you want photos of The Phenomenon for goodness sake, just ask for the damned things! Same with autographs, unlike crazy US Major League Baseball players who charge $475 for a signature mine is free at any time during these 5 days. That's Scrabble's Humanitarian of The Year for you. Meanwhile a pox on those thieves who broke into Jocelyn's house, I am going to hire a witchdoctor SANGOMA to put an Irish TOKOLOSHE on them. Its that serious.
Also met the charming Radhika Mahalingaiah who is hosting the iGate International in Bengaluru (Bangalore) next month. I gotta go there carrying the Global Number One Ranking from this weekend. I unfortunately heard that Rugby World Champion and a GARDENFUL of bonuses Liz Fagerlund won't be here. But Llewelyn Jegels is. I had no idea he had such an A-type personality, the man is a dynamo of energy, I felt old standing next to him. I ran into Singapore Big Boss Chea Siu Hean of the Wespa Committee and Causeway contender Ming Hui Hubert Wee. We shared a few felicitations.
Met Douglas Lobo whose big bro Ralph thumped me back in 2009. Hmmm.
A vision crept up to me, offered her well-manicured hand and said; "Diane..."
"Ward." I completed. Unnecessary introduction, I reminded her how unforgettable she is. And then I ran into Karen Richards and was so thunderstruck I didn't even say hallo, just rudely stared open-mouthed. Boorish bad manners.
Games start tomorrow. Peace out homies.

The Phenomenon

Wednesday: Day 1
Hi Scrabble Addicts
The Causeway venue Zon Regency rises out of its Johor Bahru foundations like a colossus. Immaculate organisation by Michael Tang and his family in the tournament running, efficiency by Barry Harridge on the software side. 200 Scrabblers from around the planet in the Premier, Masters and Open Divisions enjoying smooth turnover from game to game with limited interruption.
So what is the problem?
I am stone last. One win in the morning and then 8 defeats in a row. 48th out of 48 in the elite Premier Division section. I wanted to disappear and crawl like a prehistoric lizard under a rock but I am sure the die-hard fans won't allow me that luxury. What happened? Actually what's happening cause the nightmare is still ongoing?
At the root of my problem is a virulent stomach bug but surely that's yet another hopeless excuse? Surely other people are carrying burdens not just in Scrabble but in everyday life but they survive, they fight on so what's wrong with me?! I am The Phenomenon, I should be made of adamantium but I am collapsing like tissue. Put me under a little pressure and I crack like a rotten egg! The mind is not right. Nigel Richards and Pakorn were tasting back to back defeats but I couldn't take advantage! Vannitha Balasingam feels I should relax, I am too tense.
Obviously I faced some terrible rack combinations, some of the worst picking I can remember. But maybe I am just not good enough? Surely if Andrew Fisher or Brett Smitheram were here they would be doing better than this? I cannot believe I was criticizing Sam Kanthimathi for winning 22 and losing 23 of his Causeway games last year. At this late I am going to win 5 in 5 days. A Scrabble Emperor with no clothes? Its difficult to find answers, its difficult to find words to explain the despair, the taste of ashes in the mouth, the mind-numbing confusion. One of the worst days of my life. Guys are giving me advice, win 8 out of 10 tomorrow, have a decent Friday day three then one can plot the assault on the leaderboard. Yeah, yeah, not easy to get inspired when one is leading the tournament from the wrong end, from the back!
Great Scrabble is being played all around, especially from the youngsters in the Masters and Open section but none of it is from me. While this scandalous state of affairs inspires titillating amusement for Sunday Oshidi and co. I do believe for me retirement from the game beckons.

The Last One

Thursday: Day 2
Dear Die-Hard Fans
We are being kissed by drops of rain from Heaven, cooling the humid temperature.
A "better" day, 5 out of 10 wins. I am being eclipsed by my Kenyan neighbour Nicholas Mbugua, the dreadlocked one, who is primed to aim for the leaderboard tomorrow. Of course I am being eclipsed by everyone as I am incredibly 3rd last due to the damage of Day One. Michael Tang's angelic little daughter is fluttering about like a butterfly, thank goodness she is not Premier Division material yet,. She would probably eclipse me too!However people are whispering into my ears, if I win 9 out of 10 games tomorrow I rocket into 15th position and begin to menace the leaderboard, sort of peaking at the right time. We are not even halfway through the tournament so we cannot rule out anything with a whopping 26 games and 3 whole days left. If anyone has the talent to zoom from last to first, its the The Chosen One.
I have been informed there hasn't been a coup de tat in the Beloved Sport, Adele Tan is very much in control of her Scrabble Presidency of Malaysia and isn't giving up an inch of authority to anyone. Well, in Africa we say the "Chair" is sweet.
Martin Waterworth is happy, caning everyone who comes his way in the Open Division. Arul Inthirajah is happy, holding his own like the Rock of Gibraltar. In the Masters section Edie Muller is in high spirits.This is a walk in the park for her. Suleiman Gora is smiling and Mpaka Jack is happy, too happy.
On the other hand Nsikan Etim is not happy. He feels better is yet to come. The owner of Facebook's Scrabble Snippetz, Nicky Huitson is resplendant in a black ensemble but she is not happy. She compared her board performance to mine. Oh dear, then she must doing very badly. A very unhappy man is Nigerian Dokun Esan who was overheard complaining loudly in a lift about being torn to shreds by one Esther Perrins. "No one in my entire life has slaughtered me like this woman has," he moaned like a baby.
I have avoided the deadly Aussie brigade led by Esther Perrins, Alastair Richards and Simon Walton who is devastating the field. Its difficult to tell whether World Champ Nigel is happy considering he's carrying a miniature woolly mammoth on his chin. Oh, dear reader, you are saying its a beard? Oops, sorry.
Thanks for the soothing messages of sympathy over the disastrous Day One. Its like the lyrics of the Titanic soundtrack;
"My heart will go on."
But some of you demur; "But you don't have a heart, you are a selfish, heartless, egomaniacal, male, self-absorbed so and so..."
So what. You can't have everything.

The Phenomenon

Friday: Day 3
Hi Dear Scrabblers
After the idyllic sunset, a cool mevening, a more relaxed mood now that the Scrabble madness is done, momentarily until tomorrow. The starving alphabet-obsessed masses are rushing to gorge themselves on exotic seafood.
And what about the board? Tough times, tough times. I have been pulverized, turned inside out, outthought on every move, bamboozled at every turn. My opponent's finger's are magnetically drawn to both blanks. My fingers are automatically drawn to the Q without the U. In the end game. I played so hard today and could only take 4 matches out of 10. Thus I lost 6 and its only the last game in which you could say I deserved to lose as I made a rare (Friday) blunder. I find myself rooted to the bottom of the rankings. I take 1 step forward and 2 steps back. I had to realistically cede the Championship before lunch but I can assure you that my mind is made up. Retirement is out of the question, thoughts are already turning to my aggressive reading and Quackling program post-Causeway. Yes, dear wise reader, Meshugge is a sucker for more punishment.
In these difficult days its important to find beauty somewhere and I do next to the restaurant where I have my breakfast. There's a lovely cat that has given birth to a litter of lovelier little kittens. The cat has white fur underneath, with what looks like orange (yes orange patches) on her back. Her eyes are an alternating mixture of golden hues. The kittens on the other hand, still so small they can fit on one's palm, are grey all over. Weird.
"My lovely puchi wuchi snuggli wuggly dears," is what I find myself saying to the babes. I mean the four-legged ones with fur.

The Second Last One

Saturday: Day 4
Dear Scrabble Addicts
The heavens have opened. These are no gentle love kisses of precipitation, its pouring seriously. I hear Nicky Deco had an episode in the storm, hope is she 100% fine.
I won 6 out of 10. If you were to win 6 games on each of the 5 days that would be 30 overall and Causeway contention. So I hit Championship form but this is only on one day. CONSISTENCY is the magic word. Moreover the Championship form was only for a fraction of the day as of the 4 games I lost I stupidly threw away 2. It should have been 8 out of 10. But for just a moment dear reader, one tiny intsy bitsy moment in time South East Asia was shaking, Pakorn was pissing in his pants and we suddenly knew why I am WESPA's Shining Light, the face of the game, the Chosen One, World Champ 2013, the Man of Destiny, the Immortal...enough. WORDGAME; This matchup with Alex Tan in many ways encapsulates what hasn't been my week. The guy wrote the bad word LAE* early on but managed to recover. So well in fact that he produced the gem WORDGAME for a barnstorming 100! I had to challenge and it won him the comeback victory. Moses Peter played FENG* Shui against me and also won our encounter. Yet when I make a mistake against an opponent I don't live to tell the tale, I am mercilessly dealt with so I learn the very hard way to steer away from my sinful Scrabble habits.
What has been my special word? My brain is fried and I can't think straight but today I liked, in what my animated opponent Tony Hunt billed as the Grand Australia-Uganda Showdown, my 9-letter zinger DETenTION. Of course this is small potatoes compared to what happened to Nic Mbugua who was winning a game until some unknown freakazoid* snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with EUONymINS.
Ah you, dear wise reader are enquiring about the special words on Table 1? Well its pretty difficult to tell being a wee bit far off, I would require the Hubble Telescope to make out the details from where I am pounding chappatti dough in the kitchen.

The Phenomenon

Sunday: Day 5
Hi Dear Scrabble Addicts

The Causeway experience is over. Day 5; a day where my talent just rolled on and on. I won 3 lost 3 but this is the very first day in which I didn't throw away a match. Things were starting to click, if Causeway were a 70 game event ending on Wednesday the whole Earth would be bowing down to the Chosen One. The wires are ablaze with the news of Pakorn falling to The Phenomenon on Table 1 but seriously, what on earth did anyone expect? My record against World and Causeway Champions remains at 100%. The game is annotated and shall be up on the Causeway website in due course for people like the young superstar Allan Oyende who are desperate to see and learn how I play. By the way you can comb through the Net with a fine tooth comb, my record in all annotated games remains at 100%, I don't have to remind Unbelievers like Harry Malcolm about my 627 annotated game in which I racked up not one but TWO nine timers at no less grand a stage than the WSC.
Ade Adegbesan calls me the Phoney King as apparently the Causeway website shows I wrote 13 unchallenged faulty bingos. Ridiculous. I wish I wrote even a quarter of those phonies, my opponents were ruthlessly challenging off any Collins nonsense I dreamt up as my full report shall reveal. There is a disclaimer on the website that "the so-called unchallenged phonies may be due to us not being able to decipher handwriting." As we all know my Mum compares my handwriting to that of a chicken's scratchings in the dust!
A more serious issue is the fact the website reveals I was languishing at a scandalous rate of 1.5 bingoes. This puts me in the Jokers Gallery, no wonder I couldn't compete! But the most alarming statistic is the eventual 18 wins out of 45 to produce a shocking final position of 44th out of 48. I shudder to think of the updated WESPA ratings, I am going to drop like a stone. But enough about The Loser (God himself vents in the Bible about the Pharaoh of Egypt who HE calls "The Noisy Braggart Who Missed His Chance") let's now talk about the winners.
Michael Tang is a winner and in the closing ceremony we, the over 200 Scrabblers, certainly made sure he felt the love we have for him and the brand he created. As my buddy Sam Kantimathi says, this is only a temporary hiatus of the Michael Tang era. The House That Michael Built shall be back in its own sweet time. Bigger and better than ever.
Markus Loke is a winner. Markus who? This 18-year old Malaysian wunderkinder won the prize for the longest word, the mind-bending 13-letter CRENELLATIONS. When I was 18 I could barely write my own name, this chap is playing CRENELLATIONS. Heaven help us! He broke Albert Einstein's Laws of Physics on the Scrabble board.
In the packed 84-player Open Division Nicky Huitson and Arul Inthirajah were just pipped at the death to the Top Ten Prize positions. Ouch. Don't complain, your week was still better than mine. I was very happy to see Martin Waterworth battle for 9th. The massively popular Radhika Mahalingaiah got 8th and Carolyn Watt, who was dressed for the Milan fashion catwalks, 7th. Markus Loke (yeah him) was 4th and some school-going teenager I don't know named Jayden Kuhne grabbed $1 000 and the Champion's trophy. Bet he's gonna be popular with the girls in the cafeteria. The Aussies are very excited about his talent. Don't recall him in the prize-giving but from the Scrabble Victoria website photo he looks like a rakish Justin Bieber. And that's what we need in Scrabble, good-looking Champions who can give us 500 million You Tube hits. Especially as some of us are good-looking, really hot, but we aren't Champions.
In the Masters Carmel Dodd and Amy Byrne came within a hair's breadth of the Top Ten and shall wonder what could have been. You can never keep Edie Muller out of anything, she blazed into 10th. Capetonian Jarrod Page is a rising star in 9th and Michael McKenna who bossed this section for long stretches was a respectable 6th. Sanjoy Gupta was 5th and I was extremely pleased to see Tan Jin Chor 3rd. Ricky Purnomo seized the $3 000 top prize.
In the ruthless, elite, prestigious Premier Division Moses Peter, Theodore Martus and Nsikan Etim fought like Tigers to just fall short of the Top Ten. Singapore Big Boss Chea Siu Hean was a tough man in 10th, class act Marut Siriwangso 8th, and the hard-hitting Komol Panyasophonlert 4th. Hubert Wee was knocking on the door in a fantastic 3rd and the man Nigerians call the Big Daddy Nigel Richards got 2nd. Pakorn Nemitrmansuk, gibsonized with 3 matches to go is our Champion.
We hesitate to call him the "greatest scrabbler of all time." In fact we won't get carried away by the emotion and hype of the moment and do so. You are not the "greatest scrabbler of all time" after a good week or even a good year or 6. This is because "all time" doesn't consist of a good "week" a good "year" or even a good "6 years." Take it from the wise, we may not even have lived through 000.1% of "all time."
Suffice it to say Pakorn Nemitrmansuk right now is the greatest scrabbler in the world. He has had the best week of anyone bar none. He at the moment rightly deserves to go to the top of the world rankings and I stress "at the moment." He is the Causeway Champion 2011 and no one can take that away from him. He has the $10 000, the kudos, the Championship and appropriately enough like the conquering hero in the Hollywood blockbuster movie, he also has The Girl.

The Phenomenon

To read the final summary and round by round descriptions look at the Phenomenon Final Wrap