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reed magazine logoAutumn 2009

Xi Whiz


Dave Wiegand ’95
Owen Carey Photography.

Reed Scrabble aficionados ululated with delight in August when Dave Wiegand ’95 won the National Scrabble Championship, reaping $10,000 in prize money and incalculable timê thanks to his mastery of arcane words such as INCREATE (not created), MAVIS (an Old World songbird), and OURARI (a South American poison).

Dave, a math major who wrote his thesis on cryptography, felt confident going into the tournament, which was held in Dayton, Ohio. In fact, he had won the championship once before, in 2005, and this year was ranked #2, behind reigning champion Nigel Richards of Malaysia.

But Dave trailed behind Richards until the very last game, when he came up with the transparently brilliant OPAQUER, a “bingo” which emptied his rack and scored 96 points at a single stroke. “Nigel never really recovered,” he says.



This position arose in a game Dave Wiegand played against Dielle Saldanha of Richmond, British Columbia in the Portland Labor Day Tournament in 2007. What’s your move? A pretty good play scores 43 points; a very nice play 78 points; the star play a whopping 106 points. Break out the tiles and have a go!

Stumped? Email for hints or solutions.

Dave discovered his facility for the game as a child. By the time he was 12, he was routinely thrashing expert players. He didn’t play much Scrabble at Reed, however. “None of my dorm-mates would play me unless I would spot them a couple of hundred points and a few beers,” he said. Instead, he sought out games at the Portland Scrabble Club, which held regular sessions at a local bar; unfortunately, he was too young to be allowed in and had to play games in the adjoining restaurant (he won most of them).

At first blush, Scrabble seems better suited to literary types than to mathematicians, but at the professional level skills such as calculating probabilities, anagrammatic dexterity, and memorization are more important than vocabulary in the traditional sense—top players often plunk down words without more than a hazy notion of their meaning.

Away from the Scrabble board, Dave works as a mortgage underwriter; he and his wife, Chris, live in Portland with their daughters, Samantha and Melanie. His sparring partners include Michael Baker ’86 (who also competed in the national championship, placing ninth) and Gregg Wood ’39 (a strong player despite the fact that he is almost blind; see Class Notes).

Rather than rest on his laurels, Dave is looking towards the world championships to be held in Malaysia in November. Unlike the U.S. championship, which is based on American English, the world championship includes approximately 40,000 additional words of various origins. “There are all these strange British archaisms, the sorts of things you find in Spenser, and odd Maori words like AUA and TAUIWI,” he says. “They appear very weird to a 20th century American, but they’ve found their way into the dictionary.” In Scrabble, it seems, words are less about sense than reference.

—Chris Lydgate ’90

Further Readings

Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, by Stefan Fatsis. Penguin, 2002.

“Scrabble-rouser,” Reed, February 2004. This site offers commentary and play-by-play of some of Dave’s championship games.

reed magazine logoAutumn 2009