What’s going on with iWork?

In the unlikely event that you haven’t yet heard, let me be the one to break the news to you: the new iWork ’13 apps for OS X have been “dumbed down.” At least that’s the prevailing view. Distressed at the loss of numerous significant features from the previous iWork ’09 versions, including vanishing AppleScript support, many users have lamented that the new apps amount to “an unmitigated disaster.”

At the same time, other users have just as strongly cautioned against over-reacting to these changes. For example, in his Macworld review of Keynote 6.0, Joe Kissell wrote:

 “Despite the missing features, it would be unfair to characterize Keynote 6 as being ‘dumbed down.’ Indeed, Apple has added splendid capabilities that make Keynote smarter in several respects.”

Matthew Panzarino, writing on TechCrunch, offered a similar reaction:

“Lots of folks are getting all worked up about iWork being ‘dumbed down,’ but it feels like a reset to me.”

These more benign interpretations emphasize that the new iWork ’13 apps are not really upgrades from the previous versions. Rather, they are entirely redesigned-from-the-ground-up new programs. Having to make this sort of drastic revision, especially within the inevitable time and resource constraints, almost guarantees that some features will get dropped along the way.

So why did Apple make such drastic changes? The obvious and conventional wisdom answer is that Apple wanted to bring parity and cross-platform compatibility to the OS X and iOS versions of the iWork apps. Doing this required a rewrite of the software. In this goal, almost everyone agrees that Apple succeeded. You can seamlessly move among the apps on each platform without skipping a beat. As Jeffery Battersby put it in his review of Pages for iOS:

“There is now no noticeable difference between all of Apple’s Pages apps.”

Or, as Nigel Warren explained:

 “The fact that iWork on the Mac has lost functionality isn’t because Apple is blind to power users. It’s because they’re willing to make a short-term sacrifice in functionality so that they can create a foundation that is equal across the Mac, iOS, and web versions.”

Given the tortured history of cross-platform file syncing among iWork documents, this is great news. As for the lost features, the optimists expect them to return over time. There is certainly precedent for this expectation, most notably with Final Cut Pro X. Similarly, just last week, after the release of a new version of iMovie met with the same sorts of criticism, Apple promised that it will at least return the ability to import movie projects between iOS and Macs. Even better, Apple just announced that it intends to “reintroduce some of the [missing iWork] features in the next few releases.” [Update: See this Apple support article for more details.]

Still, there is a big question that remains: How far will this recovery go? Can we really expect that all or almost all of the MIA features will be restored? My answer is: No.

Given the admirable intent to maintain seamless cross-platform compatibility, Apple cannot restore features to the OS X versions of iWork apps unless those features can be matched on iOS devices, especially if the inconsistency would break the ability of a file to look and act the same on both platforms. Given the inherent limitations of iOS compared to OS X, including the more severe restrictions of sandboxing in iOS, this means that certain iWork ’09 features will be lost for a long long time. Perhaps forever.

As one example, I believe AppleScript falls into this category. There is no AppleScript in iOS, and I don’t expect this to change. As such, I doubt will we ever see any significant restoration of AppleScript in the OS X iWork apps. [Update: Despite Apple’s promise to “make improvements to AppleScript support” in future versions Keynote and Numbers, I don’t expect this to amount to much.] This doesn’t mean that Apple intends to entirely drop AppleScript from OS X. But it does mean a lessening of support for it going forward. There’s a chance that Apple might introduce some entirely new method of automation, one that works on both Macs and iOS devices. But I wouldn’t assign a high probability to this.

Apple’s actions here should not be a big surprise. They continue a trend that has been developing and growing over the past several years. Apple’s mobile devices have eclipsed Macs as the company’s primary source of revenue and profit. The result is that the evolution of OS X and OS X apps is driven by how well they integrate with iPhones and iPads.

Apple isn’t abandoning its power users. At least not yet. There’s a new Mac Pro coming (although it has already caused some grumbling due to its lack of internal expandability) and Apple continues to support apps such as Final Cut Pro. But these make up a shrinking portion of Apple’s revenue. And they live in an environment separate from concerns about iOS compatibility. There’s no iOS equivalent of Final Cut Pro.

The consumer market is Apple’s future, its “bread-and-butter.” Many analysts have predicted that, over the next several years, desktop machines — and perhaps even laptops— will all but vanish as users increasingly adopt tablets as their only computing device. To the extent that this happens, for any consumer Mac software that survives, compatibility with iOS devices will far outweigh any consideration about what “pro” features may be missing. Marco Tabini makes a similar point in a recent Macworld article:

 “…it’s also possible that Apple is ‘dumbing down’ its apps because the company believes that the kind of comprehensive software to which we have become accustomed will no longer belong in the personal computing landscape of the future.”

I agree. For the vast majority of users, what we used to do with apps such as iWork (and Microsoft Office, for that matter) will become an increasingly distant and irrelevant memory. What we expect from computing devices and how we interact them is undergoing a dramatic shift. Inexpensive, more focused, simple-to-use software is the currency of the day. The new iWork apps are not an aberration. Despite what concessions Apple may make going forward, Apple has no intention of reversing directions. Whether you call it “dumbing down” or “iOS-ification,” whether you view it as an overall positive or negative shift, this is where things are headed. Get on board, get out of the way, or get run over.

Posted in Apple Inc, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Mac, Technology | 2 Comments

Shutdown

So here we are. The federal government has been shut down.

The shutdown was not the result of a failure to reach a compromise between our two political parties. The shutdown was orchestrated entirely by the Tea Party, a minority wing of the Republican party. It was abetted by the remainder of the Republicans in Congress, who apparently do not have the fortitude to stand up to their extreme right flank.

Let’s be clear. A shutdown was the goal of the Tea Party from the very beginning. As I tweeted the other day:

“There is no debate over the shutdown. A majority of both houses would vote to end it today…if the House were allowed to vote on it……the ONLY issue is Tea-Party representatives wanting to use a shutdown as a means to extort a defunding of Obamacare.”

“When your opponents pass a bill and the bill withstands four years of repeated congressional and legal challenges…including the Supreme Court…what do you do? Admit that it’s time to move on? Not if you’re a Republican. Nope, you blackmail to shut down the government unless you get your way.”

Actually, it may be even worse than that. While Tea Partiers would have welcomed a Democratic concession to dismantle Obamacare, I believe most of them in Congress (although perhaps not their supporters at home) understood that this would never happen prior to a shutdown. Obama and the Democrats would never agree to such blatant extortion. So, instead, the Tea Party aimed to carry out a shutdown as the most likely way to achieve their goals. The potential destructive effects to the country would be acceptable collateral damage.

The idea that the Republicans and Democrats are playing some game of chicken, that both sides are equally to blame would be laughable if it were not repeated so often in the media. As @WillMcAvoyACN said on Twitter:

“Why is the debt ceiling a negotiating point? Why is paying our bills something Republicans think we should compromise for?”

I provided my own analogy to make the same point:

“If Democrats threatened to shut down the government unless all Republicans resigned from Congress…would the media criticize Republicans for an unwillingness to compromise? I mean…couldn’t Republicans at least consider a compromise where only half of them resign?”

Or, as Brian Tashman put it:

“…these notions of ‘compromise’ are based on the absurd premise that simply funding the government is itself a concession on the part of Republicans, and Democrats now should return the favor by agreeing to their objective of undermining the health care reform law.”

The totality of this is still hard for me to fathom. What is so terrible about offering the chance of health care to millions of uninsured Americans that makes it worth the risk of wrecking our economy, while breaking almost every accepted boundary of good governance, in an attempt to stop it? The word “crazy” keeps popping up.

The bigger question is: How did such a small minority wind up with the power to do this in the first place? How did our democracy get so derailed?

The answer can be found in a confluence of several shifts in our political landscape, shifts that have been building for decades:

• The increased willingness of some in Congress to use any routine function of government, from passing budgets to raising the debt ceiling to continuing funding, as a means to extort political gain. The result is a never-ending crisis, where the rest of what Congress should be doing is left to languish.

• The increased use of the veto in the Senate, especially by Republicans, to the point where majority rule no longer exists.

• The continuing polarization of political parties to the point where the most leftist Republicans are still to the right of the most right-leaning Democrats.

• The ability of corporations and rich individuals to spend unlimited amounts of money on elections, thanks to the Supreme Court.

• The increased gerrymandering of voting districts to an extreme that leaves most congressmen in “safe” districts where winning their primary guarantees their election to office.

• The rise of right-wing talk radio, Fox News and other extremist media (on both sides) that wall people off from ever hearing opinions that differ from their entrenched biases. Rather, it serves to confirm and inflame their biases.

• The increased acceptance of “truthiness” in news and in political ads, where fiction is claimed as fact and is left unchallenged.

• The increased cowardice of the general media, to the point where every political debate gets reported as “he said, she said” with equal blame assigned to both sides even when no such equality exists.

And more. The end result is a serious threat to the foundations of our democracy. I know this sounds alarmist. It seems every day someone claims that something is destroying our country. It makes such claims easy to dismiss as “the sky is falling” hyperbole. I can only hope this turns out to be true here. But I fear not.

Don’t believe me? I’ll conclude with excerpts from what several others (with more credentials and authority than myself) have written on this subject in the past few days:

The Shutdown and “He Said-She Said” Reporting by Joshua Holland

“This showdown is by far the most dangerous of a series of fiscal ‘crises’ that have been contrived during the Obama presidency.

Beltway reporters who see their professed neutrality as a higher ground bear an enormous amount of responsibility for encouraging this perversion of democratic governance. With a few notable exceptions, the media have framed what Jonathan Chait called ‘a kind of quasi-impeachment’ in typical he said-she said fashion, obscuring the fact that the basic norms that govern Congress have been thrown out the window by a small cabal of tea party-endorsed legislators from overwhelmingly Republican districts. The media treat unprecedented legislative extortion as typical partisan negotiations, and in doing so they normalize it.

But it’s not normal. Republicans are demanding that Democrats unwind their signature achievement – a piece of legislation that took 18 months to pass, survived a Supreme Court challenge and a presidential election – in exchange for a stopgap budget resolution. On Saturday, they tacked on a provision that would limit access to contraceptives.

The second reason the standard-issue Beltway framing is wrong is it doesn’t capture the nature of the so-called ‘negotiation.’ A negotiation is between two parties that want different things and come to some compromise. Nobody should want a shutdown or a default and passing budgets and paying the federal government’s debts aren’t Democratic priorities. Rather, what we are seeing now is a ‘negotiation’ in which Republicans are demanding a lot and offering absolutely nothing in return.”

Our Democracy Is at Stake by Thomas Friedman

This time is different. What is at stake in this government shutdown forced by a radical Tea Party minority is nothing less than the principle upon which our democracy is based: majority rule. President Obama must not give in to this hostage taking — not just because Obamacare is at stake, but because the future of how we govern ourselves is at stake.

What we’re seeing here is how three structural changes that have been building in American politics have now, together, reached a tipping point — creating a world in which a small minority in Congress can not only hold up their own party but the whole government. And this is the really scary part: The lawmakers doing this can do so with high confidence that they personally will not be politically punished, and may, in fact, be rewarded.

 The Reign of Morons Is Here by Charles Pierce

“There has never been in a single Congress — or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress — a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party’s 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.

We did this. We looked at our great legacy of self-government and we handed ourselves over to the reign of morons. This is what they came to Washington to do — to break the government of the United States.

What is there to be done? The first and most important thing is to recognize how we came to this pass. Both sides did not do this. Both sides are not to blame. There is no compromise to be had here that will leave the current structure of the government intact. There can be no reward for this behavior. I am less sanguine than are many people that this whole thing will redound to the credit of the Democratic party. For that to happen, the country would have to make a nuanced judgment over who is to blame that, I believe, will be discouraged by the courtier press of the Beltway and that, in any case, the country has not shown itself capable of making. For that to happen, the Democratic party would have to be demonstrably ruthless enough to risk its own political standing to make the point, which the Democratic party never has shown itself capable of doing. With the vandals tucked away in safe, gerrymandered districts, and their control over state governments probably unshaken by events in Washington, there will be no great wave election that sweeps them out of power. I do not see profound political consequences for enough of them to change the character of a Congress gone delusional. The only real consequences will be felt by the millions of people affected by what this Congress has forced upon the nation, which was the whole point all along.”

Posted in Media, Politics | 1 Comment

Why Microsoft is losing

It’s not a secret that Microsoft is in some significant trouble. Windows 8 has been deemed a failure. So has Microsoft’s foray into hardware, the Surface. Still, it wasn’t until a week or so ago that I fully understood what I believe is the core problem behind Microsoft’s current ills.

Recently, while waiting to pay for my double espresso (black, no sugar) at a local coffee shop, I noticed that the store’s cash register had been replaced by…an iPad! I asked the salesperson how the iPad register was working out. She replied that it was working very well indeed.

A few days later, a problem with my home alarm system required a technician to come to my house. After finishing the repair, he whipped out an iPhone to log his work order and to communicate with his “home base.”

A week later, on a trip to Colorado, I took a door-to-door shuttle from the Denver Airport. Sitting in the front of the van, I noticed an Android tablet mounted on the dashboard. It contained the drop-off addresses for all the passengers, transmitted to the van from ticketing data stored elsewhere. The driver told me that, via the GPS hardware in the tablet, the central office could also track where he was located in real time.

Such smartphone and tablet sightings have become increasingly common. And that’s when the nickel dropped for me. This is exactly what is currently killing Microsoft.

It’s an understatement to say mobile devices have been a huge hit with consumers. Pretty soon, everyone who can afford a mobile phone will own a smartphone. It’s also true that Apple’s historical edge over Microsoft, if there has been one at all, has been in the home, education and creative professional markets. In contrast, in the business sector, it has always been Microsoft, Microsoft, and Microsoft. Sales to businesses, from small offices to large corporations to government institutions, have been Microsoft’s bread-and-butter. The have had no competitors.

Unfortunately, for Microsoft, the mobile device sightings cited above are all instances of smartphones and tablets being used in business environments. Businesses are increasingly using mobile devices for tasks that, a decade or more ago, would have been handled by a PC (desktop or laptop) running Windows. Instead, these tasks are now being handled by mobile devices via software written for iOS or Android devices.

That’s the core of Microsoft’s problem. It’s not merely declining PC sales — nor that Microsoft missed the boat entirely, in terms of aligning with compelling mobile products. It’s that, more than anything else, Microsoft’s success depends on the success of Windows. Until recently, Microsoft could breathe easy knowing that Windows was not only the dominant OS in business environments, it was just about the only OS. If a developer wanted to write a business application, they wrote it for Windows — and often nothing else.

This is now changing — and not in a good way for Microsoft. As tablets and smartphones invade the territory that used to be the exclusive domain of PCs, developers are increasingly writing business apps for these mobile devices, diminishing the role of Windows.

The situation is not yet so dire that it is past the “tipping point” for Microsoft. But the current trajectory for Microsoft looks increasingly bleak. Microsoft’s biggest threat is that “post-PC” ultimately translates as “post-Windows.” Microsoft’s main competitor is no longer the Mac, but mobile devices. Unless Microsoft can find a way to compete successfully with iOS and Android, Windows will become more and more marginalized in the years ahead. The day could yet come when Microsoft finds itself in a position not much different from where Blackberry is today.

Addendum: While initial drafts of this column were written days ago, Microsoft today announced the “retirement” of CEO Steve Ballmer. The timing of this posting is thus a coincidence. Still, the Ballmer news led to a flurry of articles on what ails Microsoft. Some, such as this one from Harry McCracken, wound up taking different routes to the same general conclusion as I expressed here.

Posted in iOS, iPad, iPhone, Technology | 4 Comments

Exceptional Letterpress Strategy

There are numerous strategies (or “tactics” or “rules,” whatever) that can help you win Letterpress games. I wrote an article, previously posted here, detailing several such guidelines.

Once you begin to master these guidelines, the next step is to realize that there are situations where the winning approach is to ignore the conventional wisdom and make an exception to the rule.

In this article, I explore three such exceptions.

Get off the “see-saw”

In games between closely-matched opponents, the mid-game often boils down to a swinging back and forth, where the overall position remains largely unchanged. Typically, there is a “neutral zone” line of squares dividing two areas of the board, each area largely controlled by one of the opponents.

Both players naturally go after the neutral zone squares. However, as these letters are adjacent to the opposite player’s protected squares[*] and/or to unclaimed squares, there is no way either player can protect them. This means each player will, if possible, retake the lost squares on his next turn. That’s what makes it a neutral zone. Nothing much changes over a series of turns. Metaphorically, it’s like being on a see-saw.

Game 1

A good example of a see-saw situation can be seen in the game depicted in Figure 1. To replay the entire game, click here.

Figure 1: By playing JUMPSUITS, I got off the see-saw.

After coming up with SURVIVALISTS for my third move, I thought I had the game just about won. However, one obstacle remained. The JPF squares in the lower-right corner remained a “third-rail.” Neither of us could safely touch them. This was because: (1) there was no single word that contained all three letters and (2) playing a word that contained just one or two of the letters would allow the other player to take the remaining unclaimed square(s) and almost certainly win the game.

So, instead, we went into see-saw mode. We eventually focused on a neutral zone consisting of a vertical line of squares containing RSPTU, plus the I and the S in the last two columns. You can clearly see the see-saw effect in the sequence from UPSTIRS to PLURALISTS shown in the first three panels of Figure 1.

There are two ways to successfully get off these see-saws.

The first and more common way is to outlast your opponent. This means that you are able to come up with one more “neutral zone” word than your opponent. Once your opponent fails to match you (and thus leaves one or more neutral zone squares untouched), you take advantage by expanding your territory in the newly accessible area. Eventually, you hope to gain enough territory that you can comfortably take “third rail” letters and close out the game with an easy win. Even one misstep may be sufficient to lead to a loss; two missteps are almost certainly fatal.

This is the “conventional wisdom” strategy because it is a “safe” one in the short term: you maintain the status quo while waiting for a sure advantage. However, it contains a long-term risk: you may be the one who runs out of words first, ceding the advantage to your opponent. Since you usually can’t tell in advance which way things will go in the end, it is functionally akin to a toin-coss. Heads you win, tails your opponent wins.

I prefer better odds. That’s why, in these situations, I am always scanning for the second way to successfully get off the see-saw: Rather than wait to see who runs out of words first, be pre-emptive. Play a word that contains one or more of the “third-rail” letters and yet guarantees a quick win. The key here is knowing when this is likely to succeed.

In this game, my pre-emptive word was JUMPSUITS. This word claimed the “third-rail” J, as seen in the final panel of Figure 1. After a conventional response from my opponent, I could play a word such as SPIRITFUL on my next turn and win the game. My only concern was whether or not I would get a “next turn.” The risk here is that my opponent might come up with a word that included P and F, plus sufficient other squares, to give him an instant win. Either way, the game was going to end on the next round of play. The see-saw ride was over.

For those of you familiar with the game of Hearts, I consider this pre-emptive strategy to be somewhat similar to “shooting the moon.” If it works, you win spectacularly. If not, you lose spectacularly. That’s why you want to be confident the move will succeed before embarking down this path. However, your confidence need not reach 100% certainty to justify taking the risk — which means you may lose on occasion.

In Letterpress, before I make a pre-emptive move, I test out all the possibly dangerous return words I can think of that my opponent might play…and count out the resulting score. If any word gets him to 13-12 or better win, I abandon the move. Such an analysis can take a good deal of time, and there’s no guarantee that you will find every relevant word. You just do the best you can.

In this game, after my opponent played PLURALISTS, I looked at playing JUMPSUITS and searched for any words that my opponent could reply and get a win. I could not find any. So I went for it. It paid off. My opponent played SPIRITFUL. Close, but no cigar. He ended the game — but I still won with a score of 13-12!

Game 2

Another good example of this technique can be seen in the game depicted in Figure 2. To replay the entire game, click here.

Figure 2: By playing GRUMPILY, I got off the see-saw.

After playing MATERIALIZING on my second turn, the game had already advanced to the point that the only remaining unclaimed letters were the middle PZW squares. However, these were now “third-rail” squares. For the next several turns, neither of us would risk claiming any of them. Instead, we focused on a neutral zone that consisted of the ring of squares that surrounded these three letters. [As an aside, I did not mean to play RHYTHMIZES when I did, but that’s a story for another day.]

After I played THERMALIZING, my opponent responded with FRAGMENTARILY. Despite being a 13-letter word, it actually hurt his position overall — by leaving the H as blue. The safe move here would have been for me to respond with a word like LADYFINGERS, reclaiming all the neutral zone squares (except for the M in this case) plus extending my position by turning the now exposed G in the top row to blue. However, this would not tilt the game decisively in my favor. A prolonged battle remained likely.

So, after careful consideration, I instead chose to “shoot the moon.” I played GRUMPILY, claiming the third-rail P (as seen in the third panel of Figure 2). This also turned both the G and the U in the upper right corner to blue, as well as newly protecting the R and the H squares, leaving me with nine (9) protected squares.

I knew I could win on the next turn with any of several words that contained Z and W. Would I get that chance? Not exactly. But again it didn’t matter. Similar to Game 1, my opponent, realizing his hopeless position, fell on his sword by playing TWIZZLING. This ended the game but still left me with a 13-12 win.

Game 3

As I said, even after a thorough analysis of the position, you can still lose by going for the pre-emptive move. This happened to me in the game depicted in Figure 3. To replay the entire game, click here.

Figure 3: By playing DISHEVELED, I got off the see-saw — and was sorry I did.

After my opponent played BLEACHINGS, I believed I would have won the game by playing BEKNIGHTED. However, I didn’t see this word until after I played BLIGHTED. This led to a see-sawing over the next several turns, involving the vertical column of GDWIS, with some looseness for control of the D and W.

When my opponent played HEADWINDS, it was the first time in this sequence that he allowed the G at the top of the second column to remain blue after his turn. This gave me what looked like a potential opening for a quick pre-emptive win.

I did consider the “conventional” safe moves of either SANDWICHED or BANDWIDTHS. As things turned out, I wish I had played one of those words. Even though this would have maintained the see-saw, I stood a good chance to win in the end.

But I did not know how things would turn out. So I instead played DISHEVELED, finally claiming the V, one of the 4 “third-rail” letters. I had spent a good deal of time checking out the consequences of words my opponent might play. None of them led to a victory for him. However, my opponent surprised me with BACKFLIPPED, a word I had not considered. It gave him a 13-12 win. It might be the only word in the dictionary that allowed him to win. But that’s the way it goes. I still think it was worth the risk.

Despite the occasional loss, I consider the pre-emptive strategy to be one of the most important weapons in my arsenal. You won’t always have an opportunity to use it. You certainly don’t want to take such moves recklessly. But I’ve found that good opportunities come up quite often in these see-saw situations. And when you do take the risk, and it works out like you hoped, it’s a great way to win. It will certainly surprise your opponents.

Win with one corner

Conventional wisdom, as covered in my previous article, says that protecting a corner is a good thing. I obviously agree. If protecting one corner is good, it should follow that gaining possession of more than one corner is even better. Generally, this too is true.

However, the quality of a protected corner position also matters. A strong corner position is one in which you have several, say as many as 7 or 8, connected squares extending out from the corner, at least three of which are protected. A weak corner position is where you only have 1 or 2 protected squares, usually one being the corner square itself, with little or no extension.

This leads to the exception to the “rule” about corners: Possessing one strong corner can often be superior to having control of two or even three weak corners. On the surface, this might seem fairly obvious. However, you may be surprised by the extent to which this logic can apply. Sometimes, even a single fairly weak corner can be sufficient to win a game.

As an example, look again at the game depicted in Figure 3. For most of the game, I had possession of two corners, a strong one in the lower right and a weak one in the upper left. The corner in the upper left may have been weak but it was critical. If I let it go, my opponent would likely quickly gain control of the entire left side of the board and march to an easy victory. In contrast, my opponent possessed only one corner, the lower left.

By playing DISHEVELED, I gained a foothold in the upper right, giving me a degree of control in a third corner. Meanwhile, my opponent seemed to be struggling to maintain his lone corner. And yet…with his next move, my opponent went on to win the game!

Pass up a corner

Your opponent goes first and protects a corner. Now it’s your move. As I covered in my prior article, ideally you want to both weaken your opponent’s corner and establish at least one corner of your own. However, this is not always possible. Sometimes, you have to choose between these two goals. When this happens, the question becomes: which goal to pursue first?

The conventional wisdom is to prefer to set up your own corner first. I agree. The rationale is that, if all you do is weaken your opponent’s position, he can often undo your damage as well as expand his advantage on his next turn. You wind up worse off than before your move. At least, if you protect a corner, it cannot be entirely undone by your opponent in one turn.

Once again, however, there are exceptions. If it looks like, left unchecked, your opponent can quickly gain an insurmountable advantage, you need to go after his corner. Occasionally, the rationale may be more subtle. For example, take a look at the game depicted in Figure 4. To replay the entire game, click here.

Figure 4: For my first move, I decided to attack my opponent’s position rather than establish a corner of my own.

After my opponent opened with JAUNTY, I could have responded by taking the lower left corner with WANTONLY. However, this fails to touch his upper right corner. Alternatively, I could play JUNKET and dismantle his corner, but fail to establish a corner of my own. I couldn’t find a word that accomplished both goals. Which to do? In this case, I went against the conventional wisdom and opted for JUNKET.

Why? Because I knew that by playing a word with a J, my opponent would similarly have to follow with a J-word — if he wanted to continue to protect his corner. As far as I could tell, there weren’t any J-words that would allow him to improve his position significantly. So I felt safe in not establishing my own corner immediately. After he played GLUTTONY, abandoning taking a J-word, I finally took the corner with WANTONLY.

Bottom line

The “conventional wisdom” move is the one you should usually take — almost by definition. However, the common thread in all of the above games is that the best moves were ones that did not follow the conventional wisdom. The specifics of a given board position will determine when the time is ripe to make an exception. Your goal is to always be on the look-out for these “exceptional” positions. If you can reliably spot them, and take the appropriate action, you are certain to increase your winning percentage.

—————

* The term “protecting” means surrounding a square with other squares of the same color so that the square turns the darker shade. This means its blue/red color cannot change on the next turn. “Protecting a corner” or “establishing a corner” means protecting a corner square. A typical strategy is to expand this corner base, on subsequent turns, by protecting adjacent squares.

[Update: Several minor changes, for clarity, have been made since the article was first posted earlier today.]

Posted in Games, iOS, iPad, iPhone, Letterpress, Technology | Comments Off on Exceptional Letterpress Strategy