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I ran across this in Ayn Rand Answers (pg. 170) She has some real issues with the game of chess.

Q:  Do you like chess?

A: I could never play chess. I resent it on principle.  It involves too much wasted thinking....

I found that surprising and rather odd that she came down on it so hard. Apparently she did have some interest in chess as she wrote a letter to a famous chess player, Boris Spassky, in Philosophy Who Needs It.

Kat

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Kat:

I found that surprising and rather odd that [AR] came down on [chess] so hard.

That's another subject -- her views on chess -- which has been a perennial topic of conversation. The two friends -- Lee Pierson and Arnold Baise -- who have spent Thanksgiving with Larry and me ever since we moved to Connecticut (now upwards of 20 years) are both chess fans. And I think I'd be safe in saying that every Thanksgiving AR's chess opinions get talked about for awhile. Myself, I share her sentiment, sort of -- without the moralizing. I never had any desire to learn how to play chess, since it seemed to me an awful waste of thinking time. ;-)

Ellen

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Chess can take up quite a bit of time, but so do many other things. I love the game, and I think that(of course I have no data to back up this claim) when played regularly it at least keeps certain mental skills in shape.

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I think I wasn't clear in my comment about chess. It seems that both Jody and Barbara have interpreted my sentiment generically; but it was meant personally. I.e., I felt that learning how to play chess would have been a waste of my time; I didn't mean that I see it as a waste of anyone's time. Depends on what you like to do. I never had any interest in board games, card games (played with other people), indeed, games in general. I have at times played solitaire for long hours -- sometimes getting into a solitaire stretch for a few days at a time -- while mulling out some sort of issue. And an activity I could spend hours on was an eye-hand coordination...I suppose you could call it a "game"...named Labyrinth. The set-up was a rectangular box in which there were two linked frames, each controlled by a wheel (one wheel on the side facing the player, the other on the right side -- probably one could have gotten a special order for a left-handed person). The top frame was peppered by holes, and there was a snaking path along which you were supposed to maneuver a ball-bearing by turning the knobs j-u-s-t...so, in order to move the ball without its falling in a hole. I became really good at Labyrinth. I could maneuver the ball back and forth, back and forth along the path, almost never goofing. I'd eventually stop when I got tired. My skill at this irritated one of my brothers. He wanted to do better. So he practiced and practiced until he was nearly as good as I was at it.

Ellen

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Ellen: "I felt that learning how to play chess would have been a waste of my time; I didn't mean that I see it as a waste of anyone's time. Depends on what you like to do. I never had any interest in board games, card games (played with other people), indeed, games in general."

Understood. I feel the same way. My own game is crossword puzzles, which I dearly love to do, and can work on for endless hours. I find this sort of activity particularly useful when I'm writing something I feel very strongly about. When I was writing PASSION (and the novel I wrote some years earlier), I needed an alternative to the powerful emotions I was feeling while doing this work; that is, I needed an evening activity that would involve my mind and keep me interested, but would not involve me emotionally; I didn't want an activity that would arouse in me emotions not connected to my work. Crossword puzzles -- amd reading everything of Agatha Christie while working on the novel -- were the solution.

(Much as I love music, it's always amazed me that people can listen to music while writing. To me, having music playing then feels like having other people's emotions -- the composer's -- intruding on my own.)

It happens that Rand's explanation of why she played so much solitaire while taking rest hours from working on ATLAS, was very similar to the above.

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I like chess and I also like horse racing, both as a racehorse owner and a bettor, I find that it is like real life chess, with all 'horses' (knights), and live jockeys, and so many permutations of class, track, distance etc. etc. that it is a very difficult game to play and win. But some really smart people can do it; I was thinking of that when I was re-reading Galt's speech from AS, and saw the line about some moron watching horses go around a track, or something very close to that. The only time I feel like a moron is when I overlook something obvious. I think Rand regarded all gambling as pure luck, like the slots or roulette; playing with horses is most definitely a skill.

Comments on Rand and gambling anyone?

David

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I don't know, even great people clearly are capable of silly throwaway remarks.

Chess is one of the oldest, most intricate, coolest games in the world. I've been playing since I was nine. When I was in high school I even played on a team and was USCF rated, albeit not a real high rating.

I play postcard internet chess every day with two partners, one in Chicago, the other in London- two very old friends. It feeds and develops the mind in a way that very few things can. Whether it's on the web or in person, it is an elegant, enlightened thing to do. There is no waste in playing chess. Strategically, it helps me to be a stronger businessman because it expands and focuses.

The heck with her on that one.

rde

Try learning a decent Queen's Gambit game then tell me how wasteful it is.

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I don't know, even great people clearly are capable of silly throwaway remarks.

Her views re chess might have been "silly," but they weren't "throwaway." She wrote a whole article on the subject. ;-)

Barbara, what you describe about doing crossword puzzles as a way to keep your thoughts active but not interfered with by distracting emotional contexts while working on your writing well expresses the purpose for which I used to sometimes use solitaire. These days I mostly pace and "listen to" classical music, almost as background. I'm not really attending fully to the music, unless a particular performance or composition is played which captures me (I'll be listening to a radio station, and thus won't know in advance what's going to be played). In earlier years I had trouble ever having classical music playing without paying intense attention. But by this stage I've heard so much of the repertoire so many times, the enjoyed familiarity, plus the physical activity of pacing, helps with my thought processes.

Interesting that Agathas were something you could read during those times. Poirot, as you probably recall, would build complex card houses while mulling out his thoughts.

Agatha Christie is one of AR's tastes which I very much share, though I suspect primarily for different reasons. I was really good at solving a Christie. The second one I read was Ackroyd (sp?). I came close to getting that when the first "give-away" clue is dropped. I noticed the odd wording but didn't give it enough significance. Then about a page before the unveiling, I realized "of course." Afterward, I knew the technique of how to solve it with her work. (Only once did that fail, in a book written when she was getting older and was becoming "rambly." She didn't include her usual sort of clue(s) in that one.)

The big fun for me, though, with Agatha, started on the second reading. That consisted of noticing all the details of her cameo-portrait characterizations. I used to quip in college that the person, not my professors, by whom I was being instructed in psychology was Agatha Christie. (Including her Mary Westmacott books, the direct focus of which is psychological. One, Absent in Spring, is a superb study of "de-repression.")

Ellen

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"The Queen's Gambit" is also the title of a Walter Tevis novel that I read a few years ago and enjoyed very much. The hero(ine) is a young girl (to woman) who becomes a very good chess player, while overcoming various serious personal difficulties. Enough said to those who might be interested in reading it...

REB

I'll cross-post this in The Library.

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Barbara- I spent 4 hours yesterday doing the New York Times and LA Times crosswords! Guilty pleasures ;)

Rick- E4.

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Ellen -- and anyone who hasn't read it -- I think Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD is the cleverest mystery I've ever read. It's the one that turned me into a Christie addict. When I'm reading mysteries, I refuse to try to solve them as I read, although sometimes it's impossible not to do so; I like to be surprised. With MURDER, I jumped a foot when the killer is finally revealed.

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Jody: "I spent 4 hours yesterday doing the New York Times."

Damn! I couldn't finish it.

Do you -- and other crossword maniacs -- find that some puzzle constructors' works are much easier for you to solve than others? The issue, I believe, is psycho-epistemological. That is, I find myself tuned into the way some of the creators' minds work, and alienated by the thinking of others. For those of you who know the puzzles of Will Weng, he is the person whose way of thinking I feel most in tune with, and I love his puzzles. What about you?

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Barbara-I certainly concur. There are Sunday New York Times that I labor over, and can't finish, and others that I blow through like a Monday crossword. Ha! The Psycho-epistemology of Crosswords. You are spot-on though. I don't necessarily think that one is harder than another, it's just a matter of who you are more in tune with. Here's another question: Do others find the "down" answers to be easier than the "across" answers? I always go through the verticle collumns first, because the seem easier to fill in.

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Barbara, I have been a crossword puzzle addict since approximately 1989. I went cold turkey last summer, thinking it just diverted my time too much from what I needed to get done, but I found out that the real problem was not being organized and scheduled with my projects. Also, I found that I missed the mental workout. So, I started doing them again last week. A friend, bless his heart, had saved up about 5 months of them from the L.A. Times, and I reclaimed about 2 months' worth from the Orange County Register, and I am now plowing my way (delightedly) through the rather large piles of puzzles.

I have noticed what you refer to -- different puzzle makers embodying a different mode of mental functioning in what they create. Someone named (if I recall correctly) Merle Regan has a pretty consistent style. But I couldn't tell you which ones I like best. I just plunge on and slash and burn and move on to the next. I'm really very fast at doing them, especially the ones early in the week, which I typically solve in 5-10 minutes. A Friday or Saturday puzzle, however, will usually take me a good 30 minutes or more. I think they figure that we have more disposable time on the weekend, so they give us something tougher to chew. The Sunday puzzles don't particularly stump me, though sometimes there is special knowledge (especially cultural stuff) needed to solve some of the longish entries, and I flounder on those puzzles. Also, some of the late-week puzzles have entries that go all the way across the puzzle and are difficult to tackle because of the lack of short-answer items.

By the way, one of "our number" -- Gayle Dean -- is a skilled puzzler maker, and she has collaborated with the famous puzzler, Richard Lederer, on one or two books of puzzles. Part of her puzzling personality is the use of Randian references and (especially) egregious puns. She is a playful and intelligent gal, and it's fun to do her puzzles.

Anyway, I'm back doing what I love for mental exercise, and I'm glad I didn't permanently abandon them for the wrong reason.

REB

P.S. -- I also like doing the cryptoquotes in the Register. They require you to decode a quotation that is rewritten with a (random?) letter substitution scheme -- e.g., if c, a, and t are replaced with x, r, and m, "cat" is cryptoquoted as "xrm." These are really fun -- sometimes quite challenging, but always exhilerating, once you crack the code. I feel that these puzzles are the best outlet I have found for my "intuitive" functioning, and they hone my ability to spot hidden patterns out there in the world, which is what intellectual hunter-gatherers like me really love!

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Barbara wrote:

Ellen -- and anyone who hasn't read it -- I think Christie's THE MURDER OF ROGER ACKROYD is the cleverest mystery I've ever read. It's the one that turned me into a Christie addict.

It's one of her earliest, and the one that definitively put her on the map. The cleverness made a big hit with critics and readers alike.

When I'm reading mysteries, I refuse to try to solve them as I read, although sometimes it's impossible not to do so; I like to be surprised.

I like to solve them.

The other mystery which is at least almost as clever as Ackroyd is A Crooked House. Again, there's her "trademark" (the technique which I thought of as her "trademark," once I'd read Ackroyd) "purloined clue" -- i.e., borrowing that description from the story of The Purloined Letter, a give-away detail or details which is/are in plain sight but which most people miss. In A Crooked House the reader is as much as told who the murderer is, and almost everyone misses it (due, I think, to presuppositions; but now I'm revealing too much...). Unlike what happened with The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, however, she received a lot of criticism for A Crooked House because the surprise was one that upset people (and now I've REALLY said too much.....)

Ellen

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Do all you crossword puzzle addicts know that there are some wonderful crosswords on the Internet that one can either print or solve on line? If not, I'll be happy to supply some suggestions.

Roger, I did one of Gayle Dean's puzzle books. She is indeed very good.

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Sometimes I do the Universal Crosswords online at MSNBC. It is availlable along and some other games to play, like bookworm, at dictionary.com.

These may not be tough enough for all you pros, so please share some of your favorite online puzzle links too.

Kat

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Barbara, I once tried to solve one of Gayle's puzzles online -- I think it was one posted at the Von Mises Institute of all places -- and my computer crashed, so I haven't tried it since. I know, I should have printed it out, but I just jumped into trying to do it online out of excitement. :-)

Yes, I'm aware that there are many, many (etc.) crossword puzzles available online. I prefer to deal with the ones that come through my doorway or are handed to me by a friend. That keeps it a manageable addiction! It's exercise, after all, not breathing. A few minutes a day is all I really need for the benefits involved.

The alternative is kind of like roaming around the Internet looking for errors to correct. My God, it would never end -- even if you limited your mission to correcting people on Objectivist lists! Same for crossword puzzles, jokes, etc. Amusement exists for me -- not me for it! :-)

However, I do appreciate the suggestion of alternate sources for fun. If I get bored or have to discontinue my newspaper, I'll follow through on your idea.

REB

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I posted the question to the following answer elsewhere. So in the spirit of Jeopardy, I will post the answer here.

For 100 points* The answer is:

He told the King he had a cold.

Kat

* As in the gameshow, Whose Line is it Anyway? the points mean nothing!

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Now, I'm playing 3 people at once on internet postcard chess.

In between actually working, that is...

The only bad thing is sometimes you confuse games if the positions are similar.

I try to study at least one new opening a month. Sometimes I practice solving chess problems online.

What I found interesting was when I started up playing a little bit in real life. I haven't done much of that in awhile. It is so totally different, I forgot. The game I play face-to-face does not remotely resemble the online stuff. Sort've like the difference between knowing someone on a forum and knowing them in real life.

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Kat,

When did Rand make those remarks about chess (on p. 170 of AR Answers)?

Larry Abrams told me that she asked him to teach her how to play chess--and he did.

Robert

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There are three entries under chess in Ayn Rand Answers. The first one, which I quoted briefly, was from NFW 69. That is her non-fiction writing class. When did she learn to play chess?

Personally, I enjoy playing occasionally. My son and I play wizard chess sometimes and he is getting pretty good. Wizard chess is from the first Harry Potter book/movie and I'm sure it has turned many kids on to chess.

Rich, how do you play chess over the internet?

Kat

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