Why, Chris Doyle? Why would a mild-mannered 38-year-old actuary for the General Accounting Office stay up until 4 a.m. figuring out how many words can be formed from the letters of the word "ESTABLISHMENT"?
"I can't let anything go," said Doyle, setting aside his veal in butter sauce and reaching for the chocolate mousse. "Once I start a word game, well, you know, I have to finish it."
Indeed, Chris Doyle of Burke finished the puzzle I published in this space on May 4. Crushed it is more like it. He found 1,390 words among the 10 different letters of "ESTABLISHMENT." That was 186 more than Peggy Jones of Arlington, 351 more than Eleanor Smith of Northwest and vastly more than 24 other readers who entered.
Doyle's prodigious total won him a free lunch with an awestruck columnist who wanted to know who, what, when, where and why. What the columnist found out is that Chris Doyle has the word-game disease. Has it bad.
He and his wife Karen, who also works for the GAO, meet for lunch most days. They play Scrabble.
But it's not the kind of Scrabble you and I might play, for a couple of yuks or a couple of beers. This is Scrabble with smoke coming out of your ears.
"I win 55 percent of the time," said Chris. "But she's getting much better. She has scored over 500 points several times. It's nothing for us to score 700 points between us."
Then there's Games magazine. Chris subscribes. He enters many of the magazine's contests. He hasn't won any yet, but he has come awfully close. "Soon," says Chris, with a special kind of fire in his eye.
Of course, there are crossword puzzles. They don't last long. And Doyle doesn't just decipher them. He composes them, for the London Times, among other publications.
By now, this will be no surprise: when Karen was stuck for a birthday present for Chris a couple of years back, she decided on Webster's Third International Dictionary.
So sold on games are these Doyles that they played duplicate bridge on their first date. They had never played together before. It was a club championship. Guess who the club champions turned out to be.
Chris Doyle attacked "ESTABLISHMENT" in methodical, alphabetical fashion. His ballot begins with "abe" (a verb meaning "to let alone") and ends with "tsine" (a noun referring to a Burmese ox).
In between, there are "absinthe" and "anisette," "basement" and "batsmen" and "statesmen" and "stamen." Doyle's longest word, other than "establishment" itself, is "stablishment" (only a "gamesie" would think of it). And Doyle's entry contains eight 10-letter words. They are "anthemises," "antitheses," "bassinette," "beastliest," "blitheness," "intestable," "metathesis" and "mesnalties."
It took Doyle seven hours of poring through Webster to come up with his winning ballot. He estimates that he found three words a minute, and looked at about 10,000 to come up with his 1,390.
The worst thing about entering? "I was so tired the next morning that I didn't go into work until after lunch. Cost me three or four hours of annual leave."
His biggest disappointment as a "gamesie?" "My two sons and my stepson aren't into it yet. They're much more interested in soccer, Dungeons and Dragons and horseback riding."
I would venture a guess, Chris, that it's just a matter of time.