You can learn a lot about a person from the way they play Scrabble. Do they show off their SAT vocabulary or only know dirty words? Are they rule-sergeants or are they so competitive that they will stop at nothing to beat someone who is half their age?
If you’re Mark Zuckerberg, you’re in the latter category. It seems his Scrabble strategy involves aggressive rule bending in order to win a game against a high school-age opponent.
This little Zuckerian anecdote comes to us from an extensive New Yorker profile about the Facebook CEO’s approach toward the myriad problems currently facing the social network, and whether he’s equipped to solve them.
Though Zuck provides many of the same flavors of responses we’ve come to expect from him — saying fake news on Facebook isn’t as common as most people think, for example — one of the most illuminating episodes is about a game of Scrabble he once played against a friend’s daughter.
When the teenager won the first game, which took place on a private jet (of course), Zuckerberg responded by writing a program “that would look up his letters in the dictionary so that he could choose from all possible words,” the New Yorker‘s Evan Osnos describes. Thanks to his little program, Zuckerberg “had a narrow lead” over the teen when the flight landed.
Besides somehow being a very Zuckerberg response to losing a simple game of Scrabble, the story illustrates quite a bit about Zuckerberg’s approach to problem solving and his disdain for losing — it’s a big part of what’s helped Facebook become so dominant.
The engineer-turned-CEO is also noted for his technical approach to problems. Whether it’s fighting fake news, foreign interference in elections, or revenge porn, Facebook and Zuckerberg favor technical solutions to its toughest problems.
And while engineering your way out of quandaries is to be expected from a tech company with more than 2 billion users, it’s slightly more problematic in the context of Scrabble ethics. Namely because it’s cheating. Anyone who’s played a game of Scrabble knows you can’t look up words in the dictionary before playing them (according to Scrabble’s official rules, players are only allowed to use the dictionary when challenging another player’s word).
Then again, Zuckerberg hasn’t gotten to where he is now by playing nice. Throughout his career, the Facebook founder, who coined the motto “move fast and break things,” has benefitted from skirting rules and aggressively going after competitors. That he would apply the same logic to a game of Scrabble is not necessarily surprising, even if it does seem more than a tad quixotic (that’s a word worth 75 points, if you’re counting).