TAX

“Last year I purchased stocks on margin. I understand that the interest on the margin account is tax deductible, but so far I have not found someone to tell me where in the tax forms does one write off the interest against any capital gains. Can you please point me in the right direction?” -Bernie Kemp

Let me point you in two directions. First, Schedule A, line 13. Second, either Taxcut or TurboTax, the inexpensive software packages that will step you through all this. (My sentimental preference is Taxcut, but they’re both outstanding.)

SPRING TRAINING

“A friend and I just finished creating a virtual stock exchange that trades securities based on baseball players and teams. Demand drives the stock price, but the stocks are ultimately cashed out according to seasonal performance. Think Fantasy Baseball with market forces thrown in. There are a couple other virtual stock markets out there, for movies and celebrities; I think the concept will become popular because it gives people a chance to have fun with their knowledge of a subject. If you’re interested, it’s at http://majorleaguemarket.com.” -Travis

And if you prefer to bet on movie stars: www.hsx.com.

SCRABBLE

“I was pleased to find your reference to Scrabble. I’m a member of the National Scrabble Association and play frequently in their tourneys. If you are interested in Scrabble clubs or tournament Scrabble, send an email to info@scrabble-assoc.com. By the way, while it is always situationally dependent, the generally accepted tradeoff value for an S is 11 points and for a blank, 30.” -Aaron

Ah, situationally dependent. But there will be few situations where you find me parting with an S when it adds only 11 points to the best score I could get without it. As for the blank, especially early in the game, it can almost always be counted on, after a few turns, to provide a 7-letter Scrabble, so – with situational provisionality – I stick by my 60 points for the word or I won’t use it.

The real issue here, I think you will agree, is whether the blanks “stay down.” Officially, they do: once played, a blank remains on the board representing whatever letter the player chose. Fine. But when I can, I get opponents to play the house rule that allows either of us to pick the blank back up whenever one of us has or gets the letter the blank stands for – R, let’s say – we can grab the blank back up off the board, replacing it with our R, and use it again.

This serves three purposes:

  • It makes the game fairer. With only two blanks, there is a 50% chance one player will get BOTH. So half the time one player has a HUGE advantage. But when you can pick the blank back up, the two blanks may wind up doing the work of three or four or five or six blanks in the course of the game. It’s still possible one player will get them all, but the odds of that are sharply lower (and beyond the ability of anyone on the planet to calculate).
  • It makes the game more challenging and exciting. It adds an additional element of strategy. (If you were going to use the blank to make either ZONE or ZONK, you’d probably want to make it a K, which your opponent is less likely to have, lest he immediately grab it with one of his all-too-common E’s.) And given how exciting blanks are to begin with – one’s heart pounds at receipt of a blank – the more the merrier.
  • It makes me win – because I remember this rule and pounce. Others sometimes forget it and leave the blank sitting there even when, three turns later, they actually do pick up the K.

The other main house rule, if I ever lure you over: if you get three of the same letter – three I’s or three U’s being the worst, but even three N’s or anything else – you are allowed to throw in one, two, or all three of them without losing your turn. Hey: it’s the same for both of us, so why should it give me an edge? It’s just more fun, like a Get Out of Jail Free card in Monopoly or a hard rather than a soft ball in squash.

What has any of this to do with money? I like to play for $1 a point.

 

 

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