Tuesday, February 9, 2010

the scrabble ambassador

Posted by jedijawa
I thought that this was going to be the 100th post on our Scrabble Club blog so I was trying to save up for a good post. But it turns out that I looked at it incorrectly and this is only post 98. Still, I think this is a good one.

This past weekend I attended a funeral for the father of one of my best friends. I actually hadn't met most of his family before so I was surprised on Saturday night when one of his Aunts challenged me to a game of Scrabble. Whether this was because my friend told her that I played or that I was wearing a Scrabble shirt I don't know. But when she asked I said that I played club and tournament Scrabble just to make sure she was still game. She said that she was and I asked her one more time just to make sure. So I headed to my car to get my Scrabble bag which usually contains 2 boards, 6 tile racks, several bags of tiles, 1-2 clocks, pens, score sheets, and miscellaneous things like my Franklin. I showed up with my bag-o-Scrabble and she was taken aback at the layout. I told her that I was a co-Director at my local Scrabble club (Apprentice Director actually) and she said "let's play".

I set up the board and then two other people showed up who also wanted to play. The Club and Tournament player in me wanted to set up the second board but these guys were kitchen table players so I set up a 4 player game (something that I haven't done in ages). It wasn't long into the game that I ended up talking about Club and Tournament Scrabble ... probably the first time that I played a funky word and had to explain why it was good (I think it was "oy" or "ag" which both drew questions for being foreign and an abbreviation respecitvely). This led me to bringing out what I refer to as "the cheat sheet" which is the NSA word list of "Important Words To Raise Your Score" that is available from the NSA website upon gaining membership. This list includes all of the 101 two letter words, all of the 1,015 three letter words, and some other lists such as "Q" without "U" words, vowell heavy words, and lists of words to play with the power tiles J, X, Q, and Z.

Most people are somewhat amazed at the cheat sheet and then they are fascinated with it. I like letting my opponents play with it because it levels the field a bit and helps me to learn those last funky words that I haven't learned in the 3s. It also spawns a lot of conversation about why the word list came to be and allows me to tell those stories as well as war stories from playing Club and Tournament Scrabble (particularly when we get around to discussing the "poo list" explained here but basically words that have been deemed "offensive" and removed from the Hasbro version of the word list). Of course, there were lots of other questions about place names being good and I pointed out how china, paris, and texas are all good for reasons having nothing to do with the places just like bob, al, and john are all good as well.

It was amazing to watch the energy in the room as family members stopped by to see how it was going and the 3 initiates who were playing with me were sharing what they were learning with their family members. Then I hit my first bingo with PARADES for 82 points and the room erupted ... not at first ... but when they realized that all of my tiles were on the board and I announced 82 points the first question was "how" followed by "why is it called a bingo?" I had to answer that I didn't know why it was called a bingo but someone else in the room said that they had never heard about the 50 pt. bonus rule to which I asked "have you ever seen someone play all of their tiles?" to which the answer was "no way!" I went from third place to first with that play and now the game was on and my new initiates were hooked beyond all return.

Earlier in the game I had said that the spaces to watch for were the blue squares rather than the red ones that everyone worries about and demonstrated this with a use of a K in two directions for another 35 points and then I hit with a second bingo late in the game with CHARROS. I sat with this on my rack for a long time as the three players before me were trying to figure out their best plays now in a way that they have never done before ... I called one of the other family members in observance over to ask if I should play my bingo or if I should go easy on them and he said he wanted me to play it ... which resulted in more cheers and interest as passersby wanted to see what the fuss was about.

Game two was now a more serious affair ... but in a lighthearted way. Early on the players were having fun looking for interesting words to play and I would occasionally point out a better scoring location or say to save the "s" or blank for later. Then I saw that I had GUNTLET on my rack and pointed it out to one of the famly members who was looking over my shoulder. If only I had an "A" on the board and then, to my surprise, the person before me looked at the cheat sheet and played TWA (the same lady who challeneged me to play). "Interesting word choice I said." To which she said "thank you!" I said "no ... thank you" and laid down GAUNTLET through the "A". A gasp went around the table as I had just pulled from last place to first place and then I pointed out that it was the only place on the board where I could bingo and that if she had played TAW I would have been screwed. On the very next turn I had BEL_IES on my rack and bingoed again much to the delight of the room.

Now it was on like Donkey Kong! The third game I really noticed that the play styles of my three competitors had changed. It was a combination of them scoring well with what they had and me not seeing good scoring opportunities for myself that led me to come in second place that game while the family member who had challenged me to the game won (with some assistance in playing the Q and Z in two directions on TLS and DLS spaces ... much to the consternation of her other family members). As her nephew said "you scored 106 points on those two plays!" I said ... sort of like getting two small bingos - which everyone now recognized as playing all of their tiles. All of my opponents asked if I minded if they photocopied the cheat sheet and I said that's why I pass them out and I remarked that I'm sorry for having ruined Scrabble for all their families and friends which drew a laugh from the room.

It was a great experience playing these games this way and it really helped to take everyone's minds off of the sad reason why we were there. Some people reflected that their deceased relative would have loved to have had this experience but the thoughts were all happy and Scrabble really brought the room together. I dare say that some of these guys may just become more than kitchen table players because of this experience ... one can only hope! Pass it on! :-)


  1. Excellent story! Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a sister club in Mo'town?

  2. Hello, Could you add a link to http://myemailgames.com (formerly emailscrabble.net) in your links? It is an email based scrabble game that allows you to play with anybody who has access to a computer and a valid e-mail address. We're always looking for more players! Thanks a lot.



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