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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Playing Games

In my experience, there are two basic types of families in the world; those that play Scrabble®…and everybody else.

I grew up in a Scrabble® family.

Saying this doesn’t say nearly enough about my Jewish, liberal, middle-class, suburban up-bringing…but it’s a pretty fine start. Like owning a copy of the bible, a well-worn dictionary, and a hopelessly out-dated set of encyclopedias, there is simply a certain type of family that has the game in the house. Nobody can actually remember how the game entered the house…like an article of faith, it just …is.

Now, before you get the wrong impression about us…I don't mean to imply that we played Scrabble® regularly, or even particularly well. In fact, I can only remember playing at most once a month. From the time I was old enough to spell basic words (yeah right…me, Mr. Spell Checker), I was invited to play…and I was given plenty of help getting my letters organized (how they didn’t realize then that I was dyslexic is beyond me).

As we all got older, the games became much more competitive, fun, and sometimes downright acrimonious. You see, Scrabble® tends to unmask some interesting personality traits (translation: flaws) in people. The truth is, you never really know somebody until you’ve sat across a Scrabble® board from them.

Some players are content to play the letters as they come…looking for a place on the board that seems likely, and playing a safe, if occasionally inspired, game. I think of myself as falling into this category.

Others are more, um, aggressive; looking for letters the way a poker player looks to fill an inside straight or a royal flush. When this type of player places a word…it’s not just for the highest possible score. They are also placing their letters so as to prevent others from being able to use even a two-letter (two point) word (my wife and brother are both of this ilk). This latter group are what I like to call Scrabble® snobs.

I’m convinced that these 'snobs peruse the dictionary in their spare time for obscure words (especially one’s that include Qs, Zs, K’s, and other high-value letters), and spend evenings memorizing all the two-letter words in the Official Scrabble® Player’s Dictionary®. Armed with this smug knowledge, they occasionally test the outer boundaries of ‘common usage’ (I’m not pointing fingers or accusing…I’m just saying 'putzwad' is NOT a word!).

Being at best a tentative speller, I would never dream of challenging one of their esoteric plays, and I have always harbored the suspicion that they abuse my passivity to occasionally coin new and interesting (not to mention hi-scoring) words.

One of my favorite family stories (told to me by my wife) concerns a houseguest from Canada that had joined her family one year for Passover. This person, having lost an embarrassingly long and unbroken string of Scrabble® games remarked, “Well, In Canada we say that it’s not whether you win or lose…it’s how you play the game.” Without missing a beat, my mother-in-law (AH”S) purportedly replied, “Well if you don’t win, you must not play the game very well!”

Ah, yes…now that I think about it, the lovely peach that is my wife did not fall far from the tree.

We have already started our kids out on Scrabble Jr.® , and will soon be upgrading them to the full-blown combat addition. Not only will it (hopefully) keep their English vocabulary growing, but it will also give us a little insight into their personalities.

My only fear is that if they take after my wife or brother, they may get some strange looks trying to slip words like xu.jpg ('Vietnamese monetary unit') or zym.jpg (a seven letter word for 'the science concerned with fermentation'), into everyday conversation.

Posted by David Bogner on March 16, 2004 | Permalink


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Well, in my house we call it Squabble.

I must confess that I fall into the same category as your wife, having grown up in a family of people who did the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in ink, filling in every box.

My husband and his family, including his mother who was an English teacher, know nothing of the true competitive spirit of the game, and the skill it takes to truly play the game well.

So, Squabble it is.

And we have three boards: your standard red box variety, the deluxe edition on a Lazy Susan, and Squabble Junior, and I know not how either of the grownup versions arrived in our household.

Posted by: beth | Mar 16, 2004 8:58:08 AM

[sigh] Next time when Chuck is down by 100 points or so, please remind him that he is not alone.

Also, I'm really curious about the 'Scrabble Fairy' who seems to be the only logical answer to how the game gets into people's houses!

Posted by: David | Mar 16, 2004 9:29:53 AM

Imagine my dismay when finding out that one of my best friends was a shark-toothed, snarling carnivore when it came to Scrabble. His true colors were indeed revealed. Unfortunately, so were mine, as I grew fangs, and lashed back. We nearly sacrificed our friendship over my insistance that "rescythed" was a word. We had to put the Scrabble box away to protect each other. Haha ... Excellent blog, and I love the word "Treppenwitz". I linked my site to yours. Very pleased to meet you!


Posted by: Jim | Mar 18, 2004 7:12:59 PM

In a relocation years ago, seven white resin Scrabble tiles were lost from a game associated with my childhood. I would like to buy 2 A's, 1 D, 1 N, 1 O, 1 U, and a blank, plus the 16 clear plastic pegs for the black racks. Does anyone have a set he or she would like to sell? If I can complete the alphabet, I would be very happy. On the pegs I can compromise.


Roger Lathbury

Posted by: Roger Lathbury | Jun 27, 2004 6:32:08 AM

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