I love to play the game of Scrabble. I have always enjoyed it, from childhood on, and I enjoy playing in a variety of formats. My recent obsession began with my association with the DBU Writing Center. My office is located on the floor above the Writing Center (UWC for short), and there is an elevator just outside my door. For a variety of reasons (unimportant in this context), I prefer going down to the basement to use the restroom, instead of walking across the library to use the restroom on my own floor. Sometimes I stop by the UWC on my way to or from a bathroom break, and visit with the staff there, who have become my good friends. Their former director bought a classic Scrabble game to keep on hand, as a way to encourage language development. About a year or more ago, we started playing Scrabble on occasion during the lunch hour. Of course, we have more opportunities to get together for a game during the summer months or (as we have this week) during a break. The usual players include the staff and student workers of the UWC, myself, and some members of the English faculty – although we’ve had other guests as well.
The game brings out different qualities in each of us. Some are more competitive than others. Some tend to carry a defeatist attitude at times – and in truth, it’s really hard to beat Dr. Rose Johnson unless she has terrible tiles. She’s very clever and very competitive, and she knows how to play defensively as well. Personally, I don’t really care if I win or not, although it’s fun when I do win. But sometimes my pleasure in winning is diminished by feeling sorry for the other players if they’ve had bad luck. Mostly I play because I love words. I get a real charge out of making a great play, especially if the play involves an unusual or esoteric word – regardless of how many points I can make. Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy making points as much as anyone else, and I try to play strategically. But the fun for me is in the challenge and the camaraderie. We have terrific conversations while we play. Sometimes we laugh until our sides and faces hurt; other times we discuss really serious matters, both personal and professional. One always popular topic of conversation involves how difficult our jobs are – in other words, we enjoy venting frustration. No matter who wins or loses, or what topics may be discussed, I always come away feeling renewed and refreshed. It’s a great way to break from office routine.
Less enjoyable, but still pleasant, are the online Scrabble games I play. Right now, I have four games going in facebook, using the Scrabulous application, but I’ve had as many as six before. I also play online via email using a website called Pixie Pit. I’ve only managed to keep two games going simultaneously in that format. But a couple of weeks ago I was participating in 7 different games between those two venues. I didn’t even pay attention to the scores – I just enjoyed keeping the games going, finding new ways to play my tiles. But at one point, it seemed that the Scrabble gods were definitely against me. In each of my seven games, I had only vowels, no consonants, in each hand. Seven games, no consonants at ALL.
Although I had played the game as a kid, I really learned to appreciate it and play for strategy when I was a young newlywed. I had been an elementary music teacher, but when I got married we moved too far away from my school, so I quit that job and looked for another position closer to my new home. However, I started the interview process too late in the summer (after the wedding and honeymoon and spending time setting up housekeeping) and I couldn’t find a job when school started that fall. So I got a job in a big insurance company – John L. Wortham Insurance agency near downtown Houston. The office manager was an older woman who took a motherly interest in me. She found out that I enjoyed playing Scrabble, and so she brought her game to the office and she and I would play in her cubicle during our lunch periods. She was a masterful player, and I lost game after game. But as I lost, I also watched, and I began to pick up some of her strategies and tricks. The job itself was pretty boring, so our lunchtime games quickly became the highlight of my workday.
As I sit here in my living room, I look up to the top of my bookshelves, where I can see four boxed Scrabble games. That may seem like a lot until you consider my dear friend Ka. I don’t know how many versions of the game she has, but there are at least 7 or 8 Scrabble games in the Writing Center, and she probably has more at home. She also owns lots of Scrabble paraphernalia – mugs and notecards and soup bowls and all kinds of things sporting the Scrabble logo. There are literally thousands of such items available in today’s marketplace – Ka gets most of hers through eBay, but you can buy Scrabble items through retail stores as well. So what makes Scrabble such a popular and lasting game? It’s really more of a phenomenon than most people realize. What is the attraction?
Scrabble doesn’t sport any fancy bells and whistles. It’s a simple game based on crossword puzzle logic that depends on equal parts of luck and skill. Players must be good spellers and possess a wide vocabulary in order to be successful. It’s not a particularly exciting game – it’s not fast-moving or dramatic in any way. And yet hundreds of thousands of people are addicted to the game. There is a Scrabble tournament sub-culture that is fanatic and fascinating. (The documentary film Word Wars follows several top-ranked tournament players as they prepare to compete in the annual world contest held in Las Vegas.) Movies like The Wedding Planner and The Thomas Crown Affair (the original, not the re-make) and Return to Me feature Scrabble players, clubs, and contests in their plots. Obviously, there’s something to this game!
If I really wanted to, I could spend the next several minutes in some light research and harvest interesting facts and figures about Scrabble from the internet. But this blog is supposed to be fun for me, not taxing and difficult like real school work, so I’m going to forego that endeavor and just let any readers who are interested find their own facts. Share them if you’d like by commenting on this post! For my part, I will close by saying that the facts and statistics don’t really matter that much to me. I would enjoy playing the game no matter how popular or unpopular it might be. I find it infinitely engaging and challenging, and I hope to be able to play Scrabble for the rest of my life.