The local Scrabble Club is a group of very sociable players who go into meltdown if they cannot play Scrabble at least once a day. I learned that playing online gives a temporary fix, that club day is a big buzz, and that tournaments are the ultimate rush. Keen to play face-to-face games, I signed up to this madness in 2012.
Every story has a prequel. In the pre-internet era, I was always a scrabble board player with the family. Himself no longer plays because he says I used too many big and suspect words and that the dictionary was wrong!. Immaterial to Himself that it was the Oxford Dictionary. Unaware that Scrabble Clubs existed, I did, and still do cryptic crossword puzzles. Work and family commitments left little time for leisurely pursuits.
Seeing patterns or paradigms when doing cryptic crossword puzzles helps when thinking abut making words from scrambled letters. Four years ago when I joined the local Scrabble Club, I never imagined I would use way out words, ever play in tournaments. I certainly had no idea about the scope of the competitive nature of the game.
Play evovaes in your next game of scrabble. Wait for the challenge. “Is that a real word?”
Himself thinks Scrabble players are a sad lot to get excited about creating a vowel-dump word out of a rack of impossible tiles. Even when it is pointed out to him that the game is also about strategy, calculation and tile tracking, he remains unimpressed even though many top players have mathematical and computing backgrounds and think in logical fashion.
Late one evening early in 2013, while playing online scrabble and watching a late TV show, I forgot about the time. Eldest grandson was coming next day to do jobs to earn money for his school’s work day fundraiser. This 16-year old expected freshly made chocolate cake but I could not decide whether to bake before I go to bed or play another game of scrabble. Never did make the cake. I felt guilty early next morning and as I needed to make a pavlova for another occasion, I doubled the recipe. As teenage boys do, he ate most of the pavlova without complaint. Was that an early warning sign scrabble was interfering with my life?
When euoi, tranq, eejit and u-less Q tiles plagued me, I search for a hook to dump such vowel loaded words? Yes, they are legal. Should I change those tiles and hope to pick up higher value letters? Think! In 2014, I grappled with the strategic intricacies of the game. It is cut-throat competition for points against the clock, of playing without a dictionary, of tile-tracking, of challenging phoney or obscure words, of being challenged, of national and international ratings, and of course the nice bit, recognition with a prize.
When my name was inscribed on the MINP trophy for the most improved new player, I probably was hooked. Competitors of all ages, from diverse backgrounds from all over New Zealand competed in the two-day tournament hosted by our Scrabble Club. A caterer did lunch and club members provided morning and afternoon teas. I made the sarnies, incidentally a 7-letter word + 50 points for a bingo, or sandwiches to non-scrabblers.
It was an easy drive north to the Hokianga Harbour in March 2015, it with twelve Scrabble Club members and one player from an Auckland Scrabble Club for an unrated round-robin tournament. That weekend, we ate overlooking the upper reach of the harbour, wined, winged about rotten tile draws, laughed and played scrabble. Four New Zealand rated players played and I managed to beat three of them to achieve second place. Dumb luck really, the tiles fell my way, but I took full credit.
A bonus was the restored historic house we stayed in was New Zealand author Jane Mander‘s childhood home, moved from the Port Albert where area where her novel The Story of a New Zealand River was based. Jane Campion based her film, The Piano, on this novel.
“Okay. It’s only a 40-minute drive and it is only a one-day tournament. Right! I’ll play. It’s good to support smaller clubs.” That was my side of the conversation in November and what a day. A personal best score that included 250 bonus points from five 7-letter words.
Never go to an Annual General Meeting if you do not want a job. Earlier this year, I forgot this cardinal rule and left as President of the Scrabble Club. Too slow to say “no, thank you”, I mumbled that I would do the job for one year.
Last week, it was all credit to Himself, he agreed to go to Rotorua for a few days so I could play in a Scrabble tournament there. This city has long been our weekend escape place. We love soaking in the thermal mineral pools. The trip also meant we could catch up with my brother and Aunt who still live in the Matamata area, location of Hobbiton, Lord of the Rings film set.
The tiles fell my way again. I will play in the NZ nationals in Rotorua in June. Thinking to be helpful, I suggested he dust off his fly rods and do some trout fishing. Himself sighed – pleased, but resigned to joining the Scrabble widowers and widows club that operates on the fringes of tournaments.