by Grace Tsai

3231111448_ba33a1a7b0_oPhoto by Dark Cloud628

I love word games.
Pathetically, they trigger a fierce competitive flame in me that rarely exists elsewhere. This condition makes me on occasion a sore loser and frequently an easy sucker for installing various wordsmithery-type applications on Facebook. The former does not help my case, and the latter does not help my procrastination, but I have come to accept both.
The reigning classic word game in terms of popularity seems to be Scrabble—or Literati, Lexulous, or Scramble, depending on where you buy it—which remains one of the classic board games to still enjoy a large following even in these days when video games rendered in stunning graphics tend to hoard all the glory in the gaming world. But the brilliant simplicity of Alfred Butts’ 1938 crossword game has retained its enduring appeal both as a parlor game played between family members on a quiet night and as an intense tournament game of strategy and anagrammatic skills.
I personally remember Scrabble as a simple, friendly contest between my sister and me during leisurely hours. Now that I think about it, I like the minimalist design of the wooden tiles with their plain black letters, the unfussy—almost boring—appearance of the board grid that belied a game with limitless replay value and excitement (at the time, I just wanted to beat my sister). This illusion of Scrabble as a peaceful outlet for my desires for word-games was shattered the day I noticed a large group of people playing at Borders—strictly in pairs—with timers. Competitive Scrabble playing? I enjoyed the game enormously myself, but the fact that others could play it with such intensity was as staggering as coming to the revelation that the dorky friend you’ve always hung out with on occasion is actually a renowned movie star with a cult-following. Naturally, I had to look this up. Here are some interesting facts I uncovered about competitive Scrabble (with the aid of the omniscient Wikipedia):
  • Competitive players use special tiles called “Protiles,” which have the letters printed and not engraved on the surface like on normal tiles. This prevents players from possibly trying to “Braille”—or feel for the letters they need in the bag.
  • “Cwm” is the most famous example of an acceptable word that uses no vowels. It is Welsh for “valley” and pronounced koom.
  • The term “bingo stem” refers to a group of six letters that have a good chance of making a seven-letter-bingo with almost any letter as the seventh. The best “bingo stem” is TISANE, which will form a word with any seventh letter with the exceptions of Q and Y (try it!), which are rare letters in the Scrabble tile pile anyway.
  • The biggest international Scrabble tournament is the Thailand International, also known as the Kings Cup. The winner of the best division gets to accept a trophy from the King himself.

This was some heavy stuff for me—not in a particularly bad way, however. I’d never seen Scrabble in this light, but I find it fascinating and somewhat relieving to know that a game involving shuffling random letters around to form words—even if it is for the cold, calculated purpose of accumulating points—can still hold as much ground in the world of others as it does in mine.