The first move is mine. The tiles on my tray are IMQAUOR. If I had an S, I could spell MARQUIS. If I had an E, I could spell MARQUE. The first would be worth gloating over for weeks; to have used all seven letters, on a first move, with a Q in the word too… that would get me enough points to perhaps, just this once, beat my husband. But since I do not have that S, I can only dream about it, while I play just MAR in the middle of the board.
Scrabble is about knowing words, many words, uncommon words. Sometimes, I learn words that I never knew were words. For example, my husband played ZA and insisted it was in the dictionary. If you’ve never heard of it either, I’ll spare you the trouble of going to look it up. Apparently “za” is short for pizza. I’m not sure where exactly that slang is used, but today, I am having za for lunch.
It’s an addictive game, really. I never played it before I started dating my husband. I come from a family where word games were abhorred. My dad is an engineer. My two brothers like reading but are better with their hands. I love reading, writing, words. I could beat them badly at Boggle, Taboo, Balderdash, Upwords, or any other word game we had around the house. So I was relegated to playing with my best friend or with other friends on the rare occasions that we dug out a board game.
My husband grew up playing Scrabble because it was his mom’s favourite game. He’s very good at seeing patterns and playing with his options, rearranging words until he can figure out how to get the most points out of them. After a couple of years of playing with – and losing to – him, I am learning his strategies. However, every time I play what I think is a brilliant, fantastic, high-scoring word, he is still able to play a better word on his next turn. I can’t win.
His sister is a math teacher who plays mathematically. She can calculate the score of an entire word in her head faster than I can figure out what a Q on a double letter score is worth. It’s about putting the words together to form the biggest number – not for the points, but for the numerical fun of it. And so she studies the board, calculating and recalculating, while we wait and study our own letters and wonder what she will play.
I play for the words, the fun of unscrambling the letters on my tray into something that makes sense and then finding the place on the board where they will fit. My husband plays for the words, too, but he comes up with the most uncommon words. Having a linguistics degree helps him, because with that understanding of word formation he comes up with even more uncommon words. SOOTINGS is probably his record word so far. You’re wondering how I let him get away with it. Well, you can argue with him when he explains that soot is a word as is foot, and if you can have a footing then you can footings so why not sootings.
For his birthday just before we got married, I went in search of a Scrabble board. Now you can get travel size Scrabble boards and the deluxe Scrabble board, which spins around so that every player has a fair view of the game and comes with a bag to hold the letters so you don’t have to buy a bottle of Crown Royal as well. After much debate I went with the simple, traditional board. Then the question was – to buy the Scrabble dictionary or not to buy it. We usually used his mom’s old Webster’s dictionary, which, while it had an ample selection of archaic words, is a little short on the more modern words. The Scrabble dictionary, however, has the added advantage of including words that would be only used in Scrabble. Like za.