An Evening (in Hell) with the Scrabble Club

28 Jun

I feel like I’ve had a lot of intense moments in my life to date.  But  none so far can match the incredibly intense moment when I told the head of the Scrabble club that I was going home early.

Happy Lollipop Tuesday folks.

This week, I found my adventure by flipping through the classifieds in my local paper.  There, I found an ad for the city’s Scrabble Club chapter.   I’m sorry – Competitive Scrabble Club Chapter.

That word makes all the difference in the world.

I was really hanging on tightly to the part in the newspaper ad that said “Beginners Welcome.”   When the head of the local chapter (let’s call him Socrates) responded to my inquiry, he reported an average attendance of 15, with ages ranging from 13-85.    I was pretty comfortable with the idea of playing anyone at the very bottom or the very top of that statistic, and since I’m an ex English major who does pretty well around the kitchen table and family, I thought I could at least avoid embarrassment.

I was sorely mistaken.

When I first arrived I was greeted by Socrates, who started started running down the official tournament rules.  He handed me  a cheat sheet with all the 3-letter and 2-letter words in the English language, common words to dump vowels with, and a list of common Bingos (when you clear your rack).  He was wearing a Scrabble Champion t-shirt (legit, probably won in the 70’s).

After he had rattled off all the standard tournament rules, I was informed that as a special treat for being a first-time guest I could have an extra 5 minutes on my clock.

I’m sorry – what?

Apparently, competitive Scrabble is timed.  You get 25 minutes altogether, which ticks down during your turn.  When you’ve completed totaling your tiles, you announce your score for the round and hit the buzzer to switch to your opponent’s timer.

For someone who just learned what a Bingo was and didn’t even know ten of the 2-letter words, a timer is a frightening thing.

I got paired with a sweet, older woman named Connie.  Connie was very pleasant to me, but she was also incredibly serious about the game of Scrabble.  She had special professional grade tiles that could not be used for sneaky handed bag cheating.  

That’s a term I made up for when someone dips in the bag and feels the letters to know which ones to pick.  

She asked if I had my own board and I said I had the game at home.  She asked if it was a turntable (no) and if I had the brown, wooden, cheater letters (yes).  She was sorely disappointed.  Connie had her own hand-sewn bag to slip over the board at the end of the game that poured the letters into it.  The drawstring featured her name, spelled out in individually sewn buttons.

I did not.

I kept even with her score for about 6 rounds.   After that, it was all downhill.  By the time the game finished, she had doubled my score.  Somewhere in between the lines were 4 triple-word scores that she managed to reach with my help, and several 40-point plays featuring only 2 letters from her rack.

I’ve never felt so stupid in all my life.

As it turns out, I don’t really know how to play Scrabble.  I thought Scrabble was about making big words, connecting them to other words, and holding out for a Triple Word Score.  What Scrabble is actually about is getting scores of 500 and over by wedging a word directly beside another word and matching up a series of 2-letter-words up and down the word you play.   It’s about saving F’s and H’s and putting them in an unsuspecting corner that reaps enormous multi-word benefits.

At several points that evening, I looked at the board and not even knowing if it was safe to put an “s” on the end of something because I realized I have no idea what that word is.

So after Connie gave me a painful whoopin’, I decided I would head out.  They had an odd number of people with me there anyway and I thought I was doing everyone a favor.  After all, they have one of the top 500 ranked players in the nation in that room – I’m sure she wanted to get a bit of playing time in.

Socrates was very upset by the suggestion that I would head out.  “Leaving early” they dubbed it.  Apparently, they stick around for 3 games.  Because “people who love Scrabble stay”.  I felt incredibly pressured, but equally miserable and decided there was no way I was going to let a crotchety old Scrabble champion tell me what to do.

…So I kindly let him know that I wasn’t aware that I would be playing 3 games in a row and I thought I could use a good deal of studying.  

He was very, very disappointed in me and asked me if I wanted to stay on the email distribution list. I said yes.

Why did I say yes?  Why didn’t I just say I didn’t like it and they were really high-pressure for such relaxing-looking old folks.  I had absolutely no intentions of returning to Socrates’ condo for another whoopin’.  The experience was one of the most incredibly stressful ones of my entire life.

At least, until I write an email to Socrates saying I’m breaking up with the Scrabble Club. 

Lord, give me strength. 


Today’s RAK:  At the end of the day, held the elevator for a ridiculous amount of time so that a random woman could get on without waiting.  She was my most appreciative RAK victim yet.



27 Responses to “An Evening (in Hell) with the Scrabble Club”

  1. Jessica June 28, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    I’ve had this experience but thankfully mine was online ( and so I didn’t have to face any of the people who doubled or tripled my score and made me feel about five years old. I do have the turntable board at home and I’ve loved and played scrabble for years, but I did not ever think of playing the way hardcore players do until I played among them for awhile. I enjoy it now, I love getting those combinations of two or three words in one play, but I still would pale in comparison to those folks you were playing with I’m sure. I’m lucky if I get a final score in the 300 range, never 400 or 500. I say give it another try. Maybe practice online a bit before you got back. It’s more fun once you get the hang of it and you can start to hold your own in a game like that.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:12 pm #

      this is very encouraging. and maybe I shall try to improve. but I don’t know whether I’ll return to Socrates. 🙂


  2. misswhiplash June 28, 2011 at 9:32 am #

    Well done Jackie, at least you had the guts to go and give it a try. ..and if nothing else a very good post came out of your experience.
    Had you not gone , what would you have posted about?
    I feel sorry that you were so humiliated but its all part of life’s learning experience, and its supposed to make you a stronger person! Hmmm!
    Do not be downhearted…you played the game..and in your own way won! I would never have had the courage to even set foot in the door!
    I applaud you!!!!!

    love p


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:11 pm #

      Thanks, P It was actually an incredibly stressful experience! But I’m definitely glad I went 🙂


  3. brainforthought June 28, 2011 at 10:12 am #

    Wow. I didn’t know Scrabble got so competitive. Glad you survived. This is a hilarious story.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

      it’s supposed to just be a nice time. Why couldn’t it have just been a nice time?!


  4. pegoleg June 28, 2011 at 10:58 am #

    I can’t believe you just tried this out on your own and exposed yourself to certain, public humiliation. Or, I mean, the slight chance of public humiliation. I wouldn’t have had the guts.

    You really are my idol. Can I have your autograph?


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:09 pm #

      I didn’t realize it was so certain. I really had no idea it was so intense. LOL@idol


  5. Tara June 28, 2011 at 12:05 pm #

    Haha! My husband and I play scrabble all the time. We know all those little 2 letter words and get Bingos and such, and I still would be intimidated to go to a scrabble club! You go girl! Never underestimate a person with time on their hands.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

      You’d at least survive. Those two letter words are key. DAMMIT Where was your brain when I needed it?!


  6. sanetes June 28, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

    Oh dear! First of all, let me invite you to a refreshment. 🙂

    It’s been a while since I last played scrabble and that too was against someone very competitive. I lost badly.

    It must be different to play scrabble in English, because German any number of words can be strung into one word and you can easily end up with something half a mile long. There are some rules for putting together words, but not many.

    I essentially remember, I ran out of vowels during all the scrabble games I ever played.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:07 pm #

      Nice post! 🙂 The German Scrabble sounds like an awesome time – I wonder what it’s like!


  7. Lori June 28, 2011 at 1:09 pm #

    Wow. I really love Scrabble, but that would be far too intense for me. I’ll stick with playing Words with Friends on my phone, thanks.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

      I might join myself after all this talk about it.


  8. Don't Make That Face June 28, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Yeah, there’s no way you tell him you wanted off the “list”. You needed to get out of there A.S.A.P. I would have done the samething. I may have even let him to get to 2nd if it meant I could get out of there quicker.

    This is why I play Words with Friends. It’s an app on my Android. Words with Friends ensure that I will be playing with people on the same level, if not a little lower, than myself. It’s much more satisfying to kick your friend’s butt in scrabble.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:04 pm #

      LOL @”2nd base..”

      I’m hearing a lot about this Words with Friends nonsense. Perhaps I’ll look into it. 🙂


  9. Charlie June 28, 2011 at 4:09 pm #

    Um, that is hilarious. I feel your pain.


  10. The_Observationalist_NYC June 28, 2011 at 8:43 pm #

    Did you ever get swept up in the Scrabble/Lexulous-phenomenon on Facebook a few years back? I swear, whenever I was pressured into a game, I joined begrudgingly. I wouldn’t be lying if I said one boyfriend and I broke up after the ensuing stress. I appreciate this Lollipop Tuesday a lot- kudos.

    P.S. The RAK? As someone who’s in and out of buildings all day, that gesture was more than kindness… You should be giving yourself a big pat on the back.


    • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

      I didn’t, but a lot of my friends are trying to talk me into Words with Friends and now apparently so are my readers, judging by the comments here.

      lol I once broke up with a boyfriend because he was a poor speller. Words are tough on relationships 😉

      And thanks @theRAK comment – I thought it was a pretty lackluster one for the list so far.


  11. Momma June 29, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    Any time you want to play Scrabble with us plain, ordinary folk just come home. We love playing with you and won’t make you feel stupid. We LOVE playing for fun… stress here and I’ll even make good food for you while you’re home.



    • pegoleg June 29, 2011 at 11:40 am #

      Hi Jackie’s Mom,
      Since we’re probably about the same age, I hope you won’t be offended if I jump in and say you sound just like my husband and me, trying to get our 19 and 21-year-olds to hang out with us.

      When did the dynamic change from us ordering them around, to us begging them for a small scrap of attention? We’re pathetic!

      And Liz & Gwen, if you’re reading this, I’ll make salsa and let you watch lousy reality TV this weekend if you come home.
      Regards – Peg


      • Tammy June 29, 2011 at 1:15 pm #

        Hi Peg….nice to hear from you. Jackie’s Momma here… I Love getting with my kids and it’s usually Jackie who works it all out so we can all be together. It’s super having family home. I usually lore them in with promise to make them good food. Glad they all love my cooking. So….hey, when we get together next can we lore you in with good food also?

        Jackie’s Momma


      • pegoleg June 29, 2011 at 3:44 pm #

        You’re on! We’ll play Scrabble and I’ll bring the salsa!


        • Jackie June 30, 2011 at 10:56 pm #

          Guys – become pen pals or something. Don’t ask each other on dates on my post. :- P


  12. TBM June 29, 2011 at 9:38 am #

    Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha…kudos for giving it a go!


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