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.