I grew up playing Scrabble with my mother and grandmother, both highly competitive people who believed you didn’t serve a child well by cutting her any breaks in a strategic board game even if she is in fourth grade and has a vocabulary no more advanced than a Judy Blume novel. I spent most of my early years losing Scrabble games; I knew no other life.
I was probably in college when I won my first Scrabble game, and I wrote it off to flukey good luck. I didn’t realize my years of losing to Jedi Masters would ever pay off until I won about twenty games, and then I realized I had been in training my whole life. Unfortunately, my Scrabble prowess is limited to beating people off the street who maybe played a few times before and got lucky, plus they’re smart and have a good vocabulary and naively believe that’s enough. Come into my lair, my pretty. Can I offer you some tea?
I still don’t stand a chance against the real pros. Fortunately for me, that still leaves a lot of the population to play. I just adore my regular Scrabble opponents. There is something very satisfying about finding perfectly matched players who offer enough of a challenge for it to feel like a real victory when you beat them, and you win as much as you lose. As much as I hate losing — and, oh, do I ever hate losing — it is simply not satisfying to beat a mismatched opponent who doesn’t even know xu and xi are words and that there are no two letter words which start with V or C. Come on, that’s just not sporting. I used to have a lot of games going, but I found that stresses me out a bit to have so many turns hanging over my head. I limit my games now to only three players: two friends and my Mom. Since I no longer work in an office (or, okay, anywhere) I sometimes pretend Scrabble is my job. And just like my job, some days I take it very seriously.
Not to sound like a snob, but I draw the line at Words With Friends. It just feels like the People Magazine crossword puzzle to me. Even though I know it looks quite similar to the uninitiated, it’s just not as good as original Scrabble. But I know I have no room to talk: We will occasionally dust off the old Scrabble board when Mom comes over, but more often, we play Scrabble on Facebook. And by more often, I mean every single day. I have no idea what the Scrabble purists think of this, but I love it. Crazy as it sounds, it has helped me feel more connected to my Mom as an adult. We are now communicating every single day through our Scrabble tiles. Plus, of course, I beat her much more than in my younger days when I kept score with a Holly Hobbie pencil.
Scrabble is a great metaphor for life. You have to play the hand you’re dealt, and sometimes that hand is total crap, as in I-I-I-I-O-A. Good luck working with that. However, even then, there are still opportunities hiding somewhere, and you just need to search harder for them. Sometimes the best offense is a good defense, and in mounting that good defense, you wind up screwing yourself. Sometimes you have a fabulous seven letter word (a bingo in Scrabble lingo) but you have no place to put it, kind of like having tons of money but no time to spend it. And sometimes all the stars align and you plunk down the word QUIXOTIC, as in, “She had quixotic dreams about beating me in Scrabble today.”