Saturday, July 08, 2006


I ran into this budding blog the other day, and got permission from its proprietor to republish two stories that I found to be well written and very amusing. One is about Scrabble, which is a subject I adore, having played "ai" in all its slothfulness and argued "zo" in all its singularity and sat on "qat" awaiting a triple letter score...

Here is the link to the blog--

An e-mail from "fisch" suggests that he is busy at the moment-- real busy-- leaving his fans awaiting his next great tale...

Check it out.

I'M THE GREATE-- oww. That hurt.

"It is defeat that turns bone to flint; it is defeat that turns gristle to muscle; it is defeat that makes men invincible." -- Henry Ward Beecher

I played Scrabble once or twice in my youth and was okay at it. We (My six siblings and I) always used to fight over who gets to have my mother on their team because she was the crossword puzzle guru and usually her team won. Then my eldest sister got married and everyone wanted my bother-in-law on their team, because he was the really smart science guy. It was a fun game. And that was that.Then I was a little bit older and I was the one doing crossword puzzles and word jumbles in the comics section, and was pretty damned good at them. Alas, my siblings had all moved out already and there were no more tests of testosterone around a Scrabble board.

That seemed to be that.

But one day I picked up a book in Barnes and Noble named "Word Freak." It was about one man's slow descent into the addicting world of professional Scrabble play. I was about half-way through it, my blood was pumping, and I thought, I can do this!So I searched online and found a local Scrabble club. A bunch of old people probably. I was going to go show them how it was done.

Time to ruin the retirements of many.

I get to this club, and sure enough, besides one young lady (whom I'm still friends with) it was a bunch of men and women well past the age of 60. (Sorry, Dad, that's old in my book.) I nonchalantly walk up to the crinkly old woman who seems to be in charge and say "I'm looking to play some Scrabble."She doesn’t answer.

Is she deaf?

"I'm looking to play so—"

"I know, honey, I heard you the first time. Who else would come to a Scrabble club besides those looking to play Scrabble? Just be patient."


Finally, enough people shuffle into the room that the lady starts to match people up to play against each other in 1 on 1 style Scrabble (the only way the pros play). She turns to me.

"Have you ever played before, sweety?"

"Oh, yea. Tons."

"How good are you?"

Here I'm thinking, c'mon these people are not the pro players of "Word freak" fame. These are a bunch of retired old people spending some quality time with each other in Fort Lauderdale. I'm going to rip them each a new IRA.

"I'm the best," I said

."Ooh, okay, a real player huh? Okay well, you're going to play against Steve. He's over in that corner."

She points me to a man that appears to be somewhere in his mid to late 50's, perhaps in his early 60's. His hair is pretty much all white, but his eyes are blue ice. He is concentrating on the board and there's nothing on it yet. Hmm, a challenge?I sit down across from him and he extends his hand.

"Steve Polatnick."


And the game begins.

(Quick summation of Scrabble rules: The bag has 100 tiles in it, with 1 letter printed on each tile. Each letter has a different point value. Players each pick 7 tiles from the bag and put them on their rack. Player tries to make a word for the highest point value each turn. This is not always the longest word, sometimes it's a word that hits certain 'bonus' spots on the board. If a player manages to use all 7 of his tiles on 1 turn, player gets a 50 point bonus, called a 'bingo.' After player's turn, player picks from the bag the amount of tiles just used on last turn, so that player's rack always has 7 tiles on it. If a player puts down a word and the other player thinks the word is bogus, or misspelled, the other player has the right to 'challenge' the word. Moderator looks in the official scrabble dictionary. If player's word is valid, the challenger loses his turn. If the word is invalid, the word comes off the board, along with any points scored by it, and the one who put down the bogus word loses his turn.)

We were playing with a chess timer. We each have 25 minutes for the whole game. Time is of the issue. I look at my first rack of words. I find the word "Theater." Bingo. 50 point bonus. Yeah, baby.

"Nice play," Steve says.

"Sure was," I cockify.

He then starts to shuffle his tiles and think. And think. And think. It's to my advantage because he's using a hell of a lot of time off of his 25 minutes. He doesn’t want to use that up. Poor old man, probably doesn’t have many thinking synapses left in his head.

"Thinking hard?" I ask. No response. He uses all 7 of his tiles, attaching them to my 'A' from 'theater' and makes the word 'ABAMPERE.'

"What the hell is that?" I say. "I think you're making it up. I never heard of that. I challenge!"

Moderator comes over. Opens dictionary. Word is valid. I lose my next turn.

"Lucky, Man. You were pretty lucky."

"Yup," he says. About 8 seconds later he makes another bingo. This time he puts the word 'BAASKAAP' down, attaching to his 'P' from before.

"What the ****? I challenge!"

Moderator comes over. Opens dictionary. Word is valid. I lose my next turn. Fast-forward about 20 minutes. I put down the 3 letter word 'DEM.'

"I challenge," Steve says.

"Haha. You challenge? Of course that's good. Don't you know your 3 letter words?" (At this point I am second-guessing my word. I could never remember which one was valid 'SEN' or 'DEM.' Now I'm thinking uh-oh was it the other one?)

Moderator comes over. Opens dictionary. Word is invalid. I lose my next turn.By the time I walk out of there, I have suffered two crushing defeats to Steve Polatnick. I was talking trash to him almost the whole time with no responses, but I never even came close.The scores were lopsided. -- 545-237 , -- 601-244 (or something very close to that)

Humiliation. Destroyed by an old man in Fort Lauderdale. Destroyed. I get home and had no interest in reading the other half of the book. To hell with scrabble. About a week later, I do pick up the book and start reading again. When I hit the chapter on THE 4TH HIGHEST RATED PLAYER IN THE WORLD STEVE POLATNICK my stomach drops. (The ratings fluctuate, but at the time he was 4th.) I mean, on one hand, I guess that's good. Humiliated not by your average Joe but by a true champion. On the other hand, I remember all my trash-talk. "Haha, don’t you know your 3 letter words?" A whole different kind of embarrassment sets in. He must have looked at me like a cockroach. He sure stepped on me like one. Sure enough, a glutton for punishment, I went back to the club a couple weeks later. I got a bunch of knowing smiles from all the old people. I couldn’t tell if the smiles meant "Oh, look there goes that nice young boy who plays scrabble. He's been here before."Or, "Oh, look there goes that patronizing retard of a child. He came, he saw, he got obliterated muhahahaha."But they were all nice. I played a regular old man that time, and narrowly won by 20 points. Afterwards I offered to buy Steve a drink, which he accepted. He then coached me a little, and my scrabble skills started to change.

That's a different story though.

For now. I refer you all to my undefeated boxing record instead.


loveyouintheface said...

i read word freak a little while ago and it inspired me to buy a pocket dictionary and try to memorize word lists. then i watched spellbound and realized starting on the wordlists at 24 was a mite too late.

and about the losing, well, you trash talked for all us rubes who use words like 'theater' in scrabble games...& that's good. i'm sure of it:)

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