Scrabble

Board games are really bizarre  They each change your personality in a specific way. Your attitude changes completely when you go from one board game to another.

When you play Monopoly, you become some sort of dictatorial landlord, like Mr. Roper and Mr. Furley. You’re all like, “You kids better have my rent money!”

When you play backgammon, you become convinced that you’re a 45 year old Lebanese man. You take on the mindset of some guy named Kassem who’s busy smoking cigars and eating lamb kabob and tabbouleh.

And then there’s the game Clue. When you play that one, you’re paranoid, and you think everyone is in the habit of assaulting people with candleholders. You hear the doorbell ring, and you’re like, “Who the hell is that?” Then you answer the door, and it’s a girl scout selling cookies–and you start interrogating her. “Where did you get these cookies? Are they kosher? Where were you the night the butler was murdered?”

But here’s the game that really influences your personality. Scrabble. Watch two people playing Scrabble. Any two people. It’s amazing. What is it about that game that makes everyone so intense? I’ve never seen anything like it. Three minutes into a game, the players are staring at all the letters, they’re drenched in sweat, and they act like they’re engaged in a battle for world domination.

Whenever I see someone getting so crazy over a Scrabble game, I say, “Uh. Buddy. Lighten up. It’s just Scrabble. You’re playing a game whose primary objective it to spell the words quizzify and oxyphenbutazone.”

But people don’t lighten up. Not at all. One player draws some letters out of that gray bag. And he takes a look at the letters. And he gets this angry facial expression that says something like, “Dagnabbit!! I got two A’s from the bag, and I already had two A’s, and I had three E’s, so now I gotta spell aeaeaea, and hope my opponent doesn’t challenge that word.” Later, that player uses all three of his E’s to spell geese, he draws some more letters, and he gets a bunch of A’s again. Now he’s got six A’s and one M. And at that point, he’s consumed with the goal of spelling maharaja. Then his opponent spells yoga, and he challenges it. He says, “That’s a foreign word.” This guy is clearly bonkers. He believes that yoga is a foreign word, but maharaja isn’t. As if to say, “Yoga is an Indian word. As for maharaja, that’s a word the pilgrims said when they were on the Mayflower. Maharaja is the Englishest word in all of English.”

How come people get so excited whenever they challenge their opponent’s words in Scrabble? They feel very righteous about the whole thing. Like they’re putting a stop to a very serious transgression. They basically act like they’re boycotting buses in Montgomery, Alabama. They look at their opponent, and they’re like, “Shame on you! You think you’re gonna get away with this?! Me and and Rosa Parks will see to it that you don’t. How dare you try to spell the word uberlicious!”

If you play Scrabble against a really young person, they actually might try sneaking in uberlicious or something like that. They’ll just act like they’re going with a modern slang words you’ve never heard of. They’ll be all like, “Every teen and preteen says uberlicious all day. That word is definitely in the dictionary. But if you want to challenge it and lose a turn, be my guest.” And you’re thinking, “Is this kid serious, or is he trying to pull a fast one on me? I have no idea.”

That’s what Scrabble is like when you play against some young person. Now let’s talk about what Scrabble is like when you play against an expert player. Are you familiar with these people? Here’s how it works with them. When you play Scrabble and you’re sitting across from an expert, keep in mind that this psychopath knows 24,000 different two letter words. Most of them, no one has ever heard of before. I’m talking about words like xi, mu, and mm. Those are all in the dictionary–and this opponent of yours, he has every intention of taking full advantage of that fact.

He’ll find a spot amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Scrabble board where tons of pieces are congregated together, and he’ll place one letter in the middle of a bunch of other letters. And he’ll simultaneously spell four different words! And then he’ll say, “There we go. I spelled qua, mu, qat, and mm. That’s 387 points.” And you’re like, “What jungle language are you speaking right now? Qua mu qat mm? Them’s fighting words. Don’t be Scrabbling words like that at me, unless you’ want us to step outside and settle this like men.”

So this Scrabble expert, his move is to go with qua mu qat mm. And as for you, you spend most of the game salivating over the possibility of using a Q or an X on a triple word score. But what you usually end up doing is spelling one of two words: it or at. And then 20 minutes into the game, you spell ox. And you feel like you’ve really accomplished something. You tell your opponent, “Yeah! Take that, bro! Ox! Nine points!”

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