Monday, October 09, 2006

Scrabble Natterings*

Yesterday was a beautiful Indian summer day. Crisp in the morning, and then the sun poured out and melted itself all over my back as I winded my way to Washington Square Park. It took an hour and a half to travel the relatively short distance. There was a lot of waiting involved. I did not make the "Spanish bus" in time and when I got to 175th Street, I stood on the platform with a small crowd since some trains were not running. But that's gamble of public transportation in the big city. It's a gamble -- just like Scrabble.

And what a perfect segue to today's topic.

Washington Square Park has been in a lull for the Scrabble players. It has atrophied since the renovation of the park and the advent of the new word list. I'm new -- I've only been making my occasional appearance for the past four years. But I like knowing it's there, with all its history and cameraderie. I am uneasy about what the future holds for our little corner.

Scrabble hit paydirt a few years ago with Stefan Fatsis's book, Word Freak. There were a few ambitious documentaries about Scrabble that followed. We were introduced to several of the top players, all of whom are charismatic, quirky, always present at the tournaments and very approachable. Even ESPN joined in the chorus. We heard the players' personal stories, learned how they find those amazing plays and also got to see their immense word knowledge in action. Meantime, the Park was alive with curious spectators, tourists with cameras and those who wanted to step up to a table and challenge a Parkie to a game. It had an undeniable celebrity.

After much anticipation (and trepidation) the new blue-covered Tournament Word List was published last March. The race was on to memorize more than 3,000 new words, including the ground-breaking QI and ZA : Now we can place these awkward tiles in a two-letter configuration for 60-plus points.

We have been blessed with the likes of TECH, EMAIL, GAYDAR, MUSKOX, LOOKIST and my personal favourite, ZUZIM, an archaic currency referred to in Passover HAGGADOT, which anagrams to the newly acceptable AGGADOTH. I have been using my time at the gym to study the new words.

The active retirees and seniors who make up a critical mass of tournament players are not thrilled having to climb a steeper mountain. Who wants to learn new words when most people are still learning the old ones? This lament that can be heard throughout the Scrabble clubs in North America. Scrabble has been a moving target. I've heard people say that they are going back to chess or cards rather than learn the words.

I would suggest a check-off box on tournament forms for interested parties -- particularly at the bottom division -- to play the old list with others who share their preference. I'll bet that would bring a few players back. I know I'll get some mail about that, but there ya go.

As for the Park -- There were only four of us at two boards. I had a great time playing Diane F. in three games. Visiting from Texas and currently the 18th top Scrabbler in North America, Avi Moss dropped by and kibitzed our game, spotting an eight-letter medical term that I could not get down, nor did I know. The results of the last game are in the picture at the top of this post. Can you spot any new words? I went out with ReRUN to claim the game by a point or two, despite Diane's three bingos in a beautiful and very fun game.

What a blessing -- good weather, good friends and a board. Let's revive the Park!

By the way.....

For you living room players, please note that there is also a new word list with a red cover that you can purchase at most book stores, too. The difference is mainly the handful of naughty words that your mummies and daddies would be upset with if they saw them on your boards.

*Natterings is a phony. But it does anagram nicely to ASTRINGENT and INTEGRANTS.


Therapy Doc said...

I'm so happy. Had no idea. The new words you mention are every day words (well, sort of) in my living room.

I found you on Jew Eat and love the link to the video and now, wow, a new word book for a game I have mostly played with my 18 year old.

This is a kid who in his short life has made the leap from I'm A Bad Sport and I Don't Care to It's Okay, Mom, You Can Have that One, so this made me nostalic since he's away in Israel and I doubt he's playing Scrab.

I'm hyper-linking over here (and buying the book).


Lynda Marks Kraar said...

Thanks for your comments! Did you know that there is a major Scrabble organization in Israel? I was there last Tuesday and played at the Sam Orbaum club in Jerusalem. The website is

Warm regards from the GuitarGirl - Lynda!