by Kevin Burton
In Scrabble there is a factor I call “the tyranny of the tile.”
That means the game you play is only as good as the tile you pull. This truth has its parallel in the larger life experience.
I’ve never been a golfer or liked watching golf. But I used to love reading golf stories in Sports Illustrated when that magazine was the cream of the crop among weeklies. Why? Because golf is such a maddening, humbling game and the stories speak not so much to who won a particular competition, but to human nature.
That’s the way I look at Scrabble.
I sometimes joke that scrabble is a German word meaning “one letter off.” That’s not literally true, but it might as well be.
I am a tweener in the Scrabble world. Not many casual players can hang with me, but in the world of the serious players, the ones who fly around the world playing major competitions, I’d get my clock cleaned.
Those big players call the rest of us “parlor players.” So I guess that makes me parlor royalty, for what that’s worth.
A co-worker and I played a lot of Scrabble over maybe an 18-month period back when I lived in Ohio. She knew how to play a little bit before we started, but not really.
After we had been playing a while she finally beat me and we treated it like the Jets beating the Colts in Super Bowl III, the ultimate upset. After that she won her share of games.
One game I will never forget. A few plays in she used all seven of her tile to spell a word. In Scrabble that’s called a “bingo” and you get 50 extra points for doing it. It’s a big deal.
When she did that I thought to myself, “that just means the final score is going to be close.”
You can probably see where this is going. It’s going to Proverbs 16:18 (NASB), “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before stumbling.”
We play a little longer and she gets a second bingo. I’m thinking, “OK Kev, just do what you do..”
The third time she gave me a bit of a warning, saying “You’re not gonna like this…..” But even bingo three didn’t cave in my mental game.
It was that fourth bingo that made me say inside, “I’m not going to get this game.”
It was a jaw-dropping performance. I believe her score was in the 460 range. Those are heights not often achieved in the parlor.
Fast forward to last weekend and I am playing my bride in Scrabble. She’s the one I would usually rather play Yahtzee with, because those games are competitive.
She doesn’t know her two-letter words. She doesn’t recognize the hot spots. She doesn’t see the board the way I do.
Two games ago when she suggested Scrabble and I demurred, she said “I can learn….”
Well I guess so.
No, she didn’t beat me. No “New York 16, Baltimore 7.” But she had plays of 52 and 48 and five plays in was ahead by ten points.
“Don’t forget to pull your shirt,” she said.
So you would have to know beep baseball Kev to get that joke. When I was a player, one of the things I did in the batter’s box was to tug on my jersey at the shoulder. It was a way of focusing my mind when the competition was hot.
And the competition just then was at least warm. It got warmer when she said, “Oh no, I just got two blanks.”
Blanks are Scrabble gold of course. They lead to bingos. My bride hasn’t learned that yet, but she has learned plenty.
The final score was 343 to 255, her best showing to date.
I may just want to switch to Trivial Pursuit on game night, just to have a more educational experience. It’s not that the parlor is getting uncomfortably warm. It wouldn’t be that at all.