Death of a Scrabble Player

Help me. I am going to die. I’m not sure how exactly I got locked in this bathroom, it all happened so fast. I can’t remember much.

All I know is that we are staying in a rental house for the weekend. It’s an old home that was built back before the Babylonians discovered WiFi. My wife went into town to go shopping and I chose to stay home because I would rather be stabbed in the thigh with a BIC pen than go shopping.

Anyway, I was in the bathroom and when I tried to turn the doorknob to open the door the knob snapped off.

Thus, I am trapped without food or technology. I’m shouting for help, but my wife is long gone and the cleaning lady isn’t due for another several hours.

The gravity of this nightmare finally hits me all at once. I am stuck in this tiny hellhole without access to the outside world. I will never see the sunshine again. They will find my body covered in cobwebs. The coroner will shake his head and say, “Looks like he got so hungry he ate a bar of soap and choked.”

Also, my cellphone is in the other room. This means no texts, no calls, and—here is the worst part—no Scrabble.

I am officially dead.

Scrabble has always been my game of choice. It was my grandmother’s favorite game, my mother’s favorite game, and it is the only game I voluntarily play. Unless of course I am in Biloxi, in which case I voluntarily visit the roulette table and play Let’s Set Fire To All Sean’s Twenties.

If someone were to ever put a competitive Scrabble table in the Beau Rivage Casino, I would have to reverse mortgage my house.

I play Scrabble every day on my smartphone. I keep ten or twelve games going at a time. I don’t want to toot my own horn, but I’m a decent player. This doesn’t mean I’ve got a big vocabulary. Far from it. It just means that I’ve played enough games over the years to know all 107 of the legally recognized two-letter words according to the Official Scrabble Rules.

“AY,” for example, is a great word. The letter “Y” is four points. You spell this baby on a triple-word score and you have yourself fifteen points. As it happens, “AY” is a Spanish word that means, literally, “¡AY!” As in: “¡AY! I win again, banditos!”

And any veteran Scrabble player will tell you that the game is not won with long words, but with small, strategically located two-letter words, often strategically shoved into the nasal cavities of your opponent if he happens to be winning.

These are words that casual players never knew existed like: “AA,” “AB,” “AE,” etc. The greatest of these is “ZA.” The letter “Z” is a ten-point letter.

‘Za is permitted by the official rulebook and always gets a big reaction from novices. Most times, rookie players will challenge this word. Especially if you stress over and over that you’re not sure whether ‘za is a real word. When they challenge your word and find out that ‘za is in fact a word, the rules state that they lose a turn and (¡AY!) I win again, banditos!

So ‘za is a great word. Apparently, in some American regions ‘za is slang for “pizza.” These regions must be way up north somewhere. Because if you told someone in the South you were looking for ‘za, they’d think you were with the Watch Tower Society.

I think I’m losing my mind in this bathroom.

It’s been an hour and I am sitting in the corner beside the toilet thinking deeply about slang words for pizza. There is a little strip of daylight beneath the door. I am hoping to see a moving shadow to indicate someone is nearby. But nothing.

If you can believe it my wife has beaten me at Scrabble exactly once in her life. The game lasted two-days. Her winning word was—this is no joke—“axe.” She plopped that thing down on a triple-word score and the game was over.

That was fourteen years ago. After that she vowed never to play against me again because she didn’t want to tarnish her victory. I tried to get her to play Scrabble on my birthday once, but she refused. Instead, she wanted to play UNO. She beat the Shinola out of me.

After that, she was always wanting to play UNO. She’d come home from a long day at work and say, “Hey, I have an idea, let’s skip dinner tonight and play UNO!” It was her new obsession, horsewhipping me. She couldn’t get enough UNO.

I hate UNO, but right now I’d give anything to play that godforsaken game rather than be stuck in this little room where God knows how many people have pooped.

I hear the back door open.


Female voices.

I’m saved.


More footsteps.


The bathroom door swings open. Standing before me is my wife and a small Hispanic woman holding a bucket of cleaning supplies.

“¡AY DE MI!” the small woman says.

And I start crying. Not because I’m free, not because I’m grateful to be alive, and not because life is precious. But because this woman’s sentence is composed entirely of Scrabble-legal two-letter words.

I could really go for some ‘za right now.


  1. carol0goodson - February 15, 2020 8:29 am

    I am so claustrophobic, I never close the bathroom door when I am alone, for fear of this happening. You have just confirmed that I am RIGHT.

  2. Debbie Phillips Hughett - February 15, 2020 9:03 am

    I enjoy a game of Scrabble, also. A friend of mine and I ended a game in a tie. He made up the tie breaker rules. I won with “beagler.”. We haven’t played since. Says he can’t find the game that’s sitting in the closest where a saw i it.

  3. Sharon Brock - February 15, 2020 9:33 am

    And don’t forget QI. Another good one. QAT. My late Grandmother never and I mean NEVER lost a scrabble game in her 95 years. Neither did my Mother. I am decent at Scrabble. It is the only game I regularly win besides Trivial Pursuit. I taught my grandchildren how to play board games and card games and they gleefully wipe the floor with my body. Yahtzee, Sorry, Monopoly, Gin, Spades, and a family card game we call Rinky Dink. Sad but true. They trounce me on a regular basis. BUT NOT AT SCRABBLE.

  4. Naomi - February 15, 2020 11:12 am

    Sean, have you ever played Upwords. It’s like Scrabble except that you can stack letters on top of other letters to make words. My husband and I used to play this, but we haven’t played it in years, primarily because he plays for blood and it takes too long to finish a game. I almost backed out of my engagement to him almost 45 years ago because of a Scrabble game. We were playing Scrabble with my brother and sis-in-law. The first thing that happened was my brother challenged a word that I had used and started arguing with me. I told him to look it up in the dictionary and I was right. My then fiancé got so frustrated that he just got up and walked away. My brother and my husband are too competitive, and I am also right; I took a lot of English classes in grammar school, high school and college. I also completed crosswords every day which helped me learn a lot of words that could be used in Scrabble.

  5. Joyce Mitchell - February 15, 2020 11:22 am

    I’m a Scrabble nut, too. Knew there was some reason I liked your writing!

  6. Susan Kennedy - February 15, 2020 12:15 pm

    Qi is also a killer two letter word!! And my greatest fear is being being locked in a stall in a public bathroom. Never mind that I could crawl under the door! 😂😂💕

  7. Alison - February 15, 2020 12:22 pm

    Oh, I loved this one! My husband and I have been married for 41 years, and every morning before he goes to work we play a game of Scrabble. He wins much more often than I do, thus my favorite rule…. Whoever wins has to clean up the board and put it away! When I do pull out a win, I will delay the next game for a day or so savoring my victory. That gets my husband begging for a “ redemption game”.
    It’s a great tradition!

  8. Janice Freeman - February 15, 2020 12:29 pm

    QI is another good word for Scrabble.

  9. Warren Evans - February 15, 2020 12:39 pm

    Since I play scrabble in units of 100 at a sitting, I loved today’s blog. I play on my Kindle set on hard difficulty infuriated if I win less than 94 percent of the games. What fun! By the way my first act every day is to read your blog. How sad is that?😜

  10. Elizabeth - February 15, 2020 1:40 pm

    Lmao, this is hysterical! Thank you for my morning belly workout!

  11. Ruth Ann - February 15, 2020 2:29 pm

    How long were you locked in that bathroom? Never mind. 2 minutes would seem like two days.

  12. Connie Havard Ryland - February 15, 2020 2:33 pm

    Literally laughed out loud. I’m a scrabble freak too but I play Words with Friends on my phone. Basically the same thing. I just can’t find enough people to play with me.

  13. Dawn A Bratcher - February 15, 2020 3:32 pm

    My husband & I try to have my mom and sister over once a month for a good game of Scrabble. We have been doing this for eight years and look forward to it, and seeing each other, every month! I prepare a meal of some kind, we visit and get caught up, then IT’S ON!

  14. Jennifer Stultz - February 15, 2020 4:24 pm

    Hey, Sean! I’m a Scrabble nut too and za is one of my faves. Also xi and qi. I’d love to take you on in
    a game on our iPhones.

  15. Linda Moon - February 15, 2020 4:51 pm

    I’m one of the very few females who would prefer the Bic-Pen thing to shopping, so I’m right there with you, Sean… but not literally stuck in some bathroom. I’d choose a real BOARD Game of Scrabble for this life-is-short-and-precious thing, i.e., my bucket list. Come to think of it, we’re all terminal eventually, so I’ll just get out the old board and play today, thanks to you, Sean!

  16. Mary T - February 15, 2020 8:32 pm

    I’m with Linda Moon. I hate to shop and I love Scrabble. How in the world does someone like me fall in love and marry a guy who loves to shop? Opposites really do attract.

  17. Mary Berryman - February 15, 2020 8:50 pm

    Hilarious, Sean!

  18. catladymac - February 15, 2020 9:44 pm

    MY Mama’s Scrabble rules would never have permitted words in a foreign language !

  19. Magmae50 - February 19, 2020 3:56 am

    Once when I was about 14 I babysat 5 spawns of terror that a woman claimed were her children. I went in to the bathroom for a minute and one of the kids pulled the door knob off. That left me, just like you, with nothing to open the door with. I finished my business, jumped up to wash my hands and grabbed a toothbrush over the sink and stuck it in the door knob hole and turned it as if I’d done it a hundred times. I think it was a miracle. When I ran out to find the 5 kids ages 2 -9 already trying to pop pocorn in a cast iron frying pan with out a lid on the gas stove. I grabbed the lid, slapped it on the pan and screamed what I hope the Miracle Worker has forgiven me for “If any one of you messes with me or messes up the rest of this day I will beat you with this hot frying pan! Do you understand me?”” Even the 2 year old nodded in silent agreement. The rest of the day went well and when I left they were begging me to return. I never did. I’d had my brush with Satans minions.

  20. Cindy - March 21, 2020 1:23 am

    Scrabble lover for life. My grandma taught me and could still beat everyone around the table at 89. Thanks for a great story.

  21. Sonya Tuttle - June 9, 2020 12:36 pm

    I love a generic version of Scrabble called “Words with Friends” and it is the first thing I do every mornin as I drink my coffee. I understand your entire column and am smiling at it. Not because you are stuck in the bathroom, but because you know how to make the best of a situation!


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