I’m a decent Scrabble player. I don’t want to toot my own trombone, but I’m not easy to beat. Scrabble is the only game I’m any good at. And I mean the only game.
I stink at all other forms of play. When I play chess, my opponent has to constantly remind me not to use the bishop piece to clean my teeth. I have never won at Monopoly. Playing Twister is how I ended up married.
When I was a kid, I liked playing Operation. But my gameboard never had batteries, so we played using the honor system. This led to many fights among boys. So my mother threw it away.
No, Scrabble is my game. And make no mistake, I am a fearsome opponent.
A common myth among the uninitiated is that Scrabble is for people who have big vocabularies. Not at all. The path to victory is knowing a little-known list of bizarre two-letter words that you would swear are fake words, but are actually in the official Scrabble Dictionary. Words like: “ao,” “ko,” “xu,” “ua,” and my all-time favorite, “za.”
You throw “za” onto the board at just the right moment and you’re looking at a possible 2,457 point lead. Maybe more. I have won a handful of matches with this one word.
My mother taught me how to play Scrabble. I was a child and not that interested in the game at first. My mother is a passionate Scrabble player.
I remember that first game. The pieces came in a nondescript 1950s burgundy box. It looked nothing like the entertainment sold in today’s world. There were no flashy graphics, no bright colors. Only little wooden tiles and a beige gameboard that looked about as interesting as an air-conditioner service manual.
To kids many kids of my era, Scrabble was considered lame. In some circles, it was called “el lame-oh.” On the International Fun Scale, it ranks only a few notches above wax suppositories.
But not to me. I loved Scrabble from the beginning. Although I could never beat my mother at Scrabble. She could whip me hard without even using more than two letters at a time.
The main thing you have to watch out for when playing Scrabble is liars. I’m serious. If you were to ask the Official Scrabble Umpires what the biggest threat facing the Scrabble Association is, they would say, big fat liars, or BFLs, as they are known by game officials.
BFLs are the people who make up words which are totally bogus. Some of these people have turned word-faking into an artform.
I’ve encountered such phony jargon as “karafus,” “moaster,” “tillow,” “shannt,” and my personal favorite, “busheez.”
During one particular game, my BFL cousin swore on his mother’s eyes that the word “grolde” was a precious mineral found within the California mountains.
Your only choice when confronted with a BFL is issuing a formal challenge. But challenges are tricky. Because if you aren’t ONE HUNDRED percent certain the word is fake, you could lose a turn. And you might lose the game.
So when you’re having an argument with your cousin, who keeps insisting that his wedding ring is made of 24-carat grolde, before you challenge, you must be unwaveringly certain that he is totally full of busheez.
Because things get complicated when you start consulting the Scrabble Dictionary. They have whacked-out rules that don’t make sense.
For example, the word “Christmas” is not approved by the official Scrabble rules. But some dictionaries are now including “innit” (slang for “isn’t it”) is perfectly legal. And words like “zyzzyva,” (a tropical weevil) or “thang” (slang for thing). Which is just ridiculous, innit?
So anyway, I play Scrabble every day on my phone. I usually keep four or five games going at once. I win almost every match, but I’m a nice guy about it. I never gloat or write articles stating how fabulously awesome I am.
Still, you can’t change the facts. And the fact is: I win a lot.
At least, I used to.
That’s all over now.
Because something has happened. It started a week ago. It was a day like any other. The computer matched me with a random opponent.
My opponent said his name was Brad, he’s from Maine. He beat me once. Twice. Three times. Six times. He has beat me 14 times now. Our last game lasted two whole days. He whooped the pine tar out of me. I have never played against a guy like Brad. Not in my life.
I knew this man was different from the opening word he played during our first game. “Zaxes.” It was, without a doubt, his tour de force. And in plural form.
When someone puts down a 42-point opening move, you know you are in the presence of a great man.
We played until late last night. It was, perhaps, one of the most grueling experiences of my adult life, aside from the time I helped lead a Baptist youth nature camping trip.
When Brad delivered the final blow, I was already falling behind by 23 points. Brad played the word “into” to win the game. There I was, lying dead on the battlefield.
I was so overcome with admiration that I had to message my opponent and tell the man that he is my new hero. Our conversation went like this:
“Brad,” I messaged, “you are the man!”
“Thx,” he replied.
“You played a great game.”
“LOL!! Thx. U2”
“LOL! I would but I can’t, mom says I got to brush my teeth.”
I’m going back to playing Operation.