Finally, A Word Game I Can Love

June 12th, 2009

It’s Scrabble-icious!

People always think I should like playing Scrabble. The reasoning goes: “You’re a writer, you were an English literature major in college, you clearly like words, therefore you must like any game that involves playing with them.”

And maybe I would like playing Scrabble if it weren’t for those annoying other people who I have to play with, chief among them my husband who, while a wonderful guy in many, many ways, is so unbelievably annoying when it comes to playing board games that I pretty much refuse to play with him anymore. His main fault? The fact that he actually cares about winning and will resort to–ugh!–actual thoughtfulness toward that end, an attitude that wins him nothing but disdain from his wife who favors speed above success when it comes to doing, well, anything.

He takes roughly an hour to make a move, deliberating over not just which word will win him the most points, but what placement will leave me with the fewest openings. Heaven forbid he should allow me free access to a triple-letter score, let alone a triple-word one. No, by golly! If it takes him all day–and it does, Oscar, it does–he will find a way to squeeze some obscure word he can’t even define up against the existing words in such a way that all I can do is add an “a” before a “t” to make a two-point “at.”

Well, maybe I could do better than that, but I’d have to sit and study the board and think about it for a while and why would I want to do that? This is supposed to be fun, right? I spend my days staring at words, trying to make them work better. It’s what I do. So I don’t see any reason to torture myself in a similar way during my free time.

My kids are with me, for the most part. They’re slightly more willing to play with their dad, but when they do, I hear a chorus of “come on, just go!” whenever it’s his turn.

So when my then-fourteen-year-old son returned from a visit with friends, telling me they had taught him a great new way to play Scrabble, I had no interest in learning it. He was persistent. He kept saying, “Just try it,” and I kept saying politely, “No, thank you.” We might have stayed at that impasse if his father hadn’t agreed to give it a try. I drifted over to watch and it was revelatory.

“Speed Scrabble” is a variant that takes away the annoyance of waiting for your opponent to go because you’re all making words at the same time in your own space.

Let me repeat that: in your own space.

No more realizing that your #$$%%# spouse hasn’t left you the room to spell anything longer than “us,” because what he does doesn’t affect you, and the more slowly he goes, and the more thoughtful he is (damn him), the better YOU’LL do since speed is more valuable than length.

Here’s how you play it: you turn all the tiles out on the table, face down. You take the board and toss it far away. (My favorite part.) Each player picks up seven tiles and at a signal, turn them over. Now it’s all about being fast: you want to use all your tiles up, by making a crossword puzzle in front of you. You can make as many words as you like and they can be as short and simple as you like–they just have to all connect to one another in crossword style. Whoever uses up all his tiles first calls out “Draw!” Then everyone takes another tile. Now you need to incorporate the new tile into your personal crossword puzzle. You’re allowed to change your words around as much as you like.

Whoever is fastest wins. Of course, there’s an element of luck–you should hear the groans when someone turns over a “Q” or an “X”–but for the most part it’s about efficiency over thoughtfulness. In other words, it’s MY kind of game.

If you don’t have Scrabble, you can actually buy a dedicated version of this game called Bananagrams and which consists of letter tiles collected in a fabric banana skin–you play it the same way, I believe. We bought this version for traveling. It’s an easy way to carry them around and because you don’t have to share a board, you can play it on an airplane, each of you using your own tray for for your tiles.

So there you have it: a word game even I like. It’s probably obvious by now that much of what I like about it is that the emphasis on being fast means I actually have a shot at beating my husband. Slow, steady, and thoughtful may win the classic Scrabble game, but this game is all about speed. Just like me.

  • Betsy says:

    AND, in Bananagrams, the tiles are the color of bananas. I love that part.

  • rachelhamm says:

    I don’t like Scrabble either because I don’t have the patience for making big words and scoring big points. I prefer Boggle- my brother and I have gotten particularly good at it by writing down things we THINK may be words and then forcing the other players to look them up and laughing in their faces when the insane choice actually turns out to be in the dictionary.

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