…but first, greetings from Washington DC! That’s where I am now, lobbying the government to do their part and save the narwhals, and studying at our most patriotic of schools, AMERICAN University, home to these guys who’ve been following me around over the past few years:
Dakota’s going to do some exploring around our nation’s capital, but first, he travelled to Philadelphia, a great place for Scrabble tournaments.
That’s correct, Dakota McKee is now a member of NASPA, the official national scrabble tournament organization. And, yes, Dakota is a NASPA member, not Aaron, although at the tournament it was difficult to remember this and I definitely slipped a few times and confused people when I answered to a name that wasn’t on my score sheet. But that’s fine, as long as Dakota gets all the points and maintains a strong national ranking.
The first thing you should know about scrabble tournaments is…sooooo many old ladies. But this is not the cougar life made real. I’m talking about the bridge-playing grannie set, or the ones who ‘gamble’ on penny poker in the common room of their nursing home. Ageist? Oh well, Dakota’s a human being just like everyone else.
But at least 70 percent of the people there are old ladies making up words. The rest are pretty much the kind of people you’d expect, scrabble nerds doing things like bending pencils and wearing glasses (I forget if I wore my giant Korean glasses that day, probably). There was the one attractive girl (in her late twenties maybe? And Jewish, although maybe not proud of it) with the bob cut but she was intense and super serious and scared the shit out of me because she reminded me of someone I’m never going to talk to ever again. Like cookie cutter shit. So Randi and me are not going to be friends.
Also, some RULES that were new to me (and so to you as well) that happen in tournaments:
* You can “challenge” a word, but that means someone loses a turn. If the person put down a bogus word, they lose the turn. But if you challenged wrongly, then the loss bounces to you. The word in question is plugged into a computer sitting in the middle of the room that has ALL THE ANSWERS, and it spits out a green “acceptable” or a red “old lady bullshit”.
By the end of the tournament I was getting really trigger happy, probably because I’d successfully busted “azingos” and “froggers” as made up crap (and “videod”…seriously?????), but later on I was tired and unfortunately the rule of thumb at these venues is to assume every word, no matter how bogus, is actually acceptable in scrabble.
*Boards are “custom”, brought by the players, and they sit on rotating tables so that you can always play with the words facing you right-side up. That’s a nice touch.
*Want to be a good scrabble player? You better be able to get at least one “bingo”-that means planting all seven of your letters down in one turn-and nail at least 400 points on a regular basis. Nobody was impressed by my ‘lame’ 325-350 scores. Except for me. I’m still impressed by my scrabble skills.
How’d I actually do? Well, not terrible, but a little disappointing considering I started out 4-0 and then lost the next three to miss out on $50 (which would have covered the train ride there and back).
In the last game I lost three rounds in a row trying to spell “yurt” with an ‘e’. And then they didn’t believe me when I told them this was a real word, just misspelled, as opposed to a fake word (qoph? WAQF???????????!!!!!!! more like WTF) spelled correctly.
It’s easy to say, after losing, that the fault lies with the losers, but here is my takeaway…….what does it mean to be good at scrabble?
I do not believe, at the end of the day, that scrabble rewards readers or writers or people with strong vocabularies.
In fact, I would sum up the relationship in the following ratio.
Playing Guitar: Playing Guitar Hero
Learning Words: Being Good at Scrabble
Yes, there is real ‘skill’ required in learning how to play the board and hit the bonus tiles, but at the end of the day, the way the ‘official’ scrabble rules are designed, there is too much of this nonsense going on:
Just look at this final scrabble board for more proof:
I dare you to use “oestral”, “coteau”, “lazo”, “Alan _”, or “forint” in a sentence, just to name a few of the ridiculous shit going on this game.
I’m also not a fan of the phonetic spelling of HEBREW LETTERS being allowed in a scrabble game. Vav??????? So is “Chanukah” or “Hannukah” the official scrabble word? Probably both.
Anyway, don’t ask a scrabble ‘expert’ to use any of these words in a sentence either. They don’t know. I’m not sure if anybody knows. Who on this planet has ever used “xu” in a sentence, ever, at any point in the history of the English language?
Except for “here’s looking at xu kid.”
When winning becomes about memorizing as many random two-letter combinations as possible, or how many words you can “spell” using an isolated u-less Q, then I think the game loses its appeal. It’s not about skill any more. It’s kind of stupid.
But but but isn’t memorization a skill?
Well, sort of.
But, I ask, what is the difference between “ou”, “xi”, “suq”, and “Alaska”, and just memorizing random strings of numbers?
Words are wonderful because they have symbolic meaning. That is their value, they denote text, sometimes even subtext.
Strip words of their symbolism and you just have…random symbols. “Q-o-p-h” is as meaningful as “1-7-0-8” or “$-*-@-#”. I don’t care if you can memorize bleep bloop bleep bleep. That shit is for R2D2.
In summary: scrabble is fine for a lazy Sunday, but it ain’t HOLO-CHESS.