Most people of my generation, I suspect, will have heard this phrase wearisomely often over the years: “Working hard, or hardly working?” Had my father been alive to hear my shrieks when I began playing Scrabble seriously, he would surely have said, “Playing hard, or hardly playing?”
In the beginning I was hardly playing, though I didn’t realize it. When I bought an iPod Touch a couple of years ago and cluttered it with (mostly free) apps that I (mostly never) use, I was delighted to begin playing Scrabble against the computer. I didn’t bother to check out the app very thoroughly; I just started playing. I was pleasantly surprised that I usually won my games. That was before I realized that I was playing on the “Normal” level. (My dad would have had a derogatory joke to make here as well.) I promptly switched to the “Hard” level, despite the icon’s grim red face, and my eyes were opened.
Hard-level games bore little resemblance to the family Scrabble games of my childhood. Words I had never seen before, much less heard anyone speak, began popping up over the board like a rash, and I began losing by massive margins. Here’s what I wrote at the time on Facebook:
In short order I was pelted with unfamiliar words (pintle, anyone? qintar?), questionable plurals (zeals? muttons?) and spellings (gapy?), words cribbed from other languages (jeu), words that looked like Germans were trying to pronounce English (ichnite!), and what I am convinced is Klingon (gttyma).
The Hard level was mopping the floor with me. But I was learning, albeit painfully. Eventually I discovered the pleasures of playing actual people, from my ever-persevering, sweet cousin-in-law-once-removed to a Pakistani man who lives in Toronto and used to play in tournaments (I beat him perhaps four times thanks to stunningly good tile draws; he beat me perhaps 20 times thanks to stunningly good ability). My memory, I’m sorry to say, is not what it used to be, but I’m hanging on to the meanings of as many unfamiliar words as possible. Zori? Check. Chon? Check. Dol? Check. Most new words, however, I promptly forget.
I’m not a Scrabble expert. The dirty truth is that I’m now a Scrabble addict. I check my ranking obsessively and keep several games active all the time so that I usually have at least one play to make at any given time. Most telling of all, I have actually purchased a book about playing Scrabble. For my sister and some of my friends, this is going too far. But forget support groups; forget interventions. Don’t take my words away from me. Instead, help me celebrate the fact that a few days ago I bagged my first triple-triple bingo, droppers, for 158 points. Now that’s a rush.