Some of our greatest family squabbles have resulted from Scrabble. Imagine my massively over-educated father attempting to convince us that some obscure law term is, in actuality, a 34-point word that we should give him credit for. Or my rather precocious younger sister trying to pass off an Italian musical term as having made its way into the English dictionary. Such violations are not tolerated by the supreme arbiter of Family Scrabble, my logophillic mother, whose vocabulary seems to expand with every game.
For a long time, I was mildly ashamed of my family's fanatically and potentially lethal obsession with Scrabble. I assumed that Scrabble players consisted solely of freakish families like mine and devoted grandchildren trying to amuse their grandmothers after dinner. How ignorant I was.
After visiting the official website of the National Scrabble Association (NSA) (www.scrabbleassociation.com) I realized that a manic passion for Scrabble is a quality shared by many. The NSA website proved to be a wellspring of information regarding Scrabble technique, strategy and, most importantly, tournaments.
In family games, one learns by trial and error. Strategy develops over time as one learns how to lay out words for optimum point acquisition and to prevent others from using desirable squares, such as the ever-elusive "triple word score." There is room for error, and a meager 10-point word will never ruin a game.
In the world of competitive Scrabble, as I learned from the NSA, even the most Lilliputian blunders are Scrabble suicide. Players go through extensive training in vocabulary and strategy, practically memorizing the massive Official Scrabble Dictionary and perfecting their word placement technique.
Their knowledge extends beyond simple word definitions and spellings; a true Scrabble champion must also be a master of anagrams, hooks, ana-hooks, blana-grams, extensions and sub-anagrams.
Of recent controversy in the cut-throat international Scrabble circuit is the use of "SOWPODS," a combination of the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary (OSPD) and the Official SCRABBLE Words (OSW), the former British word source. As of January 2003, all British clubs and tournaments began to use SOWPODS on a regular daily basis, along with the rest of the Scrabble game-playing word. However, North Americans, along with a few other regions, continue to use a different word source.
This dictionary discrepancy leads to the question of whether or not North Americans should go to the trouble of adding an extra 25,000 plus words to their vocabulary for the sake of matching international competitors word for word.
Top Scrabble competitors seem to think the key to scrabble mastery comes in the form of two-letter words. That's right, two-letter words. Try using "CH," "KY" or "UR" in your next home Scrabble match, and dazzle your opponents with your verbal prowess.
Interesting and luciferous as my foray into the world of competitive tournament Scrabble was, it left me slightly intimidated. As the current champion of the Perelli-Minetti Semi-Annual Ultimate Kitchen Table-Top Tournament of Death, I considered myself a fairly proficient player. However, after reading a short list of some of the words competitive Scrabble players must master, I concluded that my place in the Scrabble world is forever limited to games among family and friends. This does not mean, however, that I will not use the new words I have learned in our next family game.
Scrabble isn't just for English majors and grandmothers any more, and it certainly doesn't require mastery of entire dictionaries. I encourage all to go play the game that has been entertaining for almost 50 years. Who knows, maybe you'll learn something new.