I have no idea why I’m telling this story, but it’s pretty demented so that’s a good reason.
When I lived in Philly with my mom, me and a friend would occasionally play Scrabble (Ben Johnson, host of the International Sensation: Perpetual Chess Podcast).
While we played my mom would be going about her business, but occasionally peek over to make fun of our plebian words and tell us how bad we were. In some families this might be considered child abuse, but in ours it’s another way of showing affection.
Mom: “Did you seriously just use an S to play the word CATS?”
I would ask to play her, and every time the answer was the same “Haha, sorry but it’d just be no fun to play you, you don’t even know the 2 letter words, you wouldn’t stand a chance”. Of course she was right.
It’s possible she was still mad about a controversial incident from early in my childhood. She was going to play with her friends and asked me to count the tiles for them, probably to give me something to do. I came downstairs and told her
Me: “There were 98 letters”!
Mom: “are you sure? There should be 100?”
Me: “Oh yeah but two of them didn’t have letters on them so I threw them in the duck.” (Child slang for heating duct).
I’m not sure why I thought it was a good idea to not just use a simple trash can, but apparently these blank tiles really bothered me. And while my mom found it super amusing and retold the story for years, it also ruined their game.
When I grew older and moved to New York, I happened upon the book “Word Freak”, about a writer who decided to immerse himself in the Scrabble world. It was a pretty awesome read, and I remembered all of the abuse my mom hurled my way and decided I’m going to crush her at Scrabble.
So I did the normal thing and downloaded some software to help me memorize words. I holed myself up in my bedroom for about a week and quickly learned all the 2 letter words, then decided I had to know every 3 letter word. I also learned maybe the top 500-1000 most popular 7 letter words and maybe the top 200-300 8 letter words. I studied a bunch of important words that had key high scoring Scrabble letters in them: J, X, Q, Z. Lastly I played a bunch of training games on the Internet Scrabble Club, and could tell I was at least halfway decent. I was now ready to crush my mother.
I called her up and said “Oh hi mom, I thought I’d come visit for the weekend, are you busy”.
Mom: “No, it’d be great to see you!”
So I got on the train but I was there for one reason and one reason only: for the Ultimate Family Scrabble showdown.
I got home and pretended to just be there to hang out. Maybe we ate dinner, chatted for a bit, and then I casually asked “Oh hey mom, maybe we could play a quick game of Scrabble?”
I got the same answer about how I’m too much of an idiot to play against her, but somehow I convinced her to play. I didn’t want to sound like I was studying too hard, but I said something like “Oh I think I know most of those 2 letter words, so it should be fun”.
I completely destroyed her!! Very early in the game I played a relatively obscure 7 letter word…something like: ENTASIA. Basically a word that no one who doesn’t specifically study Scrabble has ever heard of. I won by almost 200 points. She couldn’t believe what was happening. She probably already realized it, but I had to let her know “Oh yeah, I’ve been studying a bit’.
She immediately challenged me to a rematch and played a much more defensive and strategic style. In the first game she didn’t take me seriously so left me a lot of openings, but now she knew she had to be careful and while my word knowledge was decent, I wasn’t really great at strategy yet. She ended up winning Game number 2. We went back and forth and I think I was ahead 4 games to 3 before I went home like a conquering hero.
Note that my mother, while taunting me for my subpar Scrabble skills, was always very supportive of both me and my sister in any games we pursued, and was always so proud when we became really good at them. It was fun to finally be able to compete with her in this game that I had seen her playing with her serious gamer friends for all her life.
I have since played one official Scrabble tournament three years ago and managed to win it (the Beginners section because it was my first time). It will probably be my last one, but who knows…maybe if someone taunts me enough I’ll lock myself in my room for a few weeks and play once more.