Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Scrabble Squabble

I'd never played Scrabble before I met Andrew (one of many things he's introduced me to in the last 15 years--Peanut-Buster Parfaits, cross-country running, Taco Bell . . .) and though you'd think, as an English major, I'd have been pretty good at it, he beat me every time.

We're both competitive so letting someone win, even in the name of love, goes against our natures and you can bet he didn't cut me any slack. He's a One-Tile Terror, able to play one stupid little piece, a K or a J perhaps, and make 50 points from obscurities such as "jo" (no lie, the Scrabble Bible says it means "sweetheart--plural joes") and ka, "the spiritual self in Egyptian religion."

Jo particularly chapped the first time he used it. While I struggled to pull off legitimate words like "agony" or "defeat" for a measly 10 points he claimed jo was a word you'd hear every day, the verbal equivalent of ketchup, and surely I'd heard it before? But all the time I was watching and learning.

Soon our games were more well-matched. Either of us equally likely to go home with the Title and Prize Money, it was anyone's game, but that too changed. I've always loved puzzles--especially crosswords--and will tackle the New York Times puzzle when I feel like it. So over time my vocabulary grew in the Brief and Obscure Words Department while I also learned to worry less about size, and concentrate more on placement and value. In essence my game became fearsome.

I'm not sure when it happened but one day Andrew woke up to the reality that my "lucky" streak hadn't been broken in five or six games and the panic set in. It felt like that scene in Star Wars where Darth Vader confronts Obi Wan on the Death Star and says, "When last we met you were the teacher. Now I am the master." Andrew knew that his Scrabble Manhood was suddenly on the line and he played for real with all his soul.

But it did no good, he just couldn't beat me, not with words like "equinox" and (my personal favorite) "amoebas" flowing from my brain. Plus I had mastered the Art of the Bluff. Poker face? You bet, but the artistry is in the details. Let's watch:

Andrew: "Untrim? Untrim isn't a word. Trim, maybe, but untrim?"

Me: "Sure it is, if you're trimming a Christmas tree you can untrim it--"

Andrew: "But you can't untrim something, once it's been trimmed, that's it--it's trimmed, snipped, gone, quantity diminished, never to return."

Me: "Yea, but each year I trim the tree and after the holidays I untrim it before I take it down." [repetition of original assertion with confidence is a must.]

Andrew: "Weeell . . . I don't know, I've never heard it that way."

At this point the man's confidence wavered, remembering past defeats and he realized I could be right--who knows what obscurities are lurking in the dictionary. He caved.

"Alright." After he let it stand we of course looked it up to see if he made a "good deal." Unfortunately he had chosen poorly and Oh, the groans! "I should have challenged! I knew it wasn't there!" Yea, yea, I know, woulda coulda shoulda. Funny things is, I don't have to be right every time, the trick is to be right just enough for him to figure his odds and waiver. I don't have to be omniscient, I've got Crossword Credentials and enough pieces of the Greek alphabet floating around in my head to give off the impression of total knowledge, And that, my friends, is a valuable thing.

My "lucky" streak continued without remorse until the climax which came while on vacation. Amid the beauty of a Hawaiian paradise the rampage continued each night until, his patience exceeded, my sweet, even-tempered, no-one's-ever-seen-him-upset husband saw yet another defeat (456 to 172 give or take) and abruptly rose from the table, almost overturning the board--on purpose!--and said, "That's it! I'm never playing Scrabble with you again!"

I felt bad about the whole thing, I knew how I'd feel if I'd lost like that--and every time too--and slowly, gently, I tried to get him to play again when the pain had lessened weeks later. But he wasn't buying. He seemed to think he'd just lose again. I told him I'd let him win. That didn't help.

After some probing questions and a little psycho-analysis and I got him to admit that he'd be okay with me letting him win but if I really loved him, he didn't want me to let him know I was letting him win (follow that?) That's a tall order, taking a dive goes against my ethics unless my competitor is under the age of 10--oh alright, 12. So our beloved Scrabble went unused. It sat, gathering dust and cobwebs in the cabinet, waiting for the day . . . which came yesterday.

There was an extra cream-cheese frosted cupcake for dessert last night and when Andrew wanted it he offered to play Scrabble for it. Surprised, I asked if he was sure of what he was asking, if he was prepared to receive the full consequences of his challenge. Yes, he was sure and was I afraid he'd win?

No, not really. I'd only done even more crosswords since the last time we played--more than usual since I had extra time without Scrabble. Bring it on. Gauntlet received, release the tiles--watch out cupcake.

At first he was ahead, with a double-word score for going first and a good triple-word score while I had all i's, but things changed. I pulled out "harries" with the 50-point bonus for using all tiles and that 81 points put me ahead. It was my game from then on. I think it might have been the emotional trauma that 81 points represented more than the actual advantage but he never could get his lead back and soon became rather listless. Even the cupcake held little meaning for him. Tragic really.

Well, I offered to give him the cupcake outright but he didn't want it. No appetite. What he wanted was that taste of victory of which I'd robbed him so cruelly, now he was merely a shell of the Scrabble champ he once was. Suddenly my victory seemed meaningless--well, almost meaningless. I mean it still was felt pretty good to beat the smartest man I know and as a wife, mom and homemaker I take my thrills when I can get 'em. After so many episodes of Blues Clues I worry that I’m getting stupider and stupider every year, so if I can keep on top by beating my own attorney at America's favorite word game then I'm in.

Besides, I can always make it up to him with his very own batch of cupcakes and maybe I can coax him into a rematch in another two or three years.


Liz said...

Um...okay...perhaps I have watched one, too many, Blues Clues episodes...because, I swear...I "untrim" our Christmas tree, every year!

Thanks for the Scrabble tip!

allysha said...

My husband beats me at scrabble almost every single time. my competitive streak goes passive aggressive when he starts to really cream me. ("I could win if I wanted to, but I'm just not up to it right now...") we know all about the little words here, too.

So I'll congratulate you on your nicely honed abilities, but you can tell your husband he has my sympathy (prob. won't make him feel better).

mothergoosemouse said...

We used to play Scrabble all the time. Loved it. Even played on our honeymoon.

We do the same with the challenges too - after one of us agrees not to challenge the other, we still have to look up the word in question, just to see.

The Greek letter Xi is a great way to use the X to your advantage. Two-letter words can really make or break your game.

Anonymous said...

Aha to Mother Goose, I think I'm one up on your story. We played it in the labor room between contractions when Andrew's younger brother was preparing for his grand entrance into the world. MOMM XOXOXO

svea said...

love this post it made me smile, my husband and I enjoy Probe another ancient word game, though a little more like wheel of fortune in that you are guessing letters of hidden words, but we get VERY high levels of competition swimming around, but we laugh alot too. ps- i found you through misha's comments

Tim Appleton (Applehead) said...

That's a funny story. It is now the end of January, 2008, have you played any more times since then?