Scrabble Challenge too much for this player

by Amy Kingsley

The paper plates that supported our dinners had been thrown away. The friendly chit chat in which we had engaged with the three people across the table faded. All six of us leaned forward expectantly, straining to hear the opening buzzer for competition ranking somewhere between Super Bowl and mathletes.

The history of most of my competitive endeavors has been, at best, undistinguished. The letter jacket I earned by some fluke of GPA miscalculation went uncollected from the high school awards closet. It did not bear any varsity letters.

Indeed, the proudest recognition I have earned to this day was making the bottom of the list on the Austin Chronicle music poll, bass player category, when I was 19 years old. It was a competition I didn’t even know I had entered.

Still, as I stared our opponents down across the raised Scrabble board in the ritzy environs of downtown’s Carolina Theater, I envisioned the glory, wealth and legions of followers that would surely follow my meteoric rise to board game dominance.

It was a classic match-up: Jordan Green, Danny Bayer and me pitted against a team composed of employees of the News & Record’s Alamance County edition, the Rock Creek Record.

Sure, we scuffle a bit with News & Record reporters for stories every now and then. But here was a chance to prove our dominance in black and white, or maybe red and blue ‘– like the tiles that signify double and triple word scores.

A few minutes before the opening bell, we had drawn tiles to see which team would go first. Their team lucked out, an advantage that would give them a double word score right off the bat.

No problem, I thought, strangely confident despite the fact that I hadn’t played Scrabble in well over a year. Then the opposing team threw down with the word ‘“huggers.’” Sixteen points times two for the double word. Plus 50 for using all seven letters. Suddenly, the plans I was working out in my head for an elaborate trophy rack faded to the background. A more pressing concern, how to answer an 80-plus opening volley, moved to the front.

The best we could muster was ‘“going.’” No q’s, no k’s and not a single double letter score. It was going to be a long 30 minutes.

Sure enough, the team that had described themselves as ‘“casual players’” pulled out a number of parallel plays, worked the board like tactical geniuses and put even more distance between us and them. They won the first round with a respectable mid 200’s score. Ours was about half that.

In reality, all of us came to the tournament knowing full well that we didn’t have much shot at taking home a trophy. Although our competitive juices may have flowed a little during the actual competition, the thing that really brought us together in that crammed lobby was the good work done by Reading Connections.

The Scrabble Tournament is the largest fundraiser organizer by the adult literacy organization, according to our opponents. My friend Sarah works there and has talked about meeting adults as old as 80 who want to learn to read. The goal is so worthy that I’m willing to be publicly embarrassed by my Scrabble skills in order to further it.

Besides the $35 entrance fee, the wealthy hypercompetitive could purchase ‘“sneak peeks’” and hints from roving members of the Winston-Salem Scrabble Club for $10. Unfortunately, that’s a little rich for my blood, so our team chose to rely on wits alone.

We regrouped for the second round and drew the tile to determine our order. This time, lady luck shone upon a few writers from the wrong side of the tracks (okay, maybe Adam’s Farm isn’t exactly wrong side of the tracks). We nabbed the opening double word score, and managed to eke out more points than our luckless opponents.

Still, our second round score hardly diminished the absolute trouncing we received in the first round. Jordan and Danny split for respective assignments while I ordered a glass of wine and waited for the results.

Our YES! Weekly team did not place in the final results. Top honors went to another News & Record team.

I chose not to dwell on the loss. Instead, I focused on where the proceeds from tonight’s tournament would go. Besides, I’d gotten a free meal from Carraba’s Italian Grill out of the deal, which is a respectable consolation prize for my wounded pride.

At any rate, I’ve got a whole year to dust off the Scrabble board and hone my skills for the next match-up.

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