Our Gaming System
There are a number of running jokes in our house. The commonest one occurs after Ann or I encounter an uncommon word in a news story or crossword puzzle. Its number of letters and their corresponding Scrabble values are quickly ticked off on fingertips. How we both ache to play all seven tiles from a rack on a triple.
Our Scrabble games are a welcome ritual. The average two-player game should take about half an hour. Ours don’t. I usually set the Deluxe Edition rotating board up on the dining room table. The window blinds have to be adjusted so that we can watch the activities on our street from a sitting position. We take turns selecting the music for each match, three or four discs. Ann leans toward roots and
. I tend to spin themes: British pub
rock, solo Beatles, three degrees of Ron Wood, New York City punk, reggae,
Ireland; stuff we’ll both enjoy but haven’t played for a while. Americana
We’ve adapted Scrabble’s rules to suit us. We abide by the Official Scrabble Dictionary, Merriam-Webster and
’s English and
Canadian editions. Anything goes. Neither of us has ever bothered to memorize
the game’s acceptable two-letter words. ‘Can I check something?’ pauses play.
If the word is good and we don’t know what it means we look it up together.
There is no bluffing between Ann and me. We do not lie to each other. Oxford
Our games run long because beyond concentrating on the board and the tiles on our racks and those which may still be in the burgundy felt bag, there are notations on the wall calendar in the kitchen: appointments, events and obligations to be discussed. Our conversations wheel: ‘We should pull out the fridge and the stove and clean behind and underneath them.’ ‘That black infill three doors down looks like a Borg cube from Star Trek.’ Smokers both, Ann and I take frequent cigarette breaks because there’s always more to talk about with each other. Our two investigative tabbies often check the flow of play, especially the drooler.
Around this time of year, weather permitting, we like to move the competition outdoors to the picnic table on the rear patio. The games are a little shorter because since Ann and I are outside we can puff on cigarettes over the ever-evolving board, no breaks. There’s no music either except birdsong and squirrel claws on wood fences. Leaves and branches rustle in the breezes. There’s an ambient hum from the nearby freeway that shadows the winding, green river. Somebody’s always pushing a lawnmower on our street while others walk, talk and laugh. Helicopters and jets fly overhead. And there are always sirens in the city.
Scrabble is a game of skill and strategy tempered by the luck of the draw. I frequently tell Ann that I’m one letter away from greatness. I am chum to her Scrabble shark though my game is gradually improving. If I rack up 300 points, the result is no longer a happy shock. The outcome, and Scrabble itself, is a secondary function to a thoughtful, shared activity; we rarely sit passively in front of the television.
Ann and I recently vacationed on
Maui with my sister and her husband. God bless them,
they’d thought to pack a Scrabble game. We played on their lanai. We were
sipping homemade Margaritas, fresh limes, lots of ice and good tequila. High
above the palm fronds I could see Orion’s belt through the dark. I was in
wonderful company with my family, my friends. I had a pretty good rack of tiles
and was eying up a triple. I thought, ‘Life doesn’t get much better than this.’
Ann took my spot.