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Laurence Inman’s Blog

ABSOLUTELY SCRABULOUS

04-06-2009

scrabble

It’s Laurence Inman’s secret addiction. Hear how a mild mannered literary gent becomes a hard nosed keyboard killer.

When I was a student I shared a house with three other blokes. We didn’t spend much time in this house because it was (or had become) a total slum. The Brook on Chorlton Green was much more welcoming, and they served beer as well.

For Christmas that year my Aunt Lil gave me a box of Scrabble. I took it back to the ‘house’ in January.

‘Oh good,’ said the others. ‘Now we can spend less time in the pub and do something interesting and constructive with our time!’

(No mention of doing any studenting, you’ll notice.)

First we tweaked the rules slightly. You didn’t have to make just one word each go. You could get rid of letters all over the place in your turn. You had to do this to earn the extra fifty points. If you made a single word with all your letters you got a hundred. And you got the doubles and trebles for words and letters, even if they had already been awarded for somebody else’s words.

Individual scores of over a thousand were fairly common.

Then there were the little tiffs we had about what defined a real word.

It’s no good using a particular dictionary if one other person claims he has seen the word fozblurch in the 1932 edition of Webster’s (now revised and conveniently out of print.)

You can’t prove that aeeeiuy is not commonly used in some Scottish dialect only heard now in one village in Sutherland.

Most games turned into a cross between a linguistics seminar (’Surely, anything can be a word’) and a Salford bottle-fight. One night someone took TWO HOURS over a single move. If we hadn’t packed the thing away I’m convinced one of us would have died, either from injuries or boredom.

I still see one of these chaps and he always asks me if I’ve found out what zycox means.

As Chamfort might have said, ‘A game without rules is just 22 blokes kicking shit out of each other.’

But now I’ve discovered Scrabble online.

It’s like a brilliant drug. You can’t cheat. Every word can be checked by some sort of cyber-dictionary.

You take on total strangers, so there are no hatred-hangovers. You can play over varying lengths of time; the 2-minute move is for ruthless must-winners, or you can choose the week-long game and get to know a little about your opponent.

Best of all, if one of you takes too long over a move then the other can make you skip your turn, or even forfeit the whole game!

This is so satisfying, I can’t describe it in ordinary words. It’s especially warming to do it to young, inexperienced players. (You can bring up everyone’s playing record as well.) I imagine them crouched eagerly over their screens, looking forward to their first ever win, when....click!

They’ve been force-forfeited by me. A second over time. Rules are rules. I was within the rules.

They rush downstairs to their mother’s arms.

‘Some horrible old man cheated!’ they blubber.

‘Never mind darling. We’ll get you a proper Scrabble for your birthday.’

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