Love, Scrabble and Bookstores

Najah Masudi once asked me if there were any love stories about Classics Books.  There are.  Little did she know one of them was about her own daughter!

Dan Robinson and his wife Sarah Ohls play Scrabble at Classics Books.  Sarah taught Dan how to play Scrabble years ago, and since then he has become the most feared player at the club on Friday nights.  They are often each other’s most dangerous competition: Dan has won the Annual Classics Scrabble Invitational Tournament three times; Sarah has won twice and earned a commendation from Trenton City Council for her skill.  But despite this bare-knuckled rivalry, their love is strong.  They have two young children and they are still married.

Kimberly Brennan uses Scrabble at Classics as a love barometer.  One cannot put on airs while they are being beaten by a 12 year old. So, she brings dates to the bookstore to test their mettle. It’s like placing a new ingredient into a stew pot and seeing what flavors come out. She’s brought four dates so far and is curious to see if the fifth one is the charm. 

Kallah Masudi once had this boyfriend, brought him to a bookstore, and found that he didn’t like to read. She filed him under “C” for “CU later!”

Here’s a short story about love and Scrabble by Ganga Moongilan.  The year was 1978, the year of the horse, and also the year in which all of the stars in all the galaxies aligned perfectly and two babies were born. One of the babies was born in India and the other in Poland, two lovely bundles of joy and poop for their lucky parents to feed and feed some more. As the two grew up in their respective lands and cultures, playing and frolicking about, little did they know that their parents had bigger ideas for the respective families’ futures. Thus, sometime in the late 1980s, when clothing styles were rather questionable as most of us can see by looking at our family albums, just as the two children were ready to take their frolicking up a notch, they were unceremoniously whisked away on big planes and transported to America, the land of promise and immigration. One ended up in Chicago, the other in New Jersey, which raised their chances of meeting to about one in one million. Eventually the Indian child moved to New Jersey as well because apparently New Jersey was the place to be at that point and time in history. The two blossomed awesomely, approximately 45 minutes from each other, one into an Americanized Indian woman, the other into an Americanized Polish man. They went to school, worked at jobs, and did many things their parents would greatly disapprove of if they ever found out. They even hung out in the same neighborhood without ever meeting. Eventually though, all of those same stars in those same galaxies that aligned perfectly in 1978, aligned again in 2010, and the two met for the first time, a meeting that mathematically should not have had the slightest chance of ever occurring. Yet it did happen, and eventually led to a pretty exciting romantic connection that led the two of them to stumble into Classics Bookstore on a random Friday night. They literarily stumbled too because earlier in the evening the two of them enjoyed a responsible amount of adult beverages. They sat down to a game of scrabble, and the rest is history.  The End.

Of course things didn’t really end with the initial scrabble game. Afterwards they visited the bookstore a bunch more times, sometimes to play more scrabble, sometimes to buy some books, and sometimes to just say hello. It’s a nice place, you know. And the two still work jobs, and read books, and do things their parents would greatly disapprove of if they ever found out.


Scrabble Tips for Beginners

Here are tips for Scrabble beginners from Dan Robinson, the 4 time Classics Scrabble Club Champion, unquestionably the best Scrabble player in the club.

As a beginning Scrabble player, your job is to learn how to play the game and how to develop good game habits, not necessarily win.   If you build a strong foundation of game strategy and word knowledge, the winning WILL come.  (and it’s likely to stay)

1.  Rack balance– Try to keep a 3:4 ratio of vowels to consonants on your rack.  You will have more options no matter what the board offers.  If your rack is balanced, try to play a combination of vowels and consonants each turn to maintain your rack.
2.  Bluffing and Challenging– Like poker, bluffing is just part of the game of Scrabble.  My advice for beginners is that if you don’t know a word that someone plays….challenge it.  You may lose many turns, and ultimately the game, but it’s a great way to commit those words to your long-term memory.  It also keeps your opponent from playing fake words.
3.  Memorizing the 2-leter words– There are 101 2-letter words that are acceptable in Scrabble.  Memorize them.  They’ll not only give you words to play when the board is very tight, but they’ll give you hooks to play off of. Did you know that an OE is a kind of tropical storm?
4.  Offense vs. Defense–  A good Scrabble player know how and when to use offensive and defensive plays.  Your goal in Scrabble is to OUTSCORE your opponent.  Your goal is not to make fun words or to make one really high-point word.  Scoring 50 points in one play is great, but not if it opens your opponent up to score 51.  Of course, you don’t often know what letters your opponent has, so how can you know if they’re going to outscore you?  It’s simple.  You don’t know.  So, the best bet is to minimize your opponent’s opportunities to score big.  Playing defensively for fewer points in a turn is often a smarter move.
5.  Don’t be Afraid to Turn in–  Sometimes, your letter just stink.  If you’re looking at a rack of “UUUULII”, you could always play the word “ULU” (an Eskimo hunting blade) to get rid of 2 U’s, but that would leave you with “UUII” and three new letters.  Chance are, no matter what three new letters you pull out of the bag, your new rack is going to stink too.  Remember tip #1;  Leaving yourself with “UUII” and any three letters is not good rack balance.Sometimes, it’s better to trade in some tiles to avoid several turns saddled with a bad rack.  
6.  Make Every Turn Count–  Do something with every turn.  Improve your rack balance, give yourself a hook for next turn, block a spot your opponent could use, or just play the best word you can.  These are generally bad ways to use your turns – Playing off one tile with the hope to draw a specific one from the bag, passing and hoping your opponent gives you the opening you need, and using your high-point letters in a way that doesn’t multiply their values.  If you make every turn count, your game scores will improve dramatically.
7.  Use Your S’s Wisely–  S’s are an easy way to score more point in a turn by “hooking” off of another word on the board.  If your opponent drops a word with high point tiles, YOU can now use your S to get those points for yourself.  Suppose they play “Zipper” for on a double-word score for 38 points.  By playing a word with an S in it that also pluralizes Zipper automatically gains you 20 points.  You get the 19 raw points from Zipper, plus your S on the end, AND whatever word you make.  All you have to do is score 19 points with your new word to negate the fact that they drew the magnificent Z.  Remember, it doesn’t matter who draws a given tile, it only matter who benefits from it most.
8.  Know Your Style–  Play to your strengths. If you know lots of two and three-letter words, try to keep the board tight so that you can take advantage of your tiny words.  If you’re a great anagrammer and 7-letter words come to you like swimming to a fish, then keeping the board open may give you more opportunities to play those long words.
9.  Make Your Opponent do it–  There’s a rhythm to Scrabble.  If you see your opponent constantly benefitting from opportunities you’ve opened on the board, stop.  You don’t have to be the one to open the board, or get to the Triple-Word-Score.  Be Patient.  Sometimes, it only takes one turn of not opening up your opponent to shift the balance back in your favor.  Soon enough, they’ll be opening up the board for YOU.
10.  Scrabble is a Game about Points, not about Words–  This can be one of the toughest things for new players to overcome.  To win a game of Scrabble, you need to score more than your opponent.  That’s it.  You don’t get bonus points for fun, interesting or long words, (unless you get the 50-point bingo bonus, of course).  You may get 30 points for a well-placed “THE” on the board, but only 18 points for “QINDAR”.  Try not to think of the words as “words”, they’re merely code for scoring points.  At its core, Scrabble is a game more about board strategy and math than about words.  Like chess, think about your next turn while you’re making your current one.  If you have “ROGZSYY”on your rack playing GROSZ (a polish coin) this turn an pluralizing it next turn with GROSZY, while making another word with your Y will probably get you more points over two turns than just playing GROSZY up front, since you’ll be scoring the GROSZ letter twice in two turns.
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