My Love/Hate Relationship with Scrabble

by Nitya Chagti ’19

In December of 2010, I sat in a tiny booth and frowned at the Scrabble board in front of me. To my left lay a page bursting with words, proudly proclaiming to be a so-called Cheat Sheet for CSW-12. My fingers flitted over the seven tiles on my tile rack as I contemplated my next move. My opponent heaved a bored sigh and patiently turned my tile rack to face him. Around us, other players were bent over their games. Silence, broken only by hushed whispers, had fallen over the top floor of the restaurant. The man in front of me clucked his tongue suddenly and tapped the board to get my attention.

“Look,” he said patiently, “you have a bingo – you can use all seven tiles in a word. If you put that on the board, you get an extra fifty points.”

I gave my tiles a cursory glance. He’d arranged them to read G-R-I-N-D-E-R. The word did not look right to me. I stole a look at the Cheat Sheet, but it was of no help – the only words listed on it were two-lettered or three-lettered. I did not know who to consult to check the validity of the word.

Grind-er,” my opponent said purposefully. I looked at him inquisitively, unsure if it was a word. He nodded at me emphatically. Noticing my doubtful expression, he elaborated, “Someone who grinds is a grinder. The official Scrabble dictionary is different from the normal English dictionary. It has its own words which you will have to learn. Now, tell me, where can you place the word on the board?”

I scanned the board. It looked completely overtaken by tiles. Unable to follow his instructions, I looked up and shrugged helplessly. Scrabble had stumped me so far. My opponent motioned at the board, urging me to look again. I bit back my frustration and said dully, “It doesn’t fit anywhere. It’s too long.”

The man plucked the tiles from the rack and started placing them on the board. I drew a surprised breath as he, in what I thought to be a stroke of genius, connected the G of GRINDER to another word on the board. He continued to place the rest of the tiles and grinned at me when he was done. Now there were two new words on the board – GLOVE and GRINDER.

Wow,” I said. At twelve, I was easily impressed by his demonstration of out-of-the-box-thinking. Staring at those two words, connected in a seemingly effortless manner, I fell in love with Scrabble.

As is the case with anything worth loving, to fall in love with Scrabble, I had to hate it first. I had to frown at the board because my tiles were incomprehensibly bad, and I had to blame a higher deity for my awful luck. To love Scrabble, I had to cram my head full of meaningless jumbles of letters, grumbling about it the entire time as I did so. But, above all else, to love Scrabble, I had to learn to win and lose. Without a win, I’d never have felt the exhilaration that comes with playing competitively, and without a loss, I’d never have learned to work for the next win.

Undoubtedly, there are days when the stress gets too much, when the words seem too nonsensical to care about, and when the ends don’t seem to justify the means. In the span of six years, I have played hundreds of matches in multiple state, national, and international-level tournaments. I have represented India, and have come out on top as the best Under-18 player at the 10th iGate International Scrabble Tournament in 2014. I was the best female player (having placed in the Top 20) at the 3rd GAIL International Scrabble Cup in 2016.

I am not afraid to say that although I love Scrabble, I wouldn’t love it as much if it hadn’t made me work for my achievements. It has made me resilient and determined to succeed. It’s also given me the courage to fail, which is a courage we all must have if we are determined to grow.