Scrabble tips and tricks, please

For a reporter, Kate Saylors isn’t very good at word games.

I’m generally pretty forthcoming about most of my shortcomings: I eat too much junk food, I have difficulty thinking in abstracts, my car is perpetually messy, etc etc.

But there is one thing, one flaw, I always have difficulty admitting. I have such shame about it, but I feel that its finally time I own up to it, with the hopes that maybe some of you readers can relate.

I am a terrible Scrabble player.

When I was little, I always played Scrabble with my grandfather. He had a beautiful set, where the Scrabble board sat on a lazy-Susan type and the tiles felt shinier and heavier, more substantial somehow. He always coached me, frequently peeking at my letters and suggesting new words. If I didn’t know the word yet, he’d patiently give me a brief definition, sometimes sliding the Scrabble dictionary across at me if I needed a spelling. I have vivid memories of the old pencils he kept in the case with the game, and the sheets of paper tracking our scores. I don’t think he ever threw those papers out – in fact, when he died many years ago, I asked my grandmother if I could keep his Scrabble set. Our old scorecards were still in the box in his angular print.

Despite this early introduction, and despite how much I loved playing it with him, I have never been very good at it. This is something that never fails to surprise people on the odd occasion (less and less frequent all the time) that we play a board game, or that it comes up in conversation.

I think my lack of skill at the game has to do with one of the character flaws I will readily admit to: I don’t think in abstracts very well, so visualizing words from the tiles in front of me and how they’ll fit on the board is difficult. Pulling words from my vocabulary and making them fit into the structure in front of me: it’s the same reason I’m also not very good at crosswords.

A coworker says that vocabulary is only half the battle; a lot of her success is being able to pin a couple letters onto a word for extra points, and in seeing that added potential – in other words, Scrabble is a skill that can be learned.

I’ve also been reading more and more about brain decline, aging and dementia, and it’s freaking me out a bit. There’s significant news coverage, interpreting this or that scientific study, and the consensus seems my generation will have soup for brains by the time we make it to 80, with all the computer screens and cellphones we use. The research has been mixed, and I know I have a while before I start to worry, but I figured “brain games” wouldn’t hurt. I better hop on those crosswords too.

I recently started playing Words with Friends on my iPhone. My mom mentioned playing and I wanted to challenge her to a game. (It’s why I chose this app over the actual Scrabble app, though I’ve heard this one is the cheater’s version).

I am, overall, disappointed with Words with Friends, and not surprisingly, I haven’t gotten any better at it. My mom is exceptionally slow to play her turn, probably because unlike her Millennial daughter, she spends relatively little time looking at her phone (she does read this paper in print every week. Hi mom!).

The game’s built-in dictionary is also a little wonky. “Kor” is an acceptable word, and only after a Google search was I able to surmise that it was the name of a character from Star Trek.

In the gaps between my mom’s turns, I have taken to playing in practice mode; sometimes I’m not even sure of the words I’m playing, but if the computer allows and the word generates enough points, I’ll play it anyways. But, it does allow my to stay ahead of the computer, which is a small victory, I suppose – though it is neither good for my brain nor making me better at the game itself.

So, a call out to you Scrabble aficionados: all tips, tricks and word game-related advice appreciated!

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