Ugarles threw down the gauntlet. "You should go play Sowpods Scrabble in Australia!" If you have guts, he added.
I laughed when I read his comment because I had played a Sowpods game once with one Joe Grossberg and I was so totally lost when he played Gi and the computer let it stand (even thuogh we were playing non-challenge Scrabulous) that I think I resigned the game right then. Bullshit Sowpods words, I said doing my best imitation of any one of the lameos who won't play Scrabble with me because I play "Scrabble words." Boo hoo, I respond "there's no such thing as Scrabble words, just sore losers."
Anyway, it didn't at all seriously cross my mind that I would play any Scrabble during my two and a half week trip to Australia, save a couple of games in the airport with friends or maybe out in the countryside when we got bored. Well, sure enough I played in the airport. And in the countryside. After racking up a few pretty lopsided wins, no one would play with me anymore. Then, somewhere around the mid week mark, after moving my luggage to the third of five different housing accomodations, I started to feel homesick, which is weird cause when I'm home I don't really like anyone here.
Well, sure enough I called home, realized everyone I know is an assface, which was a comfort in a way since I remembered why I was so keen to hop on a plane and leave them behind. But I was still sort of feeling alone and stranger in a strangelandish. So I went to my friend the internets and found me a Scrabble club in Melbourne. I copied down the address, made Mary promise not to laugh at me and then took a cab to the address at the appointed time.
I got out of the cab and was met with the shut gates of a storefront. No. Good.
I walked up a few blocks to see if there was anything resembling "The Prince George Hotel."
I went into a 7-11 to ask for directions.
"Ah, yeah, it's up that way about three blocks."
I walked those three plus another four and still there was nothing.
I went into a bar to ask after further directions.
"Ah yeah, it's up about three blocks."
I started to wonder if "up about three blocks" was Australian for leave us alone you stupid American girl.
Finally, about three blocks up, I reached my destination. Hooray!
I saw a handful of players sitting across two boards, one guy was playing two games.
He kind of looked like your quintessential 60s hippie.
For one brief moment I thought about bolting. But then I remembered I had just walked twenty blocks, paid a cab $26 and had no idea how to get back to my hotel, so instead I walked right up to them and said
"Um...are you guys..." don't say playing Scrabble don't say playing Scrabble don't say playing scrabble don't say..."playing Scrabble?"
The looked up from their board and smiled.
"Um...I'm looking for the Scrabble club...I'm visiting from the States."
"No kidding," said the hippie.
"Be nice, Jerry,' said the friendly white haired man, "you can play with me."
Jerry scooted his chair over, so that now he was only playing the woman.
I drew tiles and started my game with Tim.
They played on funny Australian boards, where instead of writing signifying "double word score" or "triple letter score" they had like crazy colored squigglies. Now, I play enough Scrabble that some tiles I know instantly, but there are some I had to ask about.
Tim would tell me. He also kept score! Plus, there were no clocks. Oh, and Australia rule Scrabble (actually, everywhere except the US) allows no penalty challanges. Well, if the word is no good, you have to take it off the board and lose a turn. But if the word is good, yuo don't lose your turn for challenging it.
Which was good and bad. Good because since they played with the sowpods dictionary, I could challenge "te" without penalty. Well, I was laughed at and there was pointing for me not knowing a simple two, but I got to play my turn.
I caught on to the new twos pretty quickly" ea, ee, oo, ja, zo...just to name a few. And I gave up challenging everything else. I lost my first game.
I didn't bingo at all...the score was fairly lopsided, but Jim was kind.
My second game was against the woman.
I bingoed on her almost immediately.
She made some big plays with the x and the z, but in the end, I drew extremely well and beat her by ten points. When I won, Jerry, who basically ignored me, but for his snarkish comments when I first arrived, started to warm up to me.
He asked if I played in the Joel club in New York. I said yes, we talked a bit about New York and then it was my turn to play him.
A slaughter doesn't even begin to describe it:
He bingoed on me five times, he psyched me out of playing "quinates" hooking my bingo tannres onto his opening bingo. "Don't think you can do that love...or maybe I know you can, I just don't wantcha to."
And then he'd laugh.
And I got scared and played tanners somewhere else.
He was just plunking down words left and right. AND he refused to keep score. So I had to do it.
It was sheer misery.
And at the end I took my picture of the board and he said "why do you do that?" And I said "so I can learn new words."
He seemed to like that answer and said he wanted to play me again. This time he critiqued my moves and explained his. It was unbelieveable. I learned more about Scrabble from him in those few hours than I have from anyone on any subject in so short a period of time. He was like a savant...and someday when my word knowledge is stronger, I might share some of his strategy. Anyway, he said I was "pretty good" and suggested I play in a tournament that was happening in Victoria that weekend. He took down my info and said he would have the woman register me for the tournament. She agreed and she and Jim left.
I played about another four games with Jerry and by the last two he was only beating me by low double digits. And yes, I count 45 as low, especially considering the 200+ crushings I started out getting.
I went back to the hotel and I saw that I was registered for the tournament.
The woman had sent a lovely email to the tournament director saying: "Dawn Summers from New York was at the Melbourne Scrabble Club tonight. She is over in Melbourne for the Australian tennis Open. She would like to play in the tournament on Sunday, so I said that I would let you know and enter her. We have given her directions to get there. She may be arriving by train, but she has the address. She hasn't been playing competitively that long and said she had a rating in the 700s in the USA. I imagine that you will treat her as a novice.
Dawn knows how to play Scrabble, she beat me tonight! I have included her address in this email, so she will know that she has been entered."
Now, I don't know why I included that as a quote...except I guess as proof that I did beat someone in sowpods Scrabble on my first day playing it.
I woke up early Sunday morning and braved the cold, rainy Melbourne morning to get to the tournament.
Now, here’s the thing they don’t tell you about the “directions by train,” in Melbourne, the trains decide where they are going…oh…about three seconds before the doors close and they head down the track.
So, when I got on my train that said it was going to the tournament, but then it decided…nahhh, I’m not going to the tournament, I couldn’t get off in time and had to take that train an extra stop inland, take another train back and then wait for another train that was actual going to say it was going to the tournament and then actually go.
Tough fricking business, let me tell you.
Anyway, so I finally managed get on a magic train with my combination of saying and doing. However, I got there forty-five minutes late. Fortunately, since this was Australia, that meant I got there an hour early, whew.
I was indeed placed in the lowest division. Each division was divided up into eight players with a round robin format. Except the highest division which was four young guys. The youngest people in the room period. I ung out with them for a while until they started playing some verbal word game whose rules I didn’t even understand. And then I went to hang out with the only other American in the room and we both wrung our hands and cried over the fact that Knight Swam is a wholly useless mnemonic device in sowpods.
Damned, Tears Of.
Finally, the match was underway. My first game was against a tournament newbie. I explained to him about the clock, crushed him by 125 points and then showed him what he did wrong. Hang your j next to the triple word line? Mistake. Hang your z next to the triple word line? Big mistake. Play zoo when zol would have gotten you twice as many points? Well…you get the idea.
My next opponent was a seasoned pro. I bingoed on her pretty early – an impressive eight letter bingo using no blanks or esses!
I held a steady lead until I played ‘gol’ and she challenged it off the board. Then I started to panic. And choke. And lose, until I bingoed with nailset and she challenged it! When she came back to tell me it was good and said “she’d never seen the word before,” I was like…wow…she’s never seen a satine word before? I can so beat her. And beat her I did. By six points.
I then faced a black woman. She was fierce. She bingoed on me with both blanks on her third turn, used the j two ways, and well was pretty handily kicking my ass. The score got so lopsided I decided to rely on one of the Dawn Summers’ patented hail mary plays. She bingoed with seeming, so when I had a e f i n s t on my rack, I put the s under her g to make seemings and fainest. She said challenge. My heart was beating so fast. In the US, you challenge a whole play, so both words that I had made, but in Australia, you have to pick the word you’re challenging…and so when she said “challenge….fainest” I was sooooo happy since that was the one word I knew was good. Challenge invalid! I then bingoed on the triple line with reasons to pull even closer (can you imagine the score such that those two bingoes still didn’t give me the lead? Oy…) I finally took a small lead in the endgame, with no tiles left in the bag when I played vier.
She couldn’t make up the deficit and I beat her by the two ells left on her rack. Two points.
I went into the lunch break at 3-0. I was feeling good. I reviewed some of the three letter word hooks Jerry showed me and looked at the boards that I’d played. My next opponent was a WWII vet with no teeth. He played a very solid smallball game of three-four letter words for 25-35 points a turn. I, however, kept fishing for bingoes and he opened up a good lead on me. I finally got my seven letter word - as they call bingoes down under – and closed the gap and then played smart for the rest of the game. I ended up winning by six points because he misplayed his last four tiles and didn’t go out a turn earlier.
FOUR AND OH!
I was channeling Tom Brady. I was unstoppable. Unbeatable. I am the---Bang.
For game five, I ran into the only other player besides the black woman that I feared. And well, she beat me and beat me baad. She got to go first, I drew a fistful of iiieiou and had to exchange, she tilted her rack out over the board exposing the bingo “natures” and I had to exchange. It was disgusting. At one point I played a single I next to an h opening up the triple line and she punished me in merciless horrifying ways.
Disaster. I had lost my first game and was so bitter about it. Which, of course, is ridiculous. I was doing better here than in any tournament I’ve played in the states even though I was playing by different rules AND a different dictionary. Losing one game is nothing. Of course, I didn’t have much time to ruminate on my idiocy, the next match was afoot. I don’t really remember much about this game, she was an older woman, not bad, but not good and I dispatched her by 60 points.
I was back, baby!
For my final game, I drew another first time tournament player. She was the girlfriend of the guy I beat in my first match and she was terrible.
And I don’t mean me at that tournament in Queens terrible, I mean, she opened the game against me with the word Dome for twelve points using her BLANK AS AN E. SHE USED A BLANK AS AN E FOR TWELVE POINTS!!!
And so, I don’t know why, I just decided I was going to break the high scoring game record against her. And I did. She played quat on top of a double word square, I broke up a toners bingo rack to turn that into quate. She played live next to a double word square, I extended it with an n. She played help on top of the triple line, I used an ess to score sixty points extending it in two directions with an ess. I played an eight letter bingo, got sixty something point with a k on the double letter square hitting the triple word box. I was a Scrabble savant. And in the end, I had 547 points and she had a hundred and something, plus she went over on her clock for more deductions.
At the end of the evening the judges finished tallying the records and spreads and announced that the winner of the Ibises division was Dawn Summers our visitor from America!
I won a laminated certificate, cash money and a box of chocolates!
Oh, happy day.
So, yes, Ugarles, I have guts and cojones of steel.