- opinions formed while-u-wait! -

It is a fucking mystery to me why a game as bad as the Scrabble Brand Crossword Game is as popular as it is. I suppose there are two factors at play: the [you-can-never-go-wrong-underestimating-the-] taste of the American public, and 2) the tendency of human beings toward an unexamined, unquestioning, undying, and superstitious love of tradition. Because I really believe that in every important way Scrabble fails as a game, and that if it were released today it would be ignored. Why?

1. It purports to be fun for people who love words, but actually, if you love words? This game sucks. If you love words, you want to use them and see them used in interesting ways. A typical scrabble game will have like 20 words on the board if you make it to the end without shooting yourself. Most of them will be shitty words you could build out of racks like AEEEIRT. The odds that any player will get to play a truly cool word are exceedingly thin. If you like to see interesting words arranged cleverly in a grid, do the NY Times crossword, which is created by people who have the entire dictionary at their disposal, instead of a stunted handful of crap.

2. It impossibly favors those initiated with arcane knowledge. It is well known -- and accepted! -- that the key to winning at Scrabble is knowing a shitload of two- and three-letter words like QI, UT, DUP, IGG. This is not about having a good vocabulary; it's about learning a bunch of tricks. So many of these words are useful only for playing Scrabble. Can you see what's wrong with that? The game is eating its own tail.

3. It is almost impossible to actually play. By which I mean it is almost impossible to engage in the most essential element of gameplay, the laying-down of tiles. Once you accept the fact that you will not be able to play an interesting word or a 7-letter "bingo," you are still faced with a set of appallingly limited options. But you still gotta try to maximize your points, so you look for the best way to lay down the tiles FAR on the board. FARM for 4 points? FART for 5? Ooh! double letter score for the R makes it 6! FUCK YOU, SCRABBLE.
     Look, even if you are shitty at poker, you can still play the game -- you can sit a 5-year-old down at a game of 5-card draw and, though he may lose every hand, the game will proceed. But it's common to see four grown, literate adults huddled behind a ten-year-old's Scrabble rack, trying to find one legal move for the poor bastard.
     If you like to build interesting words in a grid -- which I think is the implicit (and unsatisfied) promise of Scrabble -- you should play the Scrabble variant Take Two (aka Bananagrams), in which you juggle an ever-increasing pool of tiles, racing against your opponents to create a crossword-style grid. Throw away your Scrabble board and use the tiles to play Take Two. Do it now.

4. It takes forever, and continues sucking. My ADD makes me especially fidgety during any game that takes over an hour. But at least some games are worth the wait. Scrabble is so intolerable because other people's turns are long, boring, and end with shittiness, and when it's finally your turn, more shittiness ensues, as described above. So what is the fucking point? Wait forever to be frustrated by stupidity? Sounds fucking awesome. Can you turn Jury Duty into a game I could play at home? How about the DMV?

5. The gameboard is shitty. After all the valid gameplay reasons above, this just seems petty, but it just shows how COMPLETELY Scrabble fails. If you sneeze or, god forbid, jog the board a tiny bit, the unanchored pieces will go flying all over the place. Obviously, I consider this a blessing. Some editions allow letter pieces to sit in little cells, and I've seen magnetic travel versions that solve this too, but the standard Scrabble set is fragile as the hips of its most devoted players.

So there it is. If you think you like playing Scrabble, you are probably wrong. Perhaps the sights, sounds, and postures you experience while playing Scrabble trigger some deeply buried Pavlovian associations. Maybe, at family gatherings as a child, the only time your mom paid attention to you was during Scrabble games with her sisters; you sat on her lap and she ran her fingers absent-mindedly through your hair, scritching your scalp, the most she'd touched you in a year. She sipped at her tea (she never usually drank tea, what a magical beverage!), rearranged her tiles on her rack, hummed occasionally, no song in particular, and she accepted, acknowledged your presence, your nearness, almost as if you were her good luck charm. Like... she needed you. She'd plop a little kiss in your hair and ask "you okay?" and no way in hell were you gonna say anything but "mm-hmm." This was heaven. What a wonderful game.
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3/17/2009 • link14 comments

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