Once upon a time in a land without iPhones and Words With Friends, there was a young girl from America’s Dairyland who loved to play Scrabble. In fact, any time she had an opportunity to throw down a bingo (the Scrabble term for using all your letters in a single play), it was a happy, happy moment.
And since she lacked the finesse and coordination required to play any actual sports that involved, you know, throwing, kicking and the like, Scrabble was the perfect avenue for her fiercely competitive nature. On snowy, wintry days when she simply didn’t feel like trying a new cookie recipe (another one of her favorite pastimes), she’d been known to (gasp!) read the Scrabble dictionary just for the fun of it.
After all, most people believe it’s possessing an expansive, GRE-level vocabulary that makes you the biggest Scrabble threat. But the secret that I learned from playing many, many games is actually…
(Drum roll please)
Knowing all the legit two-letter combinations.
For the unacquainted, those are words like qi, ai, za and fa—the vital force in Chinese thought, a three-toed sloth, an abbreviation for pizza and the fourth tone on the diatonic musical scale, respectively.
And once you’ve mastered those (and trust me, there’s tons and tons of seemingly unlikely combinations), not to mention how to layer them properly on the board (a trick that yields the most points, even if the words are super short), there are slightly longer gems that are also pure Scrabble gold, namely words like turfy (covered with turf), jute (a strong, coarse fiber) and qat (an evergreen shrub).
Now of course, these aren’t words I’d probably use in normal conversation. To wit, when I’m watching football with Will, I never say the Metrodome is turfy. But it is fun (or a bit nerdy, take your pick) having a small sector of my brain dedicated exclusively to Scrabble words like “xi” (a Greek letter), “vig” ( a charge made to a bookie on a bet), “jo” (a sweetheart) and “ut” (the same as “do” on the musical scale in the French solmization system).
Whether I can work them into my new novel, however, is a different matter entirely…but a girl can try, right?