Just for Fun

What I Watched Last Night: Word Wars

I love Scrabble and its online knock-offs. At any given time, I have around a half dozen games going in both Lexulous and Words With Friends, and I am known to see a word and think, “That would make an excellent triple word score.” My least favorite tiles are C and V. They should be worth far more than they are, and I like to get rid of them as soon as I can. Maybe it’s not the best strategy, but I’ve lost too many games where I was stuck with one (or both!), and since they don’t have any two letter word-options, I had nowhere to put them. J, Q and Z are far more useful. Still, my level of preoccupation is nowhere near that of the men featured in the documentary Word Wars.

Word Wars (documentary poster)Shot in 2002, Word Wars introduces us to four competitive Scrabble players. Three out of the four don’t have regular jobs and instead devote much of their time to the game. The fourth who does have a day job is the defending national champion. All are hoping to do well at Hasbro’s championship in San Diego, where the winner will receive $25,000.

Anyone who obsesses over, well, anything is going to have an unusual personality, and these men are all awkward in their own way. (One scene involves high-fives while standing by the urinals, to which my husband said, “Aw, come on. You don’t high-five. Bad bathroom etiquette!”) Competitive Scrabble tournaments don’t bring in much money, but players will often make side-wagers. A nickel per point, or $1000 for best of fifty games, for example. They study word lists, anagrams and the Official Scrabble Dictionary, and some like to take specific mind-boosting supplements to keep their skills sharp.

I found it fascinating to see their process, but part of me was also watching to mentally file away new, unusual words to use. Particularly if they helped me get rid of C or V tiles.

The best bingo score I’ve played was “quizzers” (using a blank tile for the second ‘z’) for 127 points. What about you? Any other Scrabble fans out there?

By Sara Habein

Sara Habein is the author of Infinite Disposable, a collection of microfiction, and her work has appeared on The Rumpus, Pajiba and Word Riot, among others. Her book reviews and other commentary appear at Glorified Love Letters, and she is the co-manager of Electric City Creative.

11 replies on “What I Watched Last Night: Word Wars”

“Aw, come on. You don’t high-five. Bad bathroom etiquette!”

Now I can only see plaques in men bath room ‘You do not high five’, I snorted. This sounds like a nice add for my To Watch Documentary list. And my boyfriend introduced me to the Scrabble world. I fail miserably at all time (except for dirty words, good introduction with my parents-in-law), but I simply enjoy pushing my brain on to less well-thread paths of words.

I bet my husband would agree that there should totally be plaques saying that.

Sometimes when I’m playing, I like to play words that I like, not necessarily because they’re the highest scoring but just because I find them interesting or funny. There’s the writer side of the brain coming out!

In a game I have going right now, my opponent played ‘vum,’ and I thought, “I HAVE to remember that.” Stupid V tiles.

My cousin once made the mistake of saying that his mom (my aunt) was really good and she agreed, and I said OH IT IS ON. I won. *brushes hands together in a satisfied manner*

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