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Online Scrabble

I recently began playing online Scrabble with a couple of friends. One of my opponents is an old high school friend. We live in the same city and have maintained our friendship over these many years—our kids even went to the same nursery school—and we get together for dinner and Scrabble regularly, alternating from one apartment to the other in a cycle of deepening friendship. Our online Scrabble is of the “normal” variety and a relaxing supplement to our three-dimensional games.

My second opponent—and a short-lived one as you will see—is the grown daughter of a good friend of mine, raised in Britain, who is now living in Italy. I have always found her so adorable and interesting that I thought it would be fun to reconnect via online Scrabble. So I invited her to play. Suddenly I found myself in a competitive game for points using filler words I had never heard of, nor could I find them in any dictionaries. The only pleasurable aspect of this game were the surprising British words—such as fairings—which, as an Anglophile who lived in England for a decade, I appreciated. American English seems attenuated by comparison and I cherish all words in the English speaking world, far and wide.
I spoke to my husband—who I can rarely beat at 3-D Scrabble—about my observations. Was my young friend using a tool to create words to get this kind of a score, close to 400 each game? “Most definitely,” he said.

Well, how did I feel about this? And, if true, is it cheating? I went online again, this time to see if anyone had written about the phenomena of “enhanced” electronic Scrabble. Many had. My favorite was this commentary: http://www.musingsat85.com/myblog/?p=5832

I wrote to my young friend to ask her if she used electronic “teachers” and “tools” and she admitted that she did. I understood that this new way of playing Scrabble is entirely normal to her, that it’s okay, it’ s not cheating. And, perhaps, if she had told me in advance, I would have felt differently, I’m not sure. At one point, I commented on the imbalance in our scores and was told, with an icon smile, that I wasn’t trying hard enough. In any event, I decided to say goodbye to my young friend on the electronic Scrabble board and to wish her well. Our two games were not fun for me. And Scrabble should be fun.

I remembered when my parents purchased their first game, the simplicity of its rules, the board, the wooden tiles, the invitations to friends and family every weekend to play a game, the breaks for food and conversation, the egg timer. As children, we were allowed to participate as helpers and later we were allowed to play with our own racks and tiles. Our parents were not native English speakers and finding words in English was a test in itself. The dictionary was only used as a final “authority,” and no one was allowed to crack it until a word had gone down and was challenged.
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