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Scrabble Sends One Man Scrambling for Meaning

A certain word game sometimes leaves the author drawing a blank



Matt Collins

Chess never moved me. I played a little bit of poker and pool, but not enough to earn a nickname like Slim or Fats. No, my game was always Scrabble, almost going back to my days as a zygote, which, when pluralized to zygotes and placed propitiously, can score enough points to please a tsar or, better, a czar. Or, best, a cazique.

Anyhoo, before the Internet, we played Scrabble huddled in small groups, hunched over the board. We placed tiles by hand, then reached into a little bag for new ones to bring our total back to the ordained seven. We counted the points for each play, then added that number to our previous sums, and wrote it all on scraps of paper. Like animals.

But today, with the Web, wireless and smartphones, we Scrabblers can play our fellow afflicted anywhere, anytime: you can drop a quetzal on your pal at 4:00 a.m. for him or her to choke on over breakfast 1,000 miles away.

High-tech Scrabble, however, comes with a psychic danger unknown in the old days. After each move, a widget on the screen now offers to reveal the best play you could have made with the letters in your virtual rack. A game today thus affords competitors a plethora of regrets. And the worst come from not seeing a potential “bingo”—a rack-emptying play that earns a 50-point bonus. For purposes of public self-flagellation, I therefore recorded science-related bingos I missed over a few weeks in the early spring.

For example, how could I have not played CAMPHENE (73 points), when decades past I probably almost destroyed an undergraduate organic chem lab doing something with it? Or EPOXIES (96)? Or those important dyes, the EOSINES (61)?

I felt like a silly goose upon being introduced to ANSEROUS (131). I ran to the little boys' room after learning ENURETIC (61). And I was embarrassed to not know AMBARIS (77), especially because the fibers yield a hemp similar to jute, a word I play often.

Indeed, the list of plant words I failed to play positively bloomed. ORRICES (76), SEGETAL (76), INDUSIA (64), FERULAS (75) and the non-sea kind of ANEMONES (77) made me think that botanists might have a big advantage at this game.

As someone who really enjoys mushrooms, I should have gotten PORCINI (72). And as a bird-watcher who has seen his fair share of spoonbills, I should have realized that I had the letters to play ROSEATE (73).

In the physics world, NEGATON (77) is just another word for electron. If you can get the coefficient of friction down to zero, you have yourself a surface that's NONSKID (74). I was shaken not to notice GYRATORS (68). But if you want the power to FOREKNOW (104), well, that's metaphysics.

A choking victim hoping for a Heimlich would have been in trouble when I failed to play MANEUVER (84). If you're going to miss VIROLOGY (68), what are the odds you'll notice VARIOLES (71), unless your skin has been scarred by a pox? Geologists also use the word “varioles” to describe pockmarks on rock surfaces, perhaps the result of debris thrown up by BOLIDES (95) finishing their journeys through outer space. And if you're going to climb any rocks, a REVERSO (68) comes in handy.

How could I have not seen CAESAREAN (68), when almost a third of U.S. births nowadays are C-sections? And although I knew of the existence of the pregnancy hormone estriol, I did not know it was also sometimes called THEELOL (81). And for many mammals, pregnancy, a result of ALLOGAMY (86), begins before DIESTRUM (70).

The whole thing makes me want to find a few DEKARES (90) of land with a nice view and curl up under six feet of SOLONETZ (101). Perhaps after the burial, the assembled will say kind things about me as they exchange many words with friends.

This article was originally published with the title "Bingo Was Not His Name-O."

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