Sunday, April 26, 2009

21st Century Scrabble

A cardboard backed board and 100 wooden tiles in a small, burgundy box. 4 racks to hold the tiles, a velvety bag (Crown Royal?), a pad and a pencil. No plugs. No plastic. A table was nice, but the floor worked just as well. The junior version had pictures, but the grown-ups got to play with pink and blue squares with little points around their edges.

That was Scrabble up until the Web got its claws into it.

First there was Scrabulous. Suddenly, it was possible to play on-line with strangers. Real time games on a familiar board. You could play and chat and challenge. They kept statistics and graphs and charts. It was almost like playing with the Little Cuter at the kitchen table, except that now she was beating me with alarming regularity.

Alas, Hasbro and Mattel decided that their rights were more important than our fun, and the lawyers got involved and there was a lot of on-line screeching but "the man" won and Scrabulous was history.

I tried Lexulous, their next incarnation, but there were no markings on the board and I like to be reminded which colors mean what. After all, I do have other things to think about, and game playing should be the most user-friendly of activities on the planet. Lexulous just didn't make it. It rarely was functioning when I wanted to play, and the lack of real-time chat took lots of the fun out of the game.

Plus, players had 8 letters in the rack, not 7. That was a serious issue for me for a long time. I'm not sure I'm over it yet.

The Little Cuter took us to Wordscraper late last year. The name is hardly as mellifluous as Scrabble, and there are still 8 tiles in your rack, but it's the most fun we've had together in a long time. We're in touch for no reason at all except that it's fun to play the game. We can spend an hour in each other's company when we're separated by thousands of miles. We can come and go and pick up right where we left off. With the "challenge" setting we can accept words that the game's dictionary would refuse (oy or doofus or zoot) and make allowances for mis-typings and other errors. They keep statistics and charts and lists of your best words.

There's also the option to play with random rules or to create your own board and rules. That requires an entirely new set of skills, and I'm not sure they are skills I choose to acquire. It's totally humiliating to lose by 700 points to a stranger, even if she does laugh at your chat.

Self-flagellation is not my idea of a good time. But if I can't have the Cuters sitting next to me, cyber-scrabbling is the next best thing.

"Children are the most desirable opponents at scrabble as they are both easy to beat and fun to cheat" Fran Leibowitz

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