The 2017 Great American Escape
It is difficult to adequately explain the intensity of a five-day Scrabble tournament to one who has never experienced it. Yes, it is a grind to play seven or eight games per day for days in a row. And you can’t help but notice the yawns and drooping expressions on the faces of the competitors when the last round of the day is underway and it’s close to 6 p.m. But we always come back for more, spending thousands of dollars and our precious annual vacation time to fly and drive around the country to do it again. As one of my opponents here at Word Cup 7 explains, “it’s like heroin to the vein.”
Merry Scrabble addicts all are we, counting the days until the next tournament, eagerly anticipating the next fix.
Scrabble truly is an all-ages game, as is borne out by the wide range of players here. Over the last few days, for example, I have been soundly trounced by a boy who is on his summer vacation after having finished seventh grade, as well as by a very old lady who has to be close to age 90. The boy, who has won prize after prize here, tells me that he practices with his mom’s boyfriend. Then he kills me by over 150 points. The old lady tells me that winning or losing doesn’t much matter to her and that she’s just glad to still be here and able to play. Then she puts her word prowess on display and proceeds to beat me to pieces.
And we come from all over. The tournament director drove here from Iowa, while the Minneapolis-St. Paul area is well represented by a contingent that traveled from Minnesota. There are players here from Arizona and Florida and Oregon. I am one of five Californians who made it out to New England for this event.
The local newspaper and TV station show up with cameras to shoot video and stills and interview some of the players. The mayor sends a representative with a proclamation. It is a big deal locally.
Many of my fellow Scrabblers have never been to Springfield before, but to me it is something of a homecoming. I lived here for three years while attending law school back in the 1980s. I am pleased to discover that a few of the eateries that I so enjoyed back then are still around and thriving decades later, serving new generations of students.
In many respects, however, it makes no difference what city we’re in when we are caught up in the excitement of the game. When we shake hands and shake our tile bags, announce our scores and hit our clocks, it’s as if we’re lost in another world.
“Hey, did you hear that Trump fired Scaramucci after eleven days?” one of my fellow players announces between games. Indeed, I had not. Accustomed as I am to reading three or four newspapers online each day, I suspend my usual habits when attending a Scrabble tournament. For here, under the crystal chandeliers in the grand ballroom of a big hotel, the world goes away for a while. All that matters is finding that next big play for 90 points, chasing after the elusive triple-triple and notching up another win on our tally sheets.
We have entered the Scrabble zone.