A shoutout to the unheralded victorious

November 28, 2010 at 4:03 PM 2 comments

As a bookish sort of person, I like to think I excel at playing Scrabble. I’m better than average, but I rarely best my three biggest challengers: My sister Pesha, who was valedictorian of her high school class; my niece, who has a PhD in a subject way beyond my ken; and my niece’s husband, a medical doctor. I can begin with a decent score — say, 30 points for my first move — and often hold my own for half the game. Suddenly, though, one of these dynamos will add “Q-U-I-D-N-U-N” to an existing “C,” or enact a triple play of seven-letter words along the lines of “B-R-A-Y-I-N-G,” “R-E-S-O-R-T-S” and “C-R-E-A-T-O-R,” and I am sidelined. No matter how serviceably I have been playing, I will spend the rest of the game limping along 40, 50, even 150 points behind.

This weekend when Pesha and I were visiting my parents, we binged on Scrabble the way other addictive personalities abuse gin. By the third game, my sister used my aptly placed “U” from my own seven-letter mop-up — U-N-S-A-V-O-R-Y – to play the word “S-Q-U-E-A-L-E-R-S. That’s a nine-letter word netting two triple-word scores for a total of 203 points. She slid into home plate with a final score in the 440s. I too had my best-ever score in the low 420s. Yet once again my efforts were feeble in the face of the Scrabble-meister.

One of my shortcomings as a Scrabble enthusiast is my disdain for so-called Scrabble words, mutations such as “na” — a variant of “nah” — and “tipi” instead of “teepee” — that serve to block your opponent from building out more conventional high-scoring words. Just because a romance writer once wrote about the steamy passion of an Arapaho maiden for a Nebraska cattlehand in a plains “tipi,” should the Scrabble dictionary legitimize the unauthorized spelling? On the grounds that orthography, not to mention human comprehension, profited greatly from standardized spelling, “tipi” ought to be banned from play. What’s to stop somebody — me, for example — from putting down “potatobird” if I can define it as a finch that flits from potato plant to potato plant? True, the word hasn’t made it to a standard dictionary, but maybe now that I’ve used it on a blog post, some Web crawler will ferret it out of the WWW and include it in the next edition of the Scrabble dictionary.

Pesha’s magnificent Scrabble score got us to talking about our small, unwitnessed victories. She consistently plays like a devil, peeling off two seven-letter words in a row, dropping the “Z” and “J” on triple-letter spots that catapult her leagues ahead of me, yet as long as she plays in such recondite venues as our parents’ home, nobody will ever know how good she really is.

In the same vein, it may well be that a Frenchman named Edouard-Leon Scott de Martinville recorded sound seventeen years earlier than Thomas Edison. But Edison had the pluck to grab the spotlight. Many of us little people indeed have a speck of singing ability, literary skill or Scrabble prowess, but unless we record it for posterity, nobody will ever know how we excelled. You cannot help but wonder what feats of intellect, artistry and athleticism occur routinely and privately without ever boosting us past the anonymity of our own lives.


Speaking of unsung talents, this weekend I saw The King’s Speech, a movie about the struggle of England’s King George VI to overcome a lifelong stammer when the English people needed to understand him the most. The unsung hero in this case is the King’s speech therapist, Lionel Logue. He was an Australian expat without academic credentials of any kind, and yet he succeeded in helping George VI find a voice that inspired the British to fight against Nazism. I dare say most of us Americans never knew a thing about him. Go see this wonderful film and you will understand why Geoffrey Rush and Colin Firth are such brilliant actors.

Back to www.bookpod.org


Entry filed under: Family, Games. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

The various offerings of the world Just let me sleep!

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sara Bennett  |  November 29, 2010 at 7:06 AM

    I’m going to forward this to all my scrabble friends.

  • 2. Greg Zsidisin  |  December 1, 2010 at 11:28 AM

    Barbara, if I may, it isn’t so much that Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville didn’t have “the pluck to grab the spotlight.” Rather, it’s that he couldn’t “think out of the box.”

    His “phonautogram” recorded sound graphically, and couldn’t reproduce sound on its own. Scott de Martinville didn’t think outside his box to see the possibilities of reproducing sound, something Edison grasped. (A surviving phonautogram did recently yield the oldest known voice recordings, but only after scientists interpreted and processed the graphical recording into sound.)

    Woody Allen has a hilarious take on this phenomenon – his “account” of the invention of the sandwich, “Yes, but Can the Steam Engine Do This?” His Earl of Sandwich stacks slices of bread together, is obsessed with cold cuts, meets with Voltaire who is doing interesting work with mayonnaise… he knows he’s onto something big!

    Of course, Scott de Martinville might have benefitted by some better PR. Maybe he could have reinvented himself as “Ed de Mart” or rebranded his phonautogram as – I dunno – the “iPod”?


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