Competitive Scrabble is analogous to a hundred meter sprint while recreational Scrabble is comparable to a loping cross country jaunt. Each has its own training regimen.
Preparing for competition requires accumulating an extensive data base of all the permutations of two and three-letter words as well as the variable word spellings transforming nouns to verbs and adjectives to adverbs all under the pressure-cooker constraint of all-consuming eyes perusing every nuance for a flaw or misstep and the ubiquitous timer blasting its way through incessant pounding of its stop-go button for a terminal 25-minute race to a mindless finish. There is the incessant threat of the strategic challenge that incites more than a lowly bit of self-doubt about the reliability of one’s own data base of trustworthy information, the pool of personal useful vocabulary. Then there is the stomach-churning, mind-boggling uncertainty of being able to select the just-right combination from the plethora of possibilities. It entails keeping track of the number of available letters and presents the never-desired but always-necessary option to change existing tiles for the uncertainty in the bag at the cost of a precious turn. Yet there is no guarantee that the change will be beneficial.
The recurrent question looms, “Do I keep the certainty of what I have, or should I choose the uncertainty of what’s behind door number three?” Is the reward for this 25 minutes of agony worth the mental anguish, the anxiety, the tortuous trail to a podium position in Dante’s competitive Inferno, and the stress of possibly losing a game of intellectual aerobics? Do I throw away the chess-like timer, pull out the reference books, and let neologisms and archaisms dance playfully in my head?
I prefer the scenic route where I can leisurely peruse the board of 441 possibilities and delicately toy with the words already played and monotonously re-scramble the multiplicity of promises that linger in the realm of all possibilities poised on my rack. I enjoy the option of calling for a mutually enjoyable lunch break of cold-pack chicken parts from Ya Ya’s while conjuring new ways to plant Z’s and X’s on quad value squares with a calendar as my only timer. I prefer the social value of interacting with my friendly opponent with gentle interrogatives like, “Whatcha got now?” Then she smiles wanly and she shows me that her J, K, two D’s and Q without a U are difficult to meld with her two O’s. I comfort her with the unfulfilling fact that the best she could do with that mess is DODO and DOJO, but something else on the board might help. We share a leg and a wing each. She soberly changes her letters and I play ZEUGMA with the Z on a quadruple letter bonus square and the M on a double word for a cool 96 points. But her change of letters garnered her a Bingo worth 128 added to her already massive total. We were both happy.
Recreational Scrabble is far less stressful and more rewarding than the volatile atmosphere of the competitive version. At my age, I don’t need to prove I am better than my competition. I just relax and let the scores speak for themselves.