Scrabble In The Park

Can Scrabble or any board game for that matter become such an addiction, such an obsession that it completely consumes one’s life? I dunno – let me check with my kids Tile & Rack – they’re 9 and 6 and a half.

Journey back with me to late August of 2001. I was living in Las Vegas and was the bass player/musical director for an Elton John impersonator. We did quite a bit of travel-ing and up next was a city festival in . . . The Azores!

The Azores?

The first thing I did when Stephen, the Elton John impersonator called me with the gig info was to instantly figure the value of Azores in Scrabble – 45 points or more on a triple word, AND to anagram it – there’s none, but zeros and razes are still pretty good words to pull out, right?

Hmm – what was I saying about obsession?

So, we flew to the Azores, rocked the soccer stadium – we also ran with the bulls (sorta) and generally enjoyed a week or so on these beautiful islands.
Bob – could you get to the point, please?

Well, our itinerary was basically like this: a two-hour flight from Lajes, on the Azores to Lisbon, Portugal. After an overnighter there, we caught the first flight out in the morning for a non-stop to Newark airport.
Ever been to Newark?

Just the airport itself looks like downtown Detroit AFTER the housing meltdown – in es-sence, a war zone.
The flight was probably 7 or 8 hours – and as always happens when you fly from east to west you basically land at the same time that you took off.

Note to self: I wonder if somebody basically just stayed on an airplane 24/7, flying east to west, for life, would they age? Where was I . . .?

Our flight to Vegas wasn’t until around 9 pm, so I had about 12 hours to kill – at the Newark airport. Here’s what I did instead: I caught the port authority bus to Manhattan and jumped the subway to Washington Square Park down in Greenwich Village.

Why? To play Scrabble! Outside! Against Scrabble hustlers!
Washington Square Park is a world-renowned destination / location for chess and Scrabble. And just like our loyal letter-carriers, they play 24/7/365 and rain, wind, snow- NOTHING gets in the way of a game.

What was interesting is that the tragic events of 9/11 were to happen just a couple of weeks later, and just a scant few blocks away. I arrived and got a lay of the land. The park was bustling with activity – vendors, street performers – there were a ton of people. NYU’s campus is basically right there and the energy and vibe was amazing.

I wandered around, looking for the Scrabble gathering that I had heard about and was now about to experience. This was my own pilgrimage to Mecca. After a few minutes I spotted them! There they were!
I hurried over and was greeted by the following scene: seated at and gathered around several concrete picnic tables were a motley assortment of socially inept and hygienical-ly challenged . . . misfits – in other words, some of the most talented and gifted Scrabble players on the planet! Yes!

There were probably three or four games in session. The players, who were deeply en-grossed in plotting their next move would also engage in serious trash talking, whilst the onlookers would cheer, groan, talk and provide commentary – often kibitzing with the players themselves.

This was NOT your typical club or tournament – this was simply amazing. As a game ended I, being on a limited time table stepped forward and stated that I’d like to play next. I had no idea what the protocol was, but I wasn’t gonna let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity slip by.

The winner, a dark haired man of around 50 years of age said, in a thick eastern Euro-pean accent (guessing) “sit down, five dollars per game, five cents per point.”
I sat down, introduced myself – he didn’t care, dismissing my good manners with a wave of the hand – I’d forgotten that I was in New York City – and thus, we started our game.
Long story short, I held my own. He beat me by about 50 points with a late bingo . . . I might’ve lost $7.50, but I’d had a priceless experience!

A little while later I played another game. Midway through, as is quite common on a 90 degree plus day in August, a thunderstorm rolled in. As the deluge of rain started com-ing down, I got up to head for cover. My opponent motioned for me to sit and handed me a section of newspaper. He put a section on his head and continued playing.
Oblivious to the rain, and with the sports section for a hat I remained seated and we played just as if we were at the kitchen table.

What was I saying earlier about obsession?
We finished our game, and I started my journey back to Newark. Maybe my wallet was 20 dollars lighter, but my soul was eminently richer! I lost two games but won tremen-dous satisfaction for having sought out this amazing experience.

Now a word for the wise – these folks at Washington Square Park are SERIOUS play-ers. It’s more than an obsession for them – it’s their lives! They’re all in. And in the park, you can’t resort to scrabble cheat like so many online player do either.

Wanna play at their level? You can – with focus and hard work! Oh – and by learning all of my secrets at the ScrabbleHelp Blog!