Friday, May 20, 2011

That cheatin’ smart phone is insaning me!

In my husband’s family, Scrabble is a sacred rite. When we’d been married a month, they ran me through two holiday gauntlets: Grandpa convinced me to try Swedish pickled herring (ugh!) and Grandma invited me to play Scrabble. Though I never acquired a taste for pickled herring, Scrabble was a different matter.

Ceremoniously, Grandma Holm set out her deluxe Scrabble set: the fancy, turn-table playing board, the wooden tile-holders, the pink bag full of tiles she’d embroidered with “Scrabble,” a pencil and paper for keeping score, and three thick dictionaries.

It was “game-on”—serious business. Any confidence I had in my college English-major status was quickly shattered. Scrabble is a game of strategy, intelligence and skill, all of which Grandma possessed because of her avid reading which added luster to her eighth grade education.  I didn’t win that night and have seldom won since.

Scrabble wasn’t poker.  You couldn’t bluff your way through with made-up words. Confident Holm Scrabble players were quick to challenge an iffy word, ever ready to look it up in the dictionary and make me lose my turn. I learned to play it safe, and used Grandma’s dictionaries to find words like “skeg,” “emu,” “kea,” and “pi” to use in tight spots.

After Grandma died, we inherited her Scrabble game and dictionaries. Now we run our kids’ romantic interests through the same gauntlet I faced. One girl beat the socks off of us—I hope that wasn’t the reason they broke up!

 Grandma Thelma and Grandpa Art Holm

We recently spent a week with my husband’s sister from Florida, who inherited Grandma’s Scrabble skills and reminded us that we’re getting rusty. So this week, my husband and I faced off in our first two-man game, only this time, we played on the iPhone.

At first it was typical—dribbles of two and three letter words punctuated with an occasional flash of four-letter-word brilliance. Then we noticed a “best word” option that produced fancy words. 

My husband, who dearly loves his iPhone, said it takes a pretty smart phone to come up with “whelm” and “putrid” to net 40-50 points.

I agreed, until “best word” started floating bogus words.  Did I say that in Scrabble, you can’t bluff your way through? No one told the producers of this game—the first word I questioned was “saned.” The dictionary for the iPhone Scrabble game doesn’t give meanings or parts of speech—it only tells whether a word is valid.  It says, and I quote, “Saned is a valid word.” I don’t think it knows what it’s talking about. (Not actually talking but—texting?)

How do you use that word in a sentence?  “Being around Jane saned John.”  It makes more sense to say “Being around Jane insaned John.” But no—according to the iPhone dictionary, “Insaned is not a valid word.” While I yelled that “sane” is not a verb, and thus cannot accept the past tense –ed ending, “saned” sat smugly in its triple letter spot at the bottom of the board.  And by the way—the iPhone also keeps score!

Here are some egregious examples of other “valid words”: fidged, emanant, jun, el, al, eh, ka, yurta, chi, ar, re, za, er. I could go on, but you get the idea. 

Another annoying feature is the “teacher.”  AFTER you post a word, it shows you a better, longer, word that could have been formed with your letters.  I was proud of “super” until the teacher showed me “pursier.” Grrr! If it starts jeering at me, I’m chucking the phone!

These shenanigans bring out the worst in me and I try to beat the phone at its own game, bluffing with all kinds of nonsense—but no luck—bosc, bosn, puh, zet, cubious, and crazied are NOT valid words. (The only thing that makes this remotely acceptable is that I scored with “kiter, zee, zin and quin,” words I never would’ve tried in the old days! Are they actually words? I don’t dare look in Grandma’s dictionary!)

Can we go back to how it used to be—two puny brains duking it out in a feeble battle of vocabulary? Or will we become despicable cheaters, allowing an arrogant machine to palm off phony words to bump up our scores?

Our only hope is to put away the technology and get out Grandma’s Scrabble board!


  1. Love this post! Playing Scrabble is one of my favorite memories of growing up. And I had no idea that you guys played Scrabble on the iPhone, we'll have to play sometime. Even though you ALWAYS beat me, I still love the game. Good post, Mom!

  2. I agree. iPhone scrabble sounds completely adulterated. But I do tend to be a more adventurous scrabble player-- risking nonsense words now and then, but James doesn't feel like that is in keeping with the spirit of the game. I say it is if it helps you win (which it does once in a while)-- James and I are pretty competitive with our puny human brains. If only you could use the words you have to type to post a comment. Mine is "exandake."

  3. Somehow I managed to enter the family without taking part of a family Scrabble game. Every time the box is pulled out, I hear such competitive sounds coming from family members that I veer off towards another area of the house. Truthfully, I have never played a game of Scrabble. One of these days we will have to start it up to keep with family tradition.