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To introduce newcomers to the exciting mind sport as one expert has called the game and to teach new techniques to those who already play it, The Navhind Times Planet J’s next workshop is about Scrabble. Slated for Sunday, July 31 the half-day workshop conducted by Ramola Antao is open to those between 13 and 19 years of age and will be held at Dempo House in Panaji

Scrabble: A mindsport like no other


Maria Fernandes|NT Kuriocity

Are you aware that ‘aa’ (which means a dry form of lava), eew, eeew, icks, grr, mmm, lolz and shhh are all legitimate words in the scrabble dictionary? Collins, which publishes the official dictionary for the World English Language Scrabble Players Association granted legitimacy to 6,500 new words. These include the gamut of slang from ‘beehived’, which is a bad hairdo to ‘moobies’, which is exactly what it sounds like.

To introduce newcomers to the exciting mind sport as one expert has called it and to teach new techniques to those who already play it, The Navhind Times Planet J’s next workshop is about scrabble. Slated for Sunday, July 31 the half-day workshop is open to those between 13 and 19 years of age and will be held at Dempo House, Panaji. Resource person for the workshop will be former English lecturer, Dhempe College of Arts and Science and a scrabble enthusiast and expert, Ramola Antao.

“I would like to introduce newcomers to the game, help them learn how to play it and show them how exciting it can be. As we go along they will also learn how it adds value to their lives. Some, who have played before, may also pick up some techniques,” explains Antao with regards to the objective of the workshop. She adds: “The game provokes one’s intellect and can be played even during a break between exams – we used to do just that! With unit tests coming up or under-way, I would say your timing is perfect.”

The four-hour workshop will commence with a brief introduction to the game and its history, followed by a scrabble quiz. “I will set up a handmade wall board and give each child a chance to play a word, with guidance about the best way in which to use their letters. We will also play a few oral games before we move on to real scrabble. Three or four boards will be set up with four players and a score-keeper at each while the rest of us move around and watch the competition,” she says.

Scrabble which is a board game was invented in 1938 by architect, Alfred Mosher Butts who decided the frequency of each letter in the game by counting the vowels in the front page of The New York Times one fine day. It was originally called criss-crosswords and today is a popular game amongst adults and children alike. “It is a simple word game, but is unique in that it utilises analytical, mathematical as well as vocabulary skills. Most mind games use one or two of these, not all three! Scrabble is also used all over the world as a method of teaching English,” says Antao.

Some believe that scrabble is more about strategy than about language; as there are some players who don’t speak English but have mastered the game, to which Antao replies in the affirmative, “It is very true as there are players in Thailand who have won matches internationally without knowing the language. In fact one of the Thai players is ranked third in international scrabble. This just goes to show the multifaceted aspect of the game.”

Scrabble, she believes is a game that has no age limit and which the family can play together. Her love for the game is shared by her family especially her son, Rajiv, who is the treasurer of the Scrabble Association of Goa, represents the state in scrabble and has won numerous awards and accolades. “My mother taught us when we were teenagers and we played a lot of scrabble as a family. Then I taught my children when they were quite young and the family interest in the game continued, sometimes with three generations participating,” says Antao.

Expounding the benefits of the game, she says: “It is an enjoyable pastime, especially exciting when there are more than two players. But much more importantly, it hones your analytical and mathematical skills and enhances your vocabulary. Making decisions about where to place scoring tiles or opening up the board to the opponent calls for mathematical skills. Memory plays a big role at the competitive level.” Scoring bingos (using all seven tiles) and blocking your opponent from making words with scores she maintains is the most exciting part of the game.

“After I started playing scrabble I became more observant with regards to words,” says Priyanka a standard IX scrabble enthusiast, “I even started memorising words I use to see on hoardings or in my Biology text book and when I use to score points for using a, z, or x, I would be over the moon.”

When asked about the common mistakes made by players, Antao says: “Naturally, the first is wrong spelling, and if you are caught in this you pay the penalty. Less obvious is the failure to make good use of power tiles and a third is not keeping a proper balance of letters on your rack. ‘Balancing your rack’ is the toughest in both recreational and professional scrabble. Sometimes you need to play for a much lower score than is possible in order to get rid of unwanted letters or retain letter tiles that will help you score higher on the next move.”

To improve one’s game, she suggests practice and says: “It may sound clichéd but, practise especially with an experienced opponent is the key. There are a lot of resources available, including books, to help with the game. I plan to give a couple of books as prizes.”

Antao is of the opinion that the right time to teach children scrabble is at age four or five, when they are beginning to learn words of more than three letters. “This is the age at which they can be introduced to junior scrabble and by 8 they will be ready for the real scrabble.”

For those parents who would like to encourage their children to play and develop interest in the game, she suggests they start out by playing junior scrabble with their children even if they have to learn alongside them, and encourage them with words they know and understand. “As they grow older children will need something more sophisticated and can start on standard scrabble. But don’t go for the scrabble dictionary till they are ready for competitions. We played with the Oxford dictionary and made it more difficult by banning slang, colloquialisms and foreign words,” she adds.

Antao is also the founder chairperson of the Florence Nightingale Trust which runs the Florence Nightingale Centre, at Sucaldem, Chinchinim, a day care centre that offers counselling to those who need help and also organises camps for children. The centre in the evenings is home to children who come to learn, read and play. Amongst the many games that children like, scrabble is a favourite with many and as she rightly says: “Scrabble is training for life itself. In fact I came across a quotation that puts it very aptly and goes like this, “Life is like scrabble. You play the letters you draw and do the best you can. Sometimes you get great letters and super places to put them, and other times you are stuck with all the vowels! Sometimes someone even sneaks a non-word onto the board without you noticing.”

(If you are between 13 and 19 years of age and would like to join the workshop, send an e-mail with your name, age, school/college and telephone numbers to by July 24.)

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