124th U.S. Open

Pinehurst No. 2

The Loop

Competitive Scrabble is filled with cheating, lies and backstabbing, much like everyplace else

November 20, 2017


I must preface this murderous indictment of those who would cheat at Scrabble by saying that I do not and would not cheat at Scrabble, for I am very good at it already, and I can prove it with these shocking figures: Last year, against my still-hurt friend Aaron, I played a single word for 117 points, 117 nasal passage-melting points, a startling, Terry Bradshaw’s head-sized accomplishment that might be hard to process with your feeble mortal brain, so I will pause here to let you absorb it with reverent silence. Go on. I'll have the models cool me with tropical foliage and feed me cheeses and star fruit while you stare.

OK, now that your heart rate has relaxed and much of the sweating has slowed, I will tell you that the 117-point monster I conjured with my brain-wand was DOOZIES, a word which is far too cartoonish for the verbal firepower and childish gloating it unleashed. If you are not a Scrabble player, it was the rough equivalent of Aaron Judge hitting a home run that counted for 30 runs, or UCLA baskeball players stealing one box that contained like 30 things. (One note: My 117-pointer came not in the board game but via the Scrabble app Words With Friends, a name which no doubt resulted from Lawsuits Among Companies.)

There are special punishments reserved for those who cheat at Scrabble. I once borrowed my dad’s phone to discover an app that allowed him to cheat in our Words With Friends games, and this was like six years ago, and I’ve barely been able to be in the room with him since. I don’t mean to resort to using the sort of hyperbole by which I’ve been accused by every single person in the universe, but Scrabble cheating is basically worse than murder, returning library books late and colluding with the Russian government combined and times a million. The refuge of the weak-willed, the last resort of the scoundrel, a thing that no one would do, with the obvious exception of the New England Patriots.

And if that’s how I feel about playing on my phone with friends while driving, imagine the repercussions in the world of competitive Scrabble, a very real thing that exists, even in Europe, where a famous champion named Allan Simmons has been accused of cheating. CHEATING IN COMPETITIVE SCRABBLE. Needless to say, I am … well, I can't think of the word for how angry I am, but I know it has five letters and the fourth one is a P.

According to the New York Times, Simmons, one of the world’s premier player, was slapped with a three-year ban from tournaments following an investigation that found him guilty of this crime: “Putting a hand with freshly drawn letter tiles back into a bag to draw more favorable tiles,” which is the Scrabble equivalent of landing your approach shot about 20 yards off the green, walking over to your ball, picking it up, escorting it to the green, shouting “JIM! LOOK OUT FOR THAT BEAR!” and dropping it about 15 feet from the hole and telling Jim it must have been a shadow or something.

Now, Mr. Simmons denies this took place, and the investigation has ROILED the Scrabble world, which for weeks has been beset by riots, fires and people storming the streets with sharpened tile holders. Actually, wait, it sounds like everyone’s just trying to sweep this under the tapestry (27 points) because in the Scrabble world, Simmons is a big deal — the man writes a Scrabble column for the Times of London, for God’s sake. (You laugh, but the Scrabble column will probably be the last print news product on Earth.) A man named Nicky Huitson, who oversees a tournament in England, said Simmons’s ban was “not very positive for the game, and that’s why most of us don’t want to talk about it.” Preach it brother, we have the same problem with concussions.

Yet the punishment has come down from the Association of British Scrabble Players, which frankly sounds completely adorable. How can anyone be mad at the Association of British Scrabble Players? They sound just precious and monocled and sweater-vested, and frankly we should all submit to their rule of law. If they want to take over this Brexit situation, cool. The best news: I’ve spent the better part of my morning reading about competitive Scrabble. I hoped I’d find some fun stories, but these have been doozies.