Q. What does a poison found in hemlock and a lute found in Ukraine have in common?
A. They are both the meanings of words used by the recently crowned British Scrabble champion Paul Allan in the final last November.
In case you aren’t familiar with the words they are Coniines, being the poison (note the use of a double i) and Bandura, the lute.
For the game of Scrabble words are the ammunition and interviewed before the championship one player said he knew 150,000 words and the other claimed more. Paul Allan spends a large part of his day learning words concentrating on those with up to eight letters. He is also a maths teacher, which may help in him working out the probability of which tiles will come next
Since its invention during the General Depression by Alfred Butts, a New Yorker, around 151 million sets have been sold and two of these, including a deluxe set, have found their way into the home of Patricia Meades the Scrabble Group leader of the Burnham U3A. Perhaps no other board game has such a dedicated group of followers and those in Burnham meet fortnightly to play against each other. Whilst Patricia was showing me a board I noticed a leaflet with some playing tips. Apparently it is essential to know all the two letter words (she had a list of them from AA to YU with all their meanings), and you must come to grips with words containing the letters J,Q,X and Z especially in four or five letter words.
Of course we are all busy people and don’t have the time to spend days brushing up our ‘words’ but fortunately are not too busy to spend an afternoon playing. The group have around 10 members. Patricia said a few more could be accommodated but stressed that only a maximum of eight players were allowed at each session. Sessions usually last around two hours with two games being played and refreshments of tea and biscuits enjoyed. Each person plays individually and although inevitably there is a winner Patricia tells me that ‘they couldn’t care two hoots who wins’ as the games are played for enjoyment and not for competitiveness. The rules are adhered to and a Scrabble dictionary is to hand for challenges. Interestingly there is one major difference between a Scrabble dictionary and a conventional English dictionary in that once a word gets into it, it never drops out.
I believe Patricia is the longest standing Group Leader we have in the Burnham U3A. She was vice-chairman when our U3A began and in those early days started the Scrabble Group; for that long service I think she deserves a medal, or at least a new scrabble board!