I’m sure you can find something philosophical about Candy Crush or Angry Birds (?), but I don’t play those games. So this one’s for you, Scrabblers…
Are you someone who saves your tiles and waits for that perfect word, hoping that the missing tile will appear? Or do you make the best word you can with the tiles you have?
I hate to invoke anything that sounds like Donald Rumsfeld—his thoughts often lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of people—but maybe Rumskull was right about something, as skewed his perspective and ill-conceived as his worldview were. I now play with the army of tiles that I have, not the ones I’d like to have.
What’s the best play is not always straightforward. Like so many things, it’s situational. Context matters. In Scrabble, it’s the configuration of the words on the board, the letters played and the score. Holding onto that ‘U’ in case you get the ‘Q’ makes sense if the board is filling up and it hasn’t yet been played (though nowadays, there are acceptable ‘Q’ words that no longer require the ‘U’, like qi and niqab).
When I was younger, I would save my letters for that perfect word, the one that could land a Triple Word score, plus 50 bonus points for playing all seven tiles. I imagined balloons dropping from the ceiling, celebratory dancing bears, and girls flocking around me, desirous of my brain and all the other parts between it and the ground (because that always happens with champion board-gamers). Sometimes my strategy paid off: playing smaller words along the way, sometimes even passing my turn and exchanging a tile, trying to set up the big kill (though it never led to balloons, bears or flocking girls).
But often the letter you’re waiting for never comes. Or someone else plays a word in that perfect spot you’d been eyeing the past three rounds. But you weren’t entitled to that space. You merely envisioned it as yours in your head without doing anything about it. While you couldn’t control what the other players did, your immediate Scrabble future was affected by it and by your waiting around for something to happen to you. In life, it can mean missing out on things that have a greater impact on your overall happiness, like an apartment, job or partner. John Lennon’s line in “Beautiful Boy”: “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”
As I’ve aged, I tend not to hold onto my tiles (nor can I see them that well without my glasses) waiting and hoping for that perfect word. I find myself content with small successes and not letting my success ride on the hope of something big happening that is realistically very unlikely to occur or on the moves of another player.
I find that I make bigger decisions that way, too—not waiting for that perfect outcome, especially when it’s dependent on factors beyond my control…though my eyes are still open and my mind still striving for that occasional grand success. There are still times, however, when I do hold back, incapacitated by choice or even paralyzed by fear. I’m still working on it…