All I ever really needed to know, I learned from the SCRABBLE game . . .

on 04-14-2012

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As I finish writing this post, kids from across the country are going head-to-head in the final day of competition at the National SCRABBLE Championship in Orlando, Florida.

In a word? MAGICAL.

It’s been almost a decade since I worked with the National SCRABBLE Association {NSA} to promote the game through initiatives like the School SCRABBLE Program, but I can still visualize the tournament room filled with middle school duos wielding Q-without-U words and  hear the thunderous rattle of tile bags being shaken overhead as these young word wizards begin each game.

Not only was it a privilege to be part of the team responsible for promoting the world’s greatest word game, so much of what I learned during those years still resonates today.

Every SCRABBLE game is an act of courage.  It’s all you, baby. That blank grid beckons with a challenging invitation to create something out of nothing.

Will your opponent think you’re lame if you play CAT? What if you can’t even find a word? The list of potential confidence-killers goes on, but there is one thing you can count on — every play will require  you to make something {a word} out of  what starts out as nothing {a row of letters on a rack}, and there’s nothing quite like rush of finding a word and placing it on the board. Even before the “a-ha moment” became part of the Oprah lexicon, it was how we NSA-types expressed  that wonderous moment of word discovery

Recognizing the power of a-ha moments fuels me and helps to ease the sting of vowel-filled racks and unplayable Qs {a.k.a. things that suck}. I try to use inspired moments — in SCRABBLE games and in my daily life — to push fear out of the driver’s seat so I can approach what lies ahead with resilience and curiosity.


Pre-NSA, my word-finding strategy included staring at the seven tiles perched on my rack and willing {hoping!} a word – any word– would be kind enough to reveal itself.

Thankfully, I was introduced to the magical art of shuffling. This proactive way of managing my SCRABBLE rack also improved how I approached any challenge life lobbed in my direction, from making a basic decision to dealing with a seemingly impossible dilemma.

Here’s an example of shuffling in action: If you move tiles around and look for common letter combinations – INGPRE-, AUST, etc. – words will magically appear. Got RTEGHSA? Shuffle tiles around to find ER  TH  AGS, and don’t stop there. Further shuffling will reveal GATHER, and I’m sure my SCRABBLE friends could find many more words with much greater value.

If I’m feeling  flummoxed {oh, how I’d love to play that word some day!} by a problem, I rely on the shuffle strategy to work through it. Sometimes I shift my  perspective to see the situation from another point of view. Or, I look for common threads in what’s familiar to guide me —  things  I’ve experienced, read about, etc.

Then, I get moving! The tactile aspect of SCRABBLE – including the hopeful sense of possible discovery that shuffling delivers – is a big part of the game’s inherent magic.  I’ve experienced the power of movement many times when tackling a problem and now remind myself that instead of sitting and stewing, I should  go for a walk, clean out a junk drawer or work-out until I’m drenched in sweat.


I love words . . . how they look, how they sound and the rush I feel when I discover a new one. In fact, before I joined the NSA team, “What does that mean?” was the most commonly asked question during my SCRABBLE games.

I quickly learned that in the competitive SCRABBLE world, meanings are meaningless. It’s all about finding the combination of letters that make up an acceptable word {or words} and then placing them on the most advantageous place on the board.

At first, I felt adrift. What was the SCRABBLE game if word meanings didn’t matter? And then I got a grip and realized it was marvelous, really, that there were so many ways to experience the game. Competitive players could forge ahead without definitions, and I could look up words with wild abandon.

For me, it was a simple but powerful “to each his own” reminder about perspective: What I believe to be a defining characteristic of something I love isn’t necessarily integral to its existence or to how others perceive/ experience it. Word.


Have you seen the 2-letter word list? {You can find a link to it below.} These pint-sized powerhouses not only  wow opponents, they open-up opportunities and win games.

Whether on the SCRABBLE board or in my daily life, I’ve seen that a bigger {word, effort} doesn’t always translate to a better {play, result}. It’s more about making the most of what I  have so I can keep moving forward with thoughtful purpose.


The SCRABBLE landscape has phoneys {unacceptable words not found in the word source being used} and bluffing  {deliberately trying to play said phoney}.  There’s no penalty {or anything unethical} about bluffing during a SCRABBLE game, just as the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy isn’t about being a phony  but staying authentic as you propel yourself  along the path toward your dream.

And when it comes to  dealing with phoneys — word or human {phony} in form–  intellect  infused with intituion makes for a savvy, satisfying approach, whether at the SCRABBLE board, in the boardroom or trying to stand on a surf board.

Smarts + gut check = game on!



Live coverage: National School SCRABBLE Championship

National SCRABBLE Association

Important Words to Raise Your Score  — including those powerhouse 2-letter words!

Word Freak  Stefan Fatsis’ engrossing New York Times bestseller that explores the competitive SCRABBLE world

Word Wars   Eric Chaikin’s engaging, entertaining documentary about the tiles and tribulations of competitive SCRABBLE players

Word Gear – SCRABBLE store


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