Turning letters into words while shelter-in-place

Everyone’s finding things to do that they never used to have time for. Like Jerry Zezima, humor columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and the Tribune News Service of Chicago, who has been spending time with his wife doing something that starts with the letter “S.” That’s right: Scrabble.

As a man of many words, not all of them repeatable in a quarantine, I will say that “quarantine” would be a great word to use if you were playing Scrabble.

That’s because it would be worth 19 points, most of them coming from the letter Q, which by itself is worth 10. And if you got a triple word score, it would be worth 57 points.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get enough of the right letters to spell “quarantine” during a game of Scrabble that my wife, Sue, and I played when it became sadly apparent that there was nothing else to do while we were quarantined.

You might think that because I’m a writer, I would be a great Scrabble player. Not so. Sue, a teacher’s assistant in a preschool, was an English major in college, where I, then a man of few words (“Another beer, bartender”), majored in stupidity.

My chances were slim (6 points) because I always lost when I played Sue’s late grandmother. (She was alive then, which gave her an unfair advantage.) I was even defeated by my daughters, Katie and Lauren, when they were adolescents.

This was embarrassing (17 points), which is why I hadn’t played Scrabble in years (8 points).

But on a rainy afternoon, after we got tired of watching HGTV (no points because acronyms and proper names aren’t allowed), Sue suggested we engage in a war of words.

“Let’s have some wine,” said Sue, who had a glass of white (11 points) while I had a glass of red (only 4 points).

We sat at the kitchen table with the board and tiles.

“You go first,” I told Sue, who replied, “You’re such a gentleman.”

“That would be worth 12 points,” I remarked.

Sue took a sip of wine and said, “This is going to be a long game.”

Her first word was “hand,” which was worth 8 points.

Mine was “ham,” which also was worth 8 points.

“It describes you,” Sue commented.

Jerry Zezima

Back and forth we went, up and down the board, trying for big scores with letters such as X (8 points), which Sue used to spell “fix” (13 points), and Z (10 points), which I used to spell “zonk” (17 points).

“Don’t cheat by making up words,” Sue said when I came up with something that is not, technically, English.

After Sue spelled “harp” (9 points), I added an O to make “Harpo,” one of the Marx Brothers, but Sue immediately nixed it by saying it’s a proper name.

“Imagine the score I could have had with Zeppo,” I noted.

The game dragged on, with short, safe, low-impact words such as “mutt” (6 points), “dire” (5 points) and “gun” (4 points).

“Is ‘ya’ a word?” Sue asked.

“Ya,” I responded.

It garnered Sue a grand total of 5 points.

“I’m out of vowels,” she said.

“You can buy a vowel,” I told her.

“That’s on ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ not in Scrabble,” Sue reminded me. “Besides, who would get the money?”

“Who else is here?” I said.

“Forget it,” Sue said. “Your turn.”

The game continued. So did the wine. Our battle (8 points) lasted so long that we each had a second glass.

“This is the only way the words ‘Chardonnay’ and ‘Cabernet’ are allowed in Scrabble,” I said.

“Cheers,” Sue replied.

Words such as “wet” (6 points), “trim” (6 points) and “lob” (5 points) appeared on the board before we ran out of tiles and the game was over.

Final score: Jerry 266, Sue 222.

“You wouldn’t have won if my grandmother had been playing,” Sue said.

I nodded and said, “You took the words right out of my mouth.”

Copyright 2020 by Jerry Zezima


Jerry’s latest book to make you laugh is “Nini and Poppie’s Excellent Adventures: Grandkids, Wine Clubs, and Other Ways to Keep Having Fun”

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