QUIXOTRY: According to Webster’s, “Quixotism, or visionary schemes”. And 365 Scrabble points for Michael Cresta on a record-breaking night in October 2006, including a “triple-triple”, covering two triple-word scores with one word – worth nine times the value of the word – a double letter score on the X, plus the 50-point bonus for using all seven letters.
Not to put a tooth in it, however, what we were concerned with this week was definitely not a “visionary scheme”. More like crass commercialism, a pandering to youthful ignorance, and the debasement of a great game played in 121 countries and 29 languages. For Scrabble’s manufacturer Mattel, horror of horrors, had apparently announced it intends to make the first major rule changes in 62 years, allowing inter alia the use of proper nouns including geographic names, celebrities and even products and companies “to enable younger players and families to get involved”.
The reports unleashed a torrent of righteous indignation around the world from traditionalist Scrabblers and the press. The Thunderer thundered. An Australian [Canadian?] writer compared the changes to poet Robert Frost’s view of free verse as akin to playing tennis with the net down. The Hindustan Times railed that “with Scrabble players soon being allowed to spell words backwards, upwards and what not, we could well be writing this editorial from the slewob of Ihled.”
Apart from making it impossible to set limits to the acceptable, setting up the prospect of endless unresolvable family rows, the new rules would so dilute the coinage of scoring as quickly to put Massachusetts carpenter Cresta’s extraordinary records into the shade (highest game – 830 points, highest combined score – 1320, and highest single play – 365, all in the one game). But to what end? What value the Olympic gold medal of a drug-taking athlete?
But all was not as it seemed. In the best journalistic tradition of not letting the facts get in the way of a good story, much of the press omitted to tell readers that Mattel’s intention was not to touch the original game, but to create a separate spin-off product, “Scrabble Trickster”, a Guinness Light, for those for whom the real thing was too strong beer. It will no doubt suffer the same fate.
In the same spirit, however, how about a new twist on Monopoly – incorporating subprime mortgages and bad banks? Or, chess. Reflecting the mood of our times, purging the bishops to replace them with caped superheroes. Now there’s quixotry.