In a Strange Land: Words with Adversaries

By: Jason Waddell

RiptideLab is the first website I’ve ever created, and as with any new venture, there are surprises involved. Sure, you and I may think of ol’ RiptideLab as a hub of cube drafting discussion. Even a cursory glance at our page might confirm this hypothesis. But most of the people who find their way to this site via Google search don’t come for the games. They come for the fur.

Last month I wrote a blog post about my accidental visit to the world’s largest furry convention. Since then, web searchers have been visiting in droves. I can’t imagine these people are finding what they’re looking for. In a satistfying bit of symmetry, the furry enthusiasts are searching for furries but find a gaming site. What do they think of what they find here? Do they immediately high-tail it for greener pastures? Did they leave furrious and feeling ostrichsized?

My experience at Anthrocon was simply Part 1 in a trio of Pittsburgh tales. During my formative years I developed the regrettable habit of stumbling into gaming situations where I didn’t quite belong.

Today’s story started at the grocery store, of all places. Pittsburgh shopping trips were a “cooperative” venture in the loosest sense of the word. My wife came armed with a meticulously prepared list, and I did my best to implement lessons from my civil engineering course by placing myself and the shopping cart as to minimize the reduction of laminar flow of customers through the store. Translation: I stayed out of the way. Which sounds easy (and is, in fact, easy), but if you’ve ever set foot in a supermarket*, you’ve discovered that at least half the populace spreads their carts throughout the aisles as if they’re setting up a goddamn Maginot Line.

While wedged between the lemons and the bananas near the entrance of our local Giant Eagle, I spotted a sign for a weekly Scrabble night in the area. “Wednesday evenings, 7:00, Imperial House, Room 323”

The following Wednesday evening I arrived at Room 323 of the Imperial House at 7:15, along with my wife and our friend Jess. In tow we carried a tray of cookies and a copy of Pandemic in hand, in case anybody wanted to play something other than Scabble. We had grossly mis-assessed the situation.

“You’re late.”

The room smelled of mothballs and denture cream, and was host to a couple-dozen retirees silently laying tiles at two-person card tables. A couple dozen retirees and Stan, our host and director of the Pittsburgh Scrabble Club. The first round had already started, but with 17 players that evening, Stan had been the odd man out.

What happened next is rather foggy in my memory. The three of us (myself, my wife, and Jess. sorry Stan) were not allowed to play in a game together, as sanctioned Scrabble games are between a man and a woman strictly two-player affairs. We were issued official regulation scorecards and “digital Scrabble® clocks”. I was paired against Stan. Across the room players complained that neither Jess nor my wife were using the timers correctly. Shortly thereafter the girls decided it was time to go home.

Our time at Imperial House was abrupt and jarring. We came looking for a social gathering, but had wandered into the Scrabble equivalent of a geriatric PTQ. It’s apparently a common occurrence. A Pittsburgh blogger visited the club and wrote the following:

Every player was focused and serious – there were no smiles or jokes, and certainly not any laughter. One women told us how joining the Scrabble club has completely ruined recreational play for her – she can’t stand the conversation and lighthearted nature of it all. Those of you who know me will agree that this is not for me.

This is a fascinating testimonial. I always assumed that the grumpy grognards who frequented our local PTQs had always been that way. Bristly, unsociable. Were they, too, once filled with smiles and jokes and laughter?

Still curious, I turned to the internet to find out more about this club I had encountered. Would there even be information online? Did these people know how to make or use a website? Maybe Google could find the answers. ‘Pittsburgh scrabble club’.


Oh. Easy! Let’s dig around.

Their welcome page is an exercise in tautology.

You have found the website of the Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club (North American Scrabble® Players Association Club #352) in Pittsburgh, PA. We are one of 11 clubs in Pennsylvania. Feel free to explore the site by way of the links above and read on to learn about us.

It’s fortunate they have links. My plan had been to randomly peck URLs into my browser until I landed on another one of their site’s pages.

The Pittsburgh Scrabble® Club is fairly old as you can tell by our club number. However, when a previous director moved west the club fell on hard times. Now, we are in a rebuilding mode.

I’m going to be honest, I didn’t realize it was possible for a Scrabble Club to ‘fall on hard times’. What does that even mean? Were they playing in back alleys just to keep the game going? ‘Previous director moved west’? The whole thing reads like a Dickens novel.

The age range of our players is from about 13 to about 85.

Lies, damned lies, and statistics.

It’s not just your club number that’s old. Sure, it’s feasible that a 13-year old wandered into the club on accident once. But I can tell you from experience this place was not hospitable to the concept of youth. What would happen if they stayed? Would their body start rapidly aging like Robin Williams’ character in ‘Jack’?

I took the liberty of visualizing what their player-age data might look like.


Let this be a lesson: the range is rarely a very informative statistic.

The skill level in our club is very wide. It ranges from pretty good “kitchen table players” to just below expert level.

Expert level? Is there some sort of Scrabble Pro Tour? I mean, the game, like Magic, is owned by Hasbro, and I doubt there are players shelling out thousands a year on Scrabble product. How much money could there be in such a venture?

Sierra Exif JPEG


Unrelated fun fact: The winner of this weekend’s 4500 person Grand Prix Vegas Magic tournament wins $3500.


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