Play Scrabble with a friend

Guest blog by Julia Langdon

Nigella has produced a new cookbook. Ali Smith has written and published another novel. Others have written operas and poems and life plans. The creativity of this most extraordinary year has been remarkable. Me? I’m still getting round to clearing out the cupboard under the kitchen sink.

But I do have one minor achievement to boast about. It has provided a welcome weekly diversion. It has kept the brain ticking over. And it has brought my old friend Sue into the house, every Wednesday at 8 p.m., for an evening of tussling over the Scrabble tiles – even though she lives 75 miles away.

Sue and I both like Scrabble and we started playing together every week or so about 50 years ago. Then she joined the Foreign Office, went abroad and stayed there. On the few occasions we met, we might sometimes have a game, but it wasn’t often. Since she returned to live in the UK a couple of years ago, however, we have played a few times when visiting each other.

And then came lockdown.

We must have been talking on the phone. I think maybe we had to cancel a planned meeting, when we all had instead to shut our doors, stay at home and find our own amusements. Was there any way we could organise a game of Scrabble? Sue plays the on-line game Words With Friends, but that doesn’t appeal to me because it isn’t sufficiently immediate. I was sure there must be some way we could devise a means to play an actual game, in person and in real time.

It took a bit of thinking out, but we got there. This what you do:

How to Play Remote Scrabble for Two Players

(It would be easy to cheat – but, really, what is the point?)

Both players need a full Scrabble set, a pen and paper and internet access. We started by using WhatsApp on our Apple iphones, but then realised that Facetime was easier and more direct. We both use Apple ipads but a phone also works fine. One player is “Host” and the other “Guest”. We take turns because it is slightly more time-consuming being the Host and thus you get less thinking time.

The Host has a full bag of letters and two letter racks. The Guest needs only one letter rack and spreads all the letters face up on the table.

The Host draws seven letters for herself as normal and, without looking at them, draws another seven letters for the Guest and places them on one of the racks, facing away. She then holds this rack up to the screen so the Guest can write down the seven letters in the order they are arranged. The players agree which letter is numbered 1 on the rack and which is 7. The Guest draws these seven letters from the open letters on the table in front of her.

The players

both draw a letter for who starts play; the guest obviously closing her eyes to take a letter from the table.

Images above: Sue and Julia, Scrabble partners

Say the Host plays first and writes the word “HEARD”. She tells the other player what she has written on the centre “double word” and specifies the placing of the letters: i.e. with the “H” on the “double letter” tile. The Guest chooses the letters H,E,A,R,D from the letters in front of her and places them on her board, in the given spaces.

Both players keep the score. The Host takes five more letters. The Guest then decides her word and chooses to write, say, “VIAL” on the “A” of HEARD, placing the “V” on the “triple letter” tile. She tells the Host which letters she is using from the original order on the duplicate letter rack by denoting their numbers: for example 1,3,5, 7. Her remaining letters thus remain secret. Both players write down the score. The Host chooses four more letters, without looking, and holds them up to the screen for the Guest to write down. Play continues.

I promise it works and it is not nearly as complicated as it sounds. It is necessary to look out for homonyms, words which are spelled differently but sound the same – like HEARD (HERD) and VIAL (VILE). This has caught us out a couple of times, but it is easily resolved and only happens because we are chatting as we play, as we would in person.

Images above: Sue, the victor; Julia the vanquished

In the spring and summer we listened to the birdsong in each other’s gardens. In the autumn we have heard the rain on our respective roofs. We laugh at the dogs snoring in the background and the echoing discrepancy when we play Classic FM and one of us has the radio on a digital receiver and the other does not. We have played with continuing enjoyment, every week now since the beginning of April – except once when Sue went away – and it has certainly made up for all those years she lived abroad.

Julia Langdon has been a political journalist since 1971 and became a lobby correspondent in 1974. Leaving The Guardian in 1984, she was appointed political editor of the Daily Mirror, the first woman to hold the position on a national newspaper in the UK. She’s been a freelance writer since 1992.

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