I didn’t always love Scrabble. In fact, after my first few games, I decided I hated it and swore I would never play again. Not the type of storybook Falling in Love with Scrabble beginning you would expect from a North American Scrabble Champion, is it?


I loved to play sports as a young child, but it was my set of plastic letters of the alphabet that I brought to the park to play with, not a baseball glove. My dad used to delight me by making toast for breakfast in the shape of whatever letter I demanded. He groaned under his breath when I asked for a particularly curvaceous letter to carve, like the Q or R. As I got older, I relegated my trusty plastic alphabet to a box in the basement. I got used to eating normally-shaped pieces of toast, but I remained a voracious reader and a lover of both words and the letters that compose them.

When I was ten or so, my mom broke out the family Scrabble set for the first time, thinking it would be the perfect game for her letter-loving son. I remember feeling captivated by the look and feel of the tiles and layout of the board and sharing her expectation that I would be a natural at this game.

But then we proceeded to play.

Even when she went easy on me, I was no match for my mom. I couldn’t find long words; every so often, she would play a bingo. She understood how to deny me access to bonus squares; I inadvertently opened them for her, and she took advantage. She understood which letters worked well together, and I didn’t.

We played several games over a short span of days, and I lost every one, usually by wide margins. For all of you out there who have that one family member you just can’t beat at Scrabble, believe me when I say that I understand your experience.

I was a very sore loser at that age, and eventually, the frustration grew to be too much for me. I remember quitting midway through another blowout loss, swearing I would never play Scrabble again. My mom pleaded with me to give it some time and watch how she played and pick up those techniques, but I was set in my decision.

How in the world did this boy end up loving Scrabble, let alone becoming a champion-level player?


Years passed. We tried other word games like Upwords, which I enjoyed, but always turned down gentle requests to play Scrabble again. I continued to read, play sports and video games, collect sports cards, work hard in school, and enjoy a relatively well-rounded childhood overall.

Eventually, right before I turned 15, I started having health issues that doctors eventually determined to be Crohn’s Disease. I lost a lot of weight from my already-skinny frame and wasn’t able to play sports for a while. Needing a competitive outlet, I started playing arcade-style games on the internet and somehow stumbled across a game on Yahoo called Word Racer.

Word Racer is long since gone from the web, along with the rest of Yahoo’s game pages. But it was the first word game I fell in love with, setting the stage for Scrabble in the future. If you’ve ever played the game Boggle, Word Racer was essentially a variation on classic Boggle gameplay. Players typed as fast as possible to enter words they found within a grid. Unlike traditional Boggle, the only way to score points with a word was to find it first, placing a premium on speed and quick thinking.

I can still remember the excitement of the seconds counting down to the start of each game, followed by the mad dash of the opening few seconds, with every player rushing to find the highest scoring words. Even once I recovered enough to start playing sports again, I continued to play Word Racer with increasing regularity. I found that I had some talent for the game but eventually discovered players far beyond my level. I dreamed that one day I would be as good as they were. Little did I know that I would meet many of these players at Scrabble tournaments well over a decade later.

I began to pay more careful attention to the lists of words that nobody found in each round, even making primitive spreadsheets to track my favorites. Completely by accident, I was laying the groundwork for a seamless transition to competitive Scrabble, but my focus in the moment was improving at Word Racer and Word Racer alone.


At some point, seeing my affinity for Word Racer and other Boggle variations, my mom once again reopened the dialogue surrounding Scrabble. I wouldn’t say I had outgrown my tendency to be a sore loser, but I was at least slightly more mature at this point in my life and agreed to play. To my delight, I was much more evenly matched with my mom at this point and began to understand the allure of Scrabble as well. I remember her playing words I had never heard of before, such as VIREO (a small bird), and thinking to myself; I can use this one in Word Racer too.

Not long after this, I received the book Word Freak as a birthday gift. I remember devouring the book with gusto, amazed at the vibrant cast of characters and passionate subculture of competitive Scrabble. But somehow, it didn’t click in my mind that this was a community that would be a perfect fit for me; it felt like a great story, not a call to action.

I went off to college, where my word game playing became more sporadic. During my senior year, I started playing the game World of Warcraft. This game took an increasingly large portion of my free time as I became more addicted. I had always prided myself on being a well-rounded person with a diverse array of interests. That ceased to be the case as I poured more and more time into the game even after graduation. Eventually, I reached a breaking point where I knew something needed to change and attempted to quit.

Needing a new hobby, I received a recommendation that I try a competitive Scrabble tournament from a fellow online Boggle player who himself had played in many live Scrabble events before. The combination of my experience playing Word Racer, games of Scrabble with my mom, and familiarity with the competitive Scrabble world from Word Freak all contributed to my thought process. I eventually decided to take him up on it and find an event nearby to play, making my debut in February 2009.


I had come to like and appreciate Scrabble, but it was until I set foot at my first tournament that I began falling in love with Scrabble, and it happened nearly instantaneously.

The first thing about falling in love with Scrabble was the community of other players. I had the pervasive sense when meeting so many other Scrabble players for the first time that I was somehow joining a new family. Here were people of all ages, backgrounds, and personality types united in a love of word games, and Scrabble in particular. To be sure, the Scrabble world welcomes the types of eccentric personalities showcased in Word Freak. But I remember feeling like these people were simply friends I hadn’t met yet.

I quickly realized that there was a great deal that I didn’t understand about the game of Scrabble. I remember my jaw dropping as another player laid down the word DRAWTUBE across two triple word scores for a massive score of over 150 points. In my decade of playing word games online, I had never once seen that word. How in the world did he know it? I remember deciding that I, too, would like to be able to know and see words like that someday.

It was only after resolving to begin that journey of learning more about Scrabble and improving at the game that I was truly falling in love with Scrabble. I loved the process of learning new words and watching my results improve. This came easily to me because I had already experienced that process with Word Racer. But I equally loved the process of learning the strategic nuances of the game, which didn’t come nearly as easily to me. That process is still ongoing and, because of Scrabble’s brilliant complexity, always will be.

When I look back at the moments that Scrabble has allowed me to experience, I can hardly believe I’ve lived them all. I remember the hair standing up on my neck when I discovered I had clinched the North American championship in 2017. Traveling to Hong Kong and Malaysia to play Scrabble for the United States in a World Cup style event. Walking out to the mound before throwing out the first pitch at a minor league baseball game. Looking up at a giant robot playing a game of Scrabble with me. These are just a few of the countless memories I owe to Scrabble.

But the beauty of Scrabble is that you don’t have to be a champion-level player to love the game truly. Whether you play at home every so often with your family and friends, or whether you’ve devoted yourself to the journey of becoming a better Scrabble player, there is a timeless element of perfection to the game of Scrabble that anyone can appreciate. In a certain sense, you could say falling in love with Scrabble was immediate. You could equally say that it took me decades to reach a place in my life where I was ready to fall in love with the game. Everyone’s Scrabble love stories are different, and I greatly enjoy hearing them all. I hope you enjoyed reading mine.

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