This Spotlight on Scrabble player NASPA Grandmaster Scott Appel first appeared in the February 15, 2018 issue of the NASPA News.

When I first started working with Scott Appel on the NASPA Advisory Board, I found him to be measured and genteel with his input, but also incredibly insightful, perceptive, and always on-point. Therefore, I have been delighted to work with him further on the NASPA Forward Energy Committee.

written by Mike Willis

Scott is really bright and funny, and the love and dedication he shows to his family is so very admirable. It is a real pleasure for me to share more about him, as I was just as anxious to know as the rest of us were.

When the Quiet Man Speaks

The old phrase is, “When the quiet man speaks, you would be well served to listen to what he has to say.” Such is always the case with Scott Appel – Scott was adept at telling his story very well without much editing.

Scott spent his pre-teen childhood in Brooklyn (NY). He loved sports and games and got hooked on Scrabble at the early age of nine. When he couldn’t get a game with his dad, Scott would sit at his kitchen table on Saturday mornings and play both sides with full competition. He would pick a side to root for but play the other straight up, and this gave him a stake in the outcome.

He would also experiment with trying to rack up the highest game totals for both sides and frequently exceeded 1000 points. Perhaps this was the beginning of his clever set-up scenarios, which he has placed in the NASPA News and GAMES World of Puzzles magazine.

In 1984, at age 13, Scott and his family moved to central New Jersey. Scott relates, “The transition was brutal for me; I went from being really outgoing and comfortable in Brooklyn to being shy and feeling rather alone in East Brunswick. By the time high school rolled around, though, I started making lots of connections  – the friends I had made then are still some of my closest friends today.

“One of these guys, a goofball named Andrés du Bouchet (now an actor/comedian known for his work on Conan O’Brien‘s show on TBS), made a big contribution to my Scrabble life during those years. I remember him going through the Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary page by page and writing out every two-letter word with definitions.”

“Before that, we were just nerds who loved Scrabble. After, we were nerds who loved Scrabble who finally could get their bingos to fit the board. A few of us really got hooked with this newfound ability to score points, and we played a lot. Always open book, though  – so you could check if words were valid before playing them. Even without challenges, the games still felt rather intense.”

Describing how Scrabble moved in and out of his life, he adds, “I went to college at Miami University in Oxford (OH). It was a great four years – I majored in mathematics and statistics, played lots of Ultimate Frisbee, and got hooked on college hockey.”

Scrabble fell out of my life then and would not be part of my life again until several years later, during the summer after my first year of grad school at the University of Michigan. My summer workload was light, and I was bored, so I searched for local Scrabble clubs and found two of them – one club led by the late Florence Laatz and one led by Carol Ravichandran. Carol, in particular, was very nurturing and really encouraged me to come to the club weekly and later on to try a tournament.”

“In 1997, I moved to the Boston area and found two fantastic local clubs to keep my Scrabble momentum going. One was a small club led by the late Hilda Siegel, the other the well-known Lexington NASPA Club #108 led by Judy Horn. I officially had the bug and started playing twice a week every week, plus regularly studying. I started playing more tournaments, winning a few. I was totally smitten. I remain thankful to this day to Mike Wolfberg and to Ben Greenwood, with whom I spent tons of time battling over the board.”

Scott makes a play at the 2015 NASPA Championship in Reno (NV). Photo Credit: Patty Hocker / NASPA.

Twenty years later, Scott is happily married and the proud father of two children. Scott has a statistical consulting position with the University of Pennsylvania. He enjoys the challenges of his work but admits that it takes away from his study time for Scrabble.

Nonetheless, he still tries to carve out some time on Aerolith daily. He adds, “Will Anderson got me hooked on the daily blank bingo challenge, thankfully. Without that, there’d be close to no study.” Scott is intrigued by Collins play, but without a regular study regimen, is finding the transition hard.

When asked to speak about where he is with Scrabble now, he states, “I find Scrabble plays a different role for me these days. I used to be much more intense about it – each win and loss felt self-defining. I now come to tournaments just wanting to have fun, think through each game, and enjoy the challenge of it all. Being in the mix for a high finish is gravy.”

Scott also has come to realize that a strong mental game can make a big difference. He continues, “There will always be crazy wins and painful losses, but there is also always another game in the wake of the current one. Be ready to play that one, too – never let the bad loss morph into a 3-game skid because you were busy hanging your head. Next game’s tiles are not plotting against you.”

Scott has attended each North American championship since 1998 – here in 2016 in Fort Wayne (IN). Photo Credit: Patty Hocker / NASPA.

Describing his giving back to the game, he adds, “I just finished a two-year stint on the Advisory Board, which was a great learning experience for me. The Board does a lot, and I was happy to contribute. I’m a part of a Forward Energy Committee subgroup working to make things easier for new players to join the competitive scene.

“Another important dimension of growing the game involves younger players, and towards that, I run a school Scrabble club for 5th and 6th graders. Perhaps most uniquely, though, I’ve been writing a monthly column about Scrabble for GAMES World of Puzzles magazine. A typical column has an article (tournament summary, player profile, or tip for improving your game), a word puzzle, and a couple of board puzzles. GAMES magazine is great for puzzle fans of all kinds – I highly recommend it.”

Concerning his and our future, Scott concludes, “I don’t think I’ll ever stop playing this wonderful game. My kids are 12 and 8 now, and each passing year makes it a little bit easier for me to get out there and play. As an organization, we have seen many players come and go, but I hope we can find a way to up our membership, be that through school Scrabble or better targeted messaging, or trying to bring back players we’ve lost. I’ll continue to work with the Forward Energy Committee, running the school club, and writing my column for GAMES.”

Scott, now that we know more about you, we like you even more than before – which was an awful lot. Thanks for all you do to advance the love and play of our game. Thank you for all you do to advance North American Scrabble play!

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