Everybody plays Scrabble at least once in their life, right? Form a seven letter word, score 50 pts, use your Q without a U, challenge your opponents version of "EUOUAE" (a consonant-less word that's legal? Yep!) then clink hot cocoa mugs together and call it a fun night, right?
That's all well and good when it's a friendly game around your dining room table with family. But playing with a competitive stranger online from God know's where, who also cheats? Well that's quite another story!
It all started when my children coaxed me to download the App, "Words With Friends" on my cellphone. What a neighborly sounding game it was! A few clicks and voilà! (I like to work "voilà" into a story so I can practice finding the tilde punctuation mark on the keyboard ) suddenly it was just as I remembered from my own childhood -- except you could take all day long to formulate one word and nobody minded.
That was rather nice -- mulling over the cyber tiles you were dealt, whilst mopping the kitchen floor or leisurely contemplating an adjective as you auto-shuffled the letters in the word, "nipples" around, searching for something less embarrassing during a gynecologist appointment.
You could even send gracious messages back-and-forth like "awesome word!" or "you got me there!" No rush, no muss, just clean, polite, old-fashioned fun.
Until none of my children would play with me anymore. Or my ex-husband, my cousins, my neighbor, my babysitter, my accountant, my Rabbi, my boyfriend, and not even my Tupperware Lady. Right! Like she was just soooooo busy -- when's the last time you were invited to a party that featured burping plastic containers?
Poor sports and sour grapes, every last one of them, just because I clobbered them all! One by one, I went through my Facebook victims, err contacts, systematically challenging familiar names to a friendly game until they all dropped off in defeat.
Then it happened. The invitation from "1OldTortoise" appeared and I took one look at his innocuous name and cockily clicked "Accept." Easy pray.
But who was he?
His first word utilized all his letters -- "ratines." A noun meaning "heavy, loosely woven fabric," my eye! In hindsight, "RATines" should've been my signal to smell a rat, not a reptile.
But I gave him the benefit of the doubt and made a few of my own 7-letter words. First "coupons" followed by "toenails" playing off his 'S.' Ha! Let him dispute that "toenails" wasn't all one word. Then a communication slyly came across in that cute little message bubble in the upper right hand corner -- "I was just clipping mine."
Okay, ewww! And seriously? I needed to know an Aging Reptile's feet grooming habits? I don't think so. Not to mention I was immediately reminded of that classic Aesop's fable, "The Tortoise and the Hare" because the sudden alacrity in which he fired his round of words was astonishing. He beat me eight times in a row just that one morning.
Gone were the relaxing days allowing me to pause and brainstorm for an hour. If I hesitated to respond in twenty minutes, a message would appear with an impatient ding, prompting, "1OldTortoise is waiting. Make your move!"
Really? Well he can just pull his wrinkly head back inside that cracked shell of his and sit tight. What business did he have rushing me like that? It's just a form of recreation, after all. Besides it's humiliating getting beaten in a game of wits and skill by someone like this. He was quickly turning "Words With Friends" into "Language With Enemies!"
And worse yet, I had the distinct impression that he was using a dictionary. His words were just too obscure. Nobody has a vocabulary like that. And once I lost by 200 points because my 8-year old "borrowed" my cell phone for twenty minutes. Still, it was infuriating.
And if he wasn't using a dictionary, then he had some other devious way of drawing all the best letters for his own rack while leaving me with nothing but "ffhzxns." Whatever that was, I so yearned to pluralize it!
Then one day it happened. I actually beat him! But as I rejoiced, a message bubble popped up all aglow. "Congratulations," it proclaimed. "You managed to beat my young grandson who happened to be playing with my phone!"
Oh that was rich, really rich. What was this?? He was trying to diminish my joy. Make me feel foolish because I celebrated out-spelling a small child. One who probably called himself, "1Tinyturtle."
The guy was so slippery, he may as well have been a snake. And persistent as all hell. Hell in a tortoise shell! The moment he won, like lightning, another invitation flashed across the screen-"Accept a new game with 1OldTortoise?" I had no choice. If I clicked "decline," I knew on his end it looked as if I resigned. I wouldn't give him that satisfaction. I played with a 102 degree fever, in the middle of movies, while studying for an exam, and even as I wept because our cockatiel died.
Finally I developed that "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" attitude. I downloaded another app called scrabblecheat.com. I am not proud of this behavior. But the tortoise was going down... I was determined.
Now I couldn't sleep because of my obsession with winning. When I did manage to grab a little shut eye, I dreamt of glass enclosures at the zoo, housing 200-year-old (did they live that long?) terrapins. (Small edible turtles!) Or I would awaken shouting out, "QWERTY!"
The whole situation became truly absurd -- he was cheating, I was cheating-it was as if there were two computers playing against each other. A tech war.
One night my mother came over for dinner and as we prepared the brisket and mashed potatoes together, I showed her my cellphone with the current "Words With Friends" game board in-progress on my cellphone.
"Ma," I implored. "You were a high school English teacher. What intelligent word can you make with these letters?" She fished out her reading glasses and furrowed her brows. "Oh you've got a wise and worthy opponent here," she said. "But use your Y and make "gravy."
Bingo! With her help, I felt confident I would finally make turtle wax outa him. And that's when I heard it. The familiar ding, and then the message bubble with a few sentences inside.
"Gravy! Clever word you made. Now make some for your brisket. It's always dry."
As I peeked into the living room, I saw my mom furtively typing into her own cellular device, beaming while nudging her glasses back up on her nose... Her Old Tortoise shell glasses.
"1TinyTurtle" was probably my own 8-year-old little boy that she occasionally had for sleepovers. And it's good to know that my mother actually clips coupons (and not her toenails!) while playing me in "Word With Friends!"
Originally posted on Author's Humor Blog