The Scrabble Game - by Allen Hill - '59

That letter from the ISS Board of Governors, signed by William M. Slaughter as Chairman, reminded me of an experience at ISS in 1955. As M.D. Smith pointed out, one needs a dictionary to read William's letter. Now the story. You may recall that, on occasion, weekend boarders were invited to faculty homes for conversation, refreshments and games. One Saturday night, when a festive event such as this was held, I found myself on the list of invitees to Dr. Armstrong's home. I arrived at the same time as three other students, and Dr. Armstrong met us at the door. I was third in line as we filed in, and I remember Doc greeting us something like this:" Hello, William. Hi, Wyatt. Hello." Everyone took a seat in the living room and conversations sprang up here and there. Other students arrived, and finally, everyone was accounted for. I remember being a 13 year old, not yet capable of producing an adolescent pimple, surrounded by upper classmen like William M. Slaughter, Wyatt Haskell, David Price, Grady Richardson, and Morgan Howarth to name a few. My conversational input was nil, as I tried to blend into the upholstery. Refreshments were served and then the board games were brought out. As luck would have it, I was assigned to play a game of Scrabble with three others, including William M. Slaughter. With William as an opponent, my confidence reached an even lower low. I hoped that it was now at its lowest. My vocabu-lary, except as related to expletives, could in no way match most upper classmen at ISS. But to do battle with William M. Slaughter, a senior and the vocabulary king of the entire school was asking me to do the impossible. The game began, and William played effortlessly. In fact, he paid little attention to the game as he bantered with the others in the room. He scored with words like "frap," "osis," "pepo," and "dona." But I fought back against his relentless barrage of four letter words with some of my own. "Hurt," "pain," and "help," for example.

In contrast to William's nonchalance, whenever my turn came around, my mind whirred with concentration trying to make sense of the scrambled seven tiles before me. Sweat formed in beads on my peach-fuzzed upper lip. My competitive nature (which freely translated meant my fear of being made to look stupid) was aroused to the point of panic.

The game must have lasted an hour. Unbelievably, however, my string of "Dick and Jane," one-syllable words had managed to keep my score close to that of the "king." As the game drew to a close, everyone had passed but me. I had a last chance to score. I rearranged my tiles. Then rearranged them again. It was like having a free throw to win or lose the basketball game, and there I sat with trembling fingers at the line. As I took more and more time, the adolescent grumbling of my opponents began. "Hey, you can't take all day. Do you wanna pass? Play or pass."

I took a last look at my tiles. And there it was. A play! I unscrambled three letters, " n," " o," and " t," from my remaining letters and placed them next to an "s" already on the board that someone had previously played. My word was "SNOT."

The chorus began. "That's not a word. It's not in the dictionary." "Yes it is," I shakily proclaimed. Truthfully, I was bluffing. The written authority, Webster's Dictionary, was brought out. William M. Slaughter turned the pages for what seemed an eternity. The silence was awful. Everyone knew we used the word, but there was no way for it to be in the dictionary. Finally he began to read: "Snot. (noun). Mucus in the nose." The room was silent. Only my eyes moved.

The fact that William M. Slaughter probably had a vocabulary score on the college boards twice mine in no way diminished the pride I felt that night. I knew Scrabble was just a game. But, I didn't care. I had beaten the "king." And I was proud of it. If you don't believe I was proud, why do you think I still remember the game forty-four years later?

Allen Hill