scrabble and ‘stupid’ strategies

The fascinating part of playing Scrabble or its knock-off Words with Friends (which, for the record, is one of the dumbest names I’ve heard in my life for a game), is that it stretches you. It stretches you linguistically, of course. But it also stretches you emotionally. For example, take the situation in which a friend puts down a word as ridiculous as “Moxa” or “Qat”, and after angry googling it, you have to admit that yes, obscure plant names are acceptable words.

Then come words like ‘Egress’ doesn’t tend to come up in conversation but you’re 94% sure it’s a real word (here’s a link to the definition in case you’ve forgotten it). Or something like, “Moraie” which definitely isn’t a word, but it feels like it could be. For those putting it down, it feels like it should be.

Yet, that’s the tricky part. A game like scrabble pushes you. We all like to think of ourselves as at least reasonably knowledgeable. Yet, staring down at, A, E, A, A, I, O, and M, words seem to disappear. I tend to go the wild luck route, where you physically move the tiles around in a blind hope that a 27-point word will magically pop out.

But what I want to talk about is how you feel when that magic word doesn’t pop out. I want to talk about that moment when you realize, “Oh, I don’t know as much as I thought I did”.

Because it does hurt, in some strange way. It can feel demeaning because, sure, you can drop words like, “pecuniary” and “hamartia“, on the occasion, but those particular words don’t help you at this moment. For all of your expertise, you can’t fulfill the goal you’re striving for, and end up putting, “so” down.

Sometimes situations with a larger impact than a single scrabble game give us that same moment of reflection. You feel like you know everything around it, but you can’t fully grasp it, the thing people are expecting of you. Someone asks a good question, and you want to be able to respond. But you can’t, because you don’t know the answer.

When we can, we should do as much research as we can. We should ask around for advice before making big decisions. We should get as much of an idea about a thing before jumping into the midst of it. But in some instances, there’s just so much we can’t understand until we do it for ourselves. Take picking what college to go to. College is an incredibly, ridiculously expensive investment, and the experience for each student can vary widely. The programs, classes, professors, extracurriculars, transportation, lifestyle, atmosphere, and student/school fit, all of these and more are factors in a decision like that.

Furthermore, college is a new mandated norm– what about those who 1. can’t afford college and/or 2. aren’t fit for the academically-minded track?

The more we look at decisions, the more complicated the situation tends to get. Research can help supplement, but there is too much to boil down and be able to quantify. The decisions we make can feel like Scrabble with too many vowels. Sometimes we really do end up mixing things together and hoping the right answer to peak out at us. There doesn’t seem to be anything else we can do in those situations.

But here is also where we can be comforted. Everyone struggles. Not knowing is part of being human. We do what we can, and “what we can” isn’t always the height of brilliance. Sometimes we guess and try things out until it works. That’s not an idiotic strategy, because, with decisions under ignorance, we are limited in what we know. We make educated guesses where we can. We have to try something out to learn from it.

strength and it’s creation

Forte is a musical term that means “strong”. This is an interesting tidbit because in most contexts and classrooms, musicians think it means “loud”. If the word forte appears on a sheet of music, especially for beginners, the performers tend to blast their part through their instrument. The word can serves as an excuse to play without reserve, without control. However, that’s contrary to the true meaning; strong means having great control.

When a person builds up muscle, they have to work at it. They have to get up every morning, six days a week, and put effort into physical exertion. When someone is a “strong player”, it means they’ve put effort and time into practicing their game. That player has the self control to not only work, but work hard and for years. When someone is mentally or emotionally strong, they are able to control themselves. They can put their own fears, apprehensions, doubts, and distracting thoughts to the side in order to do what they must. When we are strong, it’s because we’ve chosen to control ourselves again and again and again.

When we look at others, we see loud people and we see forte people. Loud people can put on a good show, can rely on talent and instinct, and can charm their way into and out of many things. People who are strong are separated by their substance. They’ve put in the work. They have a deep understanding of things they’ve dedicated themselves to; they have an amazing self-control that they’ve built up over time.

When we go about our day, it’s easy to give up. If A is boring, we pick up B. If B is too hard, we pick up C. If C is too easy, we pick up D and so on. At some point, however, we have to learn to cling. We can’t ever be strong if we never control ourselves. So be forte! Try harder and longer on your daily tasks! Deny the easy route so the road ends up somewhere great.