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Birch Island Lake

My rack spelled ELUTIONI’ve blathered about a couple of my recent Scrabble tournaments, and now it’s happened again: I’ve spent another weekend pushing tiles. But I wasn’t trapped on the wrong side of a wall while the all-too-fleeting Midwest summer passed me by. This unique tournament—a fundraiser for this year’s WGPO Word Cup—took place at Elizabeth M’s spectacular summer home[1] on Wisconsin’s Birch Island Lake. We played games inside and outside, all while enjoying the beautiful sights and sounds so characteristic of northwestern Wisconsin’s deciduous forest biome.

How did my tournament go? Not bad, really. I finished 29-3-8: twenty-nine birds heard or seen[2], three wins, and eight other games. All of my opponents were friends, gracious in victory and defeat, and indulged my incessant bird-babble with apparent amusement (or perhaps well-disguised disgust).

The board configuration before my last play of my last gameWhen I wasn’t babbling about birds, I was whining about my bad luck and cursing the cruel tile gods. As an example of the kind of bad luck that plagued me all weekend, I present to you my last game of the tournament.


The image at right shows the board configuration as it existed just prior to my final play of the game (do not click on the image before reading what I’ve written below).

Through six turns apiece, this was a very close game against one of my favorite opponents, Nadine J. I had just played PHONER*[3] for 34 points to take a 154-122 lead. Why did I play the phony (and I wasn’t confident it was good) for just two extra points? For two reasons: I held another R and didn’t want to leave myself RR, and I didn’t want to see PHONE hooked with an S or D to make a big play (a triple-word-score bingo, QADI for 84, or with FVVWWY still out lots of easy 44+ point plays). I decided to take the chance that Nadine might triple-triple. Afterall, she’d just played AEEEIIOL in her two previous turns (EELIE* and JIAO from the J). No sign,I thought, that she had a great rack.

In fact, however, Nadine sat on AEIDLS?, and she quickly found DILATERS through the R for 132 points. No wonder she let PHONER* go!


But I was able to fight back (FON for 44; OUTRUNS for 66) to pull within striking distance. After Nadine played QAIDS (blank as D) for 41 points and drew the last tile out of the bag, she led 389-296.

I almost immediately saw that I held ELUTION and that, damn the bad luck and curse the Nordic tile gods[4], I would have front-hooked the D in QAID for 75 points if only Nadine hadn’t used the S! If she would have played QADI or QADIS I would have scored 80 or 82 points with the same word. So, stymied by her play, I spent fruitless minutes looking for a eight-letter bingo to I, V, or E (in IVIED), silently and not-so-silently bemoaning my cruel fate.

At length I settled for ELOINS (23 points) and lost 319-398.

My rack also spelled OUTLINEIf only I’d had better luck.[5]


  1. Elizabeth disingenuously calls it a “cabin.” It’s a gorgeous rustic home with all of the charm of a cabin on a wonderful piece of property. [^]
  2. See Bachbird for the complete list. [^]
  3. Scrabble geeks use an asterisk to designate phony words. Phony words, many of which are perfectly legitimate (such as ANTBIRD*), are those that do not appear in the Official SCRABBLE Player’s Dictionary (or, more correctly, in the Official Tournament and Club Word List). [^]
  4. The tile gods are Nordic at Elizabeth’s place. [^]
  5. As it turns out, the absolute best I could have done is lose 386-388 (if Nadine plays QADI, I play ELUTION for 80 and take 10 points for the GRST left on her rack). The play I should have made after her play of QAIDS was OUTLINE, but it loses 381-389. [^]

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