Column: Heavens to Betsy, he’s an old Scrabble PERV


Two Saturdays ago, I needed a Scrabble fix — so I called dad.

That’s all it took. Though he lives 45 minutes away, he was immediately on his way. He is Scrabble-weird like that, takes the game way too seriously.

It had been a week since our last match, and even though I won the last two games, it wasn’t enough. My goal was to win 10 straight games.

Why 10?

Earlier this year, he beat me nine in a row. Normally, it’s a coin toss regarding who will win; we are of equal caliber. But nine in a row! I had never experienced such a streak of bad Scrabble luck before. I either had a rack full of consonants or a rack full of vowels — never did they intertwine. I could not rest until I bested his streak.

Because of Scrabble, my dad and I have bonded, though like I said before, he takes the game far too seriously. An ace tool-and-die maker by trade, dad bored holes in the back of each wooden letter tile in his Scrabble game and secured metal shots into each hole, giving each game piece a substantial heft compared to normal tiles. At the end of each game, he waves a magnetic wand over the exhausted battlefield between us, airlifting as many tiles at once as possible and returning them to the tile bag. This makes it quicker for an impatient man to start a new game. As I have alluded, the man’s a bit cuckoo. It’s embarrassing, really, his Scrabble obsession.

I myself know when enough is enough. For example, three years ago, in a Starbucks, I saw two college-age girls with a board between them. I couldn’t help myself. I interrupted their game to share a tip. “Did you know if you ever have a K and A on your rack that any letter in the phrase ”˜BETSY’S FEET’ can be appended to those two letters to form a legitimate three-letter word? You know, KAB… KAE… KAT…”

Both looked up at me, a total stranger, an intruder to their game, with startled expressions. While I was just trying to help them, what they likely saw was a pathetic 45-year-old man trying to hit on them. I’m surprised one didn’t spell ”˜PERV’ on the board at that very moment.

Just so you know, I have never used my stellar Scrabble skills to pick up women. The Scrabble gods would frown on that, perhaps curse the offender with endless terrible tile draws. Besides, I know how girls feel about ace Scrabble players — making a move on them would be like shooting fish in a barrel.

Yes, I am a player — a Scrabble player!

I was just trying to help — and, in the process, flex my mental muscles a little (no harm there). Had the two girls been two crones instead, I would have done the same thing (likely with far better results).

Then — I kid you not — the girl on the right eyed me with crumpled, accusatory brow and said, “How do you know my name is Betsy?”

What are the odds? Here I was merely demonstrating my mnemonic super powers, sharing the “BETSY’S FEET” trick that I learned from my favorite Scrabble-related book, “Word Freaks,” by Stefan Fatsis, and her name was actually Betsy! Of all the Starbucks, in all the towns, in all the world, this Scrabble-playing Betsy walks into mine. If ever there was a time to invoke the phrase “Heavens to Betsy,” I had found it.

If you really think about it — sadly, I obviously did — that incident had the makings of what the late great movie reviewer Roger Ebert referred to as a “meet cute” moment in a romantic comedy, that pivotal point when the two lead characters meet for the first time in some amusing way.

The problem was, I was 45 and she was 18 — and the whole “BETSY’S FEET” thing flew right over her head anyway. In her mind, we weren’t “meeting cute”; we were “meeting misdemeanor.” To her, I was a creepy middle-aged man with a possible foot fetish. I might as well have been wearing nothing but a trench coat and an upside-down flowerpot on my head, and frothing over her feet.

Still, I tried to save face: “Seriously… KAS… KAY… KAF…”

But my Betsy was having none of that. Suddenly, I did feel like a PERV. I left before the police arrived, replacing the flowerpot on the way out.

So, anyway, dad reached Jasper from Tell City in record time. I wonder how many cars he ran off the road on the Fulda shortcut. Like I said, he was two games down, and he takes Scrabble way too seriously. Leave the game at the table, I want to tell him.

We squared off, lost in concentration normally reserved for chess champions. Scrabble is like chess, but for smarter people. I won the first game, extending my streak to three. Only seven games to go! But alas, dad won the next, and because of the time, we left matters at that, one game to one. Technically, we were even. But not really, for it’s the last game played that matters in Scrabble. Not only did he snap my streak, he was once again in the driver’s seat.

Needless to say, I once again need a Scrabble fix.

Scott Saalman and the Will Read (and sing) For Food Players will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Jasper Arts Center to benefit the Paul Michael Ash Endowment for Music and the Arts. Admission: free-will minimum donation $10 (adult), $5 (student) requested.

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