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2015-01-29

Breaking the rules

Carolyn B. Edwards

A recent posting on The Bloggess about a game her family plays called CrapScrabble made me think about games my family plays.
Jenny, the Bloggess, has a large snifter filled with hundreds of Scrabble tiles. Everybody reaches in and grabs a handful and then attempts to make the longest possible word with the selected tiles.
Her dad won a recent round with "rigortortoise," defined as "the second stage of turtle death."
As Jenny explains, "points are given for creativity, lying with confidence, and stealing tiles from other players without them noticing."
Having recently acquired a couple of cats, I like her rule that says "if the cat lays down on your tiles, you must play around the cat until she leaves."
A commenter on the blog said her family rule encouraged cheating, "so long as you're slick enough to not get caught... Imagine my surprise at my first sleepover when I learned this rule was not standard in all homes."
Cheating was not tolerated in the home I grew up in, except by my grandpa, but my in-laws understood cheating to be part of skillful game play. Pitch players surreptitiously pantomimed beating hearts and shovels to indicate suits of cards in their hands. Getting up for a bathroom visit or a snack was a perfectly acceptable excuse for getting a glimpse of opponents' hands in a closely scored card or domino game.
If you didn't want to be a victim, you "kept your cards very close to your chest!" and your dominoes flat on the table.
Some people are sticklers for following the rules. Our house rules for Scrabble allow one word per game in a foreign language. Sometimes we let everyone have eight tiles. Instead of drawing to see who plays first, we let whoever can make the longest word start the round.
We have also done Speed Scrabble, with no dictionaries allowed (we vote on disputed words), and might even use a two-minute timer.
Some people do not take kindly to any such suggestions for rule variations. "No, that's not how the game is played," they'll say in a tone that allows for no debate. They also tend to get upset if your 40-year-old Scrabble game no longer has the little pamphlet of rules to consult.
I once owned a version with the rules printed in the inside of the cardboard box. After about 10 years, the silver fish had nibbled most of the rules away, causing all kinds of arguments about what they might have said.
At least we didn't deflate any balls.