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Mar 12

Playing Scrabble exercises the brain if you know how to play

“Unless you know how to use it, a Scrabble game is just a boxful of junk.”–The Billion Dollar Brain (1966) by Len Deighton.

I recently started playing Scrabble with Julie, an old high school friend, when she invited me to join her in a game online. Sounded like fun.

However, I had a second reason for attempting this exercise in mental gymnastics: stave off cognitive impairment and memory loss.

Yes indeed, aging experts are currently advising baby boomers that we can enhance our brain cells (even if we lost some already) by doing something outside our comfort zone.

Something like playing Scrabble. And, experts say trying such a difficult task may help.

For example, if you brush your teeth with your right hand, switch to your left, or if crossword puzzles are easy for you, try Scrabble.

Therefore and with great enthusiasm, I attacked the first game somehow believing that Scrabble was the uncomplicated and undemanding game of my youth. I was just out of practice. I would be fine.

It did not take long; however, before I became as intense and frustrated over Scrabble as were cartoon characters Calvin and Hobbes when they fussed over a match. Their cartoon-strip conversation went like this.

Calvin: Ha! I’ve got a great word and it’s on a double word score box!
Hobbes: ZQFMGB isn’t a word! It doesn’t even have a vowel!
Calvin: It is so a word! It’s a worm found in New Guinea! Everyone knows that.
Hobbes: I’m looking it up.
Calvin: You do, and I’ll look up that 12-letter word you played with all the Xs and Js!
Hobbes: What’s your score for ZQFMGB?
Calvin: 957.

Truth is, in online Scrabble the computer tells you immediately if your word is valid or not; and thus, fussing over an allowed word never happens. Besides, Julie and I would not quarrel over acceptable words, we are too good of friends.

We did have the following exchange though.

Kay (suddenly aware that she was not good at the game and making an excuse): You are disgustingly good at this, Julie. I am not sure of the rules, so I guess I had better get around to reading them.

Julie (trying to encourage Kay): It is all about the 2-letter words that allow you to stack. Don’t despair; you’ll catch on fast. Let the dictionary be your BFF (best friend forever).

Kay: I am so far behind I think I am first. I just played a wimpy word, but at least I am exercising my brain.

Julie: I’ve had some good combos; just luck.

Kay (thinking to herself): Luck, my foot. This girl is good.

As Luca Trevisan, professor of computer science, once said, “Usually, when one tries to understand something very complex, there is a first phase when one learns a lot, has no idea of the vastness of the subject, and feels like he is quickly grasping it. Then one begins to appreciate its complexity, and feels completely lost.”

Just as in Scrabble.

Perhaps instead of struggling at Scrabble, I will try brushing my teeth with my non-dominant hand and hope that is good enough exercise for this aging brain.

Anyone know if unscrabbled is a valid word?

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