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A night of Gourmet Scrabble caters to both body and mind

By Rachel Travers, Globe Correspondent, 6/26/2003

ARLINGTON - Stephen Schneider sets up plastic tables and chairs in the living room, dining room, kitchen, and bedroom of his apartment, prepares his dining room table for potluck offerings that range from take-out pad Thai to coconut cream cake, and welcomes 20 word wizards to Gourmet Scrabble.

''This is not your hard-core, competitive Scrabble that serves only Oreos,'' Schneider says. Instead it's a chance, one Sunday evening a month, for Scrabble players to nosh, mingle, and get in a game in teams of two.

''We're a funny collection of folks who love to laugh, eat good food, have good conversation, and, for one night a month, have an opportunity to be very competitive,'' says Anne Santoro, a dietitian from Arlington who's been part of the group since shortly after Schneider founded it four years ago.

The origins of Gourmet Scrabble were simple enough. Schneider, 57, an attorney who advocates for abused and disabled children, enjoys the game. In November 1999, he was looking for new ways to socialize. He started suggesting playing team Scrabble to colleagues, yoga classmates, friends from Dance Friday, tennis partners. Soon he assembled a core group of 30 people and devised a plan to rotate host houses. He's keeper of the Scrabble boards, dictionaries, pens, paper, and cheat sheets listing 1,000 useful words.

Early on, Schneider took a course on Scrabble techniques at the Cambridge Center for Adult Education*, and there he learned the 978 three-letter words and 96 two-letter words that are on his cheat sheets. He e-mails the group poems and chants to help them remember obscure words and their meanings. ''Doux, eaux, roux, calx, falx,'' goes one. ''Sweet, water, butter and flour, mineral, sickle shape.''

Schneider offers more word play for players. ''Wearing her juted jupe,'' goes one, ''she japed and jibed before saying jiao.'' Translation? ''Wearing her coarsely fibered jacket, she mocked and jeered before saying goodbye.''

Then there are proper names that have another life as common nouns, making them fair game in a Scrabble game. Among them are alan (a large hunting dog), hank (to fasten a sail), jill (a unit of liquid measure), pam (the jack of clubs), and ralph (to vomit).

The oldest member of the group, at 70, is Marilyn Hepner, a retired business manager from Arlington whose best-ever score was 609 points playing against a computer. ''My first Scrabble night scared the hell out of me because I feared everyone would see me as a tottering old lady and speak to me with baby talk,'' she says. ''Now, several years later, this has become one of the highlights of my life for two reasons. One, I am a whiz at Scrabble and need that challenge, and, two, everyone ... is so accepting and lovable.''

Scrabble Sundays remind Geri Blitzman, a 50-year-old management consultant from Watertown, of her childhood. ''For me, Scrabble is special,'' she says. ''It's what my mom and I always did together when I was growing up. Often we played when I was sick. We might bake a cake while the game was going. I lost her two years ago and heard about the Scrabble game at the same time. So it's a special time - `being' with her, back to a safer time, keeping a family tradition, and playing with a nice and intelligent group of people.''

Note: While this group is full, Stephen Schneider has offered to advise others about creating similar Gourmet Scrabble communities. His e-mail address is ssch8@earthlink.net.

*This course was taught by Ben Loiterstein Greenwood and will be offered again in Fall 2003.

This story ran on page H5 of the Boston Globe on 6/26/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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