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
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
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
*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
2003 Globe Newspaper Company.