Scrabble your memory | Daily News

Scrabble your memory

Sri Lankan children won the Best Team Award at the World Youth Scrabble Championship, for the second time in a row. 2015 was in Perth, Australia, and 2016 in Lille, France.

Scrabble is a ‘Board Game’ or a ‘Mind Game’, among other number games (dice and bingo), move games (chess and checkers) and word games (anagrams). It was an architect, Alfred Mosher Butts who invented the game featuring anagrams and crossword puzzles, where skill and chance both could play a role. The game was trademarked “Scrabble” in 1948. Today over one hundred million sets are sold worldwide, averaging two million sets for a year.

Children are becoming aware of Scrabble in Sri Lanka too, despite the fact that Scrabble is still a patented brand and owned by one company, it has not spread as far and wide as it should be. It is time for all schools around the country to begin scrabble games in their schools.

Playing Scrabble is not expensive, once a few scrabble boards and perhaps a good scrabble dictionary is acquired. It is time for teachers to take an interest in Scrabble, and for parents to encourage children to play scrabble, to join the school scrabble clubs, to play scrabble on their android phones or computers instead of playing computer games. It is a game that parents too could play with their children, instead of wasting their time on the idiot box.

There is a misconception that one has to be very fluent in English, to play this game, but all that a child needs to know are as many English words as possible, to be able to build a word with the seven random tiles available.

The highest scoring words at the 2016 championship were FILAMENT (158) by Hansi Weerasuriya, and OBEDIENT (158) by Aabid Ismail, both from Sri lanka, and another with the same score BASCINET (158) Sohaib Sanaullah from Pakistan. It was reported in 2006 that a carpenter, playing with a supermarket employee in the basement of their church in Lexington, Massachusetts, scored 365 for QUIXOTRY.

As with most other games, luck plays a role in Scrabble too, luck dictates what tiles a player and his opponent draws, but it is skill that make it possible for a good player to score from bad tiles. A player has to be very alert not to miss the best opportunities, and also have the courage and quickness of mind to make the best of the tiles one has. It is a game which requires a very good memory, very quick mental reactions to spot opportunities on the scrabble board for the highest scoring word one could get, and also keep a track of tiles already used and yet to come. What we have seen during the past few years among the children playing competitive scrabble at an international level is their very fast improvement, day by day, year by year. It also reflects in their educational fields also because of the mental development stimulated by the game.

The World Youth Scrabble Championship is an individual event, where only one competitor could be the overall champion. It is by adding up the individual performances that the team prize is awarded. It is great to observe the team spirit among the players, and even the friendships that develop with children from other teams, other schools and other countries. Each individual performance by each player is also crucial to win the team award, because each player contributes in winning individual games which force the opponents to be pushed down in the rankings.

We could organize India Sri Lanka Scrabble tournaments through the Sri Lanka India Foundation or the Indian Cultural Centre, and with the SAARC Countries through the SAARC Cultural Centre. We could also arrange competitions with Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. Sri Lanka hosted the 2014 World Championships, and we could plan for an opportunity to host it again.

An urgent step which needs to be taken by the Ministry of Education is to lift the restriction for children under 13 from participating in mind games like scrabble and chess. This ruling may have been given after a few tragic happenings around 2013, but that was in field sports. When there are children playing international scrabble and chess at a very young age, and when there is an award for the under 12 champion as well as an under 10 champion, our restriction of limiting the game to over 13 is most unreasonable.

The fact that a young group from a few Colombo schools only could win the team award at a world championship should be an eye opener for our Ministry of Sports and Ministry of Education, to bring the game to the other schools, where there should be many more talented students, who could achieve international standards. Let us create a good level playing field for all children in the country, to enable them to become the world champions in every age group, from 10 years, 18 years, and then to go on to become the world champion in the open tournaments. To achieve this we also need sponsors, to organize competitions, district wise and then islandwide, and then with neighbouring countries. 

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