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Photo by Naomi Johnston, additional design by Archi Banal
Photo by Naomi Johnston, additional design by Archi Banal

SocietyJune 10, 2022

Hear me out: You should join a Scrabble club

Photo by Naomi Johnston, additional design by Archi Banal
Photo by Naomi Johnston, additional design by Archi Banal

Want to meet interesting people, learn something new and get off your phone for a few hours? Have we got a concept for you. 

Last year I travelled down to Hamilton to cover the New Zealand Scrabble nationals and found myself thrust into a bizarre and beautiful multiverse of enthusiastic folks who fizz over words like SAMIZDAT and play Scrabble on their phones in the brief moments when they aren’t playing Scrabble in real life. I left the tournament hankering to hit the tiles myself, a prophecy I didn’t actually fulfil until Auckland’s second hell-in-a-handbasket lockdown. 

Unable to meet any of my friends or family inside – remember the ever-evolving outdoor toilet rules? – and with a rapidly deteriorating mental health situation, I took to the board with my Scrabble-addicted mum in local parks as a way of piecing my mushy brain back together. Eventually I started playing on my phone too, engaging in endless games against my dad in the Wairarapa and my brother in Wellington, a way of keeping in constant contact through the sacred medium of triple triples and bingo words. 

The perils of playing al fresco (Photo: Alex Casey)

This year, I took it up a notch and decided to join my local Scrabble club. I wandered into the fluorescent-lit bridge club building one balmy Monday night and found a delightful room of strangers who welcomed me with their equivalent of open arms (a laminated two- and three-letter word list). For $4 a session you play three games in a row, with free tea and coffee and a selection of biscuits available. I won two games on my first night, and quickly became high on my own supply – I have never reached the dizzying heights of that beginner’s luck since. 

Every time I go to Scrabble club, I think about my colleague Anna Rawhiti-Connell’s brilliant essay about the art of the plod, which she describes as “the deep, soulful satisfaction that can be found in being shit at something and doing it anyway”. As someone who has also spent most of their life only bothering to do something if there’s a chance I will be very good at it, it’s an extremely humbling experience to get my ass handed to me week in, week out, by a series of grinning, greying word warriors well over twice my age. 

Sometimes I lose games by over 200 points. Sometimes the A-grade players gather behind my rack and tut at my every move. Sometimes I spoil my blank on a single-digit word just to rage against the Scrabble machine. Sometimes you just want to watch the tiles burn while you sip your tea and eat your Krispie. 

Absolute scenes from Scrabble club (Photos: Alex Casey)

Perfecting the art of the plod is far from the only benefit. For three hours you are encouraged to sit quietly and focus, alongside a bunch of people you would never otherwise meet. Nobody wants to talk about work, or whatever bleak news is breaking, everyone just wants to dig into the tiles and work on improving their average. For what it’s worth, I’m at the bottom of the lowest grade (D) at my club, currently sitting at 135th of 139 possible rating positions in the country. I still show up every week so at the very least the rest of the club has someone to comfortably wipe the floor with. 

If joining a Scrabble Club is not your thing, the good news is there are plenty of other clubs to join – look at this cool club directory, or cruise your Facebook community pages. Maybe you could be incredible at darts, or become an expert at polishing gems and minerals, or maybe you will discover a knack for racing remote-controlled miniature yachts. Or maybe, like me, you might discover a fun new hobby but not a tremendous amount of skill – at least there are always free biscuits.

Keep going!