Meet Forest Park's Scrabble savant

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Print

By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

It may be a new year, but for most of us staying home remains our daily routine.  Confinement has caused board games to increase in popularity. Chess is enjoying a resurgence, but I'm focusing on another intellectually-stimulating game — Scrabble. That's because I play monthly games against Forest Park's Scrabble savant, Tom Legge.

Tom discovered Scrabble when he was 8 years old. He started out playing his mom, who let him win at first, until Tom began beating her fair and square. He continued his Scrabble career, playing frequently at Knox College, then joined Scrabble clubs and competed in tournaments. He met a whole array of eccentrics and Mensa members. Not that all serious Scrabble players are dweebs. Barrett Jones, who played center for Alabama, was a top player.

Most of these Scrabble tournaments were held in Chicago but Tom also traveled to Michigan and Massachusetts to compete. Competitive Scrabble is like competitive chess. There is a clock each player punches and they are allowed 22½ minutes to complete a game. I've used up 22½ minutes to take one turn.

When he's not playing, Tom has studied a slew of Scrabble books and competes at a high level against his computer. He's not alone in his love for the game. One-third of American homes have a Scrabble set. There are over 4,000 Scrabble clubs in 121 countries.

Tom later became director of a Scrabble club on the North Side. He set up the boards and made rulings on disputes and challenges. In 2012, he moved to Forest Park and played Scrabble at the library, but it didn't give him the competitive fix he was seeking.

Tom and I happened to meet at Shanahan's, which became our "friendly confines" for Scrabble games. Most nights, I was obliterated by Tom's play. He once laid down four 7-letter words — known as "bingos" — in one game. I've scored four bingos lifetime.

He scored over 600 points in a game. I'm fortunate to get 300 points, but Tom swears I beat him twice one night. The secret to his success is his use of 2-letter words. There is a list of 107 such words that serious Scrabble players memorize. He's also very skillful at using the four "s" letters and two "blanks" to form plurals. Although he's an admitted "word freak," Tom sees Scrabble as primarily a mathematical game.

He targets the high-value squares, while blocking his opponent from using them. Like the rest of us mere mortals, he arranges letters in his tray to form words, or to find prefixes and suffixes. He looks for comparatives and superlatives to extend words. He recently played "ferniest" against me for 70 points.

Scrabble may be a cerebral game, but there's an element of luck in drawing letters. The "big four" are Z, Q, J and X. Getting the Q used to be like getting stuck with the Queen of Spades in Hearts. That was before the discovery of U-less "q" words like qi, the "life force" in traditional Chinese medicine.

Sorry, if I'm getting too "inside baseball" about Scrabble. But to paraphrase a certain baseball player, "Scrabble has been very, very good to me." A Scrabble victory at the library landed me a job as an ESL tutor for five years. That led to a three-year, full-time job teaching ESL students.

I'm looking forward to the return of game nights at the library. Tom said he would be available to help form a competitive Scrabble club. The only question is who wants to play a guy who once laid down "whodunit?"

Love the Review?

Become our partner in independent community journalism

Thanks for turning to Forest Park Review and ForestParkReview.com. We love our thousands of digital-only readers. Now though we're asking you to partner up in paying for our reporters and photographers who report this news. It had to happen, right?

On the plus side, we're giving you a simple way, and a better reason, to join in. We're now a non-profit -- Growing Community Media -- so your donation is tax deductible. And signing up for a monthly donation, or making a one-time donation, is fast and easy.

No threats from us. The news will be here. No paywalls or article countdowns. We're counting on an exquisite mix of civic enlightenment and mild shaming. Sort of like public radio.

Claim your bragging rights. Become a digital member.

Donate Now

Reader Comments

No Comments - Add Your Comment

Note: This page requires you to login with Facebook to comment.

Comment Policy

Facebook Connect

Community Guide 2019 - 2020

To view the full print edition of the Forest Park Review 2019 - 2020 Community Guide, please click here.

Quick Links

Sign-up to get the latest news updates for Forest Park.


            
SubscribeClassified
MultimediaContact us
Submit Letter To The Editor
Place a Classified Ad

Latest Comments