Steven D. Lawrenz, who went first, drew seven tiles and played "foal," for 14 points. Jonathan Raban, the famous English author, who was sitting across from Lawrenz, commented on Lawrenz' speed, looked at his own tiles, rearranged them a couple of times, looked at the board, and then after a long pause said, "Shit." Lawrenz' place at the table was a gift from his wife, Jenni, the highest bidder for the Famous Author Scrabble Game and Brunch auctioned off this winter in Strangercrombie, The Stranger's holiday fundraiser for Northwest Harvest. The famous authors were supposed to be Nancy Pearl and Jonathan Raban, but a sudden illness prevented Pearl from showing up for the game, leaving Raban the only famous person at the table. The other players were Annie Wagner, The Stranger's theater critic and the only person I know who's memorized all of the two-letter words in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary ("aa," "ab," "ae," "ag," and so on), and me. I announced Wagner's command of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, and Raban, who had already expressed worry about the game in an e-mail, grabbed his stomach and pretended to excuse himself, saying, "I think I have what's ailing Nancy."

In the weeks before the game, Pearl wrote in an e-mail to me, "We're not talking about cutthroat Scrabble, right? My anxiety level is rising." She would have been pleased by how good-natured and non-cutthroat everyone was. We ate French toast and blueberry pancakes and fruit and floppy bacon and talked about colleges attended, Queen Anne neighborhoods lived in, Alaskan vacations taken, children expected (Lawrenz' wife is pregnant), and earlier incarnations of the restaurant we were eating in (Library Bistro, which donated the brunch). It was extra cheerful until the second round, which commenced with Lawrenz playing all of his letters to form the word "stalled," for 71 points. It was early in the day, and the rest of us looked down at the board, baffled. Someone said, "Is that a bingo?" and Lawrenz said, "It is," and Raban said, "Wow," and took a sip of his bloody mary.

Lawrenz smiled a lot through the game, happily laying down words like "zee," "sty," and "penny," while Wagner bemoaned the prevalence of the letter "i" among the tiles ("I really think the inventors of Scrabble misjudged how many i's there are in English usage") and Raban wryly transmuted his agony into humor ("I am appalled by the Scrabble dictionary--it offends my sense of what a dictionary ought to do and be"). Raban played short, bleak words like "woe" and "rue" and "train" and said, when someone asked about his bloody mary, "It's good. I should have had two of them." In the end, Lawrenz was still smiling, probably because he won by more than 100 points. Then we all started talking about what verb I should use to describe his victory. "Trounce?" someone said. "I think it has to be a seven-letter word," someone else said.

Support The Stranger

DocFest Kicks Off The Return of SIFF Cinema | Sep 30-Oct 7
A celebration of all films documentary—with in person and virtual screenings, plus filmmaker Q&As.