Cookin', Critters and Chillun

Is this a word?

A record number of 46 teams of avid and not-so-avid Scrabble players carefully placed tiles and spelled everything from “xi” to complex words.

Xi is the cardinal number that is the sum of 10 and 1, by the way, and also the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet.

Connie Brockenbrough-Vaughn, left, president of the family company that owns the Salem Times-Register and its five sister newspapers, prepares to play Scrabble against the UU Q-Users made up of writers and friends Roanoke College English professor Katherine Hoffman, center, Betsy Biesenbach and Terry Smith, right. Photo by Meg Hibbert
Connie Brockenbrough-Vaughn, left, president of the family company that owns the Salem Times-Register and its five sister newspapers, prepares to play Scrabble against the UU Q-Users made up of writers and friends Roanoke College English professor Katherine Hoffman, center, Betsy Biesenbach and Terry Smith, right. Photo by Meg Hibbert

We wished for vowels, prayed for guidance from teammates and hoped we could at least collect 200 points so we wouldn’t embarrass ourselves by giving up a bunch of unused high-point letters when our opponents placed their last words.

The event was the 9th Annual Blue Ridge Literacy Scrabble Competition, held March 20 in Fitzpatrick Hall at the Jefferson Center. This year it raised about $10,000 to teach around 400 adults a year to read, write and speak English.

Our team of two – down one because of illness – didn’t have a catchy name. We were simply the “Salem Times-Register.” (Hey, I didn’t pick it.)

The Vinton Messenger’s team of Debbie Adams, daughter Kristin Adams and her fiancé was classier: “The Vinton Messengers.” Around the room were “The Word Nuts” from Valley Bank – including team member Helen Turner, who lives in Salem – “Thesaurus Thugs,” “The Wytheville Word Warriors,” “Friends of the Court” (attorneys, naturally), and the best name of the evening, according to Blue Ridge Literacy’s Russ Merritt, “The Irritable Vowel Syndrome.”

The highest score we heard after the two rounds, was 468 points by team “Escobar,” made up of library staff.

There were teams of kids who are learning to play Scrabble in a Scrabble Club at the Roanoke City Library on Williamson Road. An 8-year-old played one word worth 72 points. It wasn’t gigantic, but she placed it well: “enjoys” on a triple word square.

Even the lowest scoring teams came away winners. One of those was a team just learning to play. The three young team members each got a dictionary. Big winners got $15 gift certificates to Macy’s.

Our team’s first word was “zap” which was worth 24 points because of the Z and placement.

We were pretty proud of using “mosh” in our first match and “yo yo” but were felled 252 to 241 by our opponents, the UU Q-Users, who included Roanoke College English professor Katherine Hoffman.

In our second round, my teammate Connie Brockenbrough-Vaughn produced “brogue” and “toxin.” I mostly drew tiles and agreed. My biggest challenge was keeping our family-owned newspapers’ President Connie in check.

She kept penciling letters on her program, punching me on the arm and stage whispering, “Is this a word?”

 

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