Tag Archives: Nellie Wimberly

LSS: Hard Scrabble truth

Last week in Warsaw, Poland, competition at the World Scrabble Championship reached a new high.
Or maybe it was a new low.
In the throes of the etymological battle, a Thai player accused an English player of cheating and demanded that the English player be strip-searched in an effort to find the missing letter “G.”
Scrabble officials declined, and the English player went on to win the game.
On a few rare occasions, I’ve played Scrabble with people who take the game just as seriously as that. While I love Scrabble and have been known to win a game or two, once it gets to a certain level, even Scrabble is just not fun anymore. It becomes kind of like Monopology—a long slow, painful loss.
But Scrabble doesn’t have to be like that, Scrabble can still be fun and open minds to new words and ideas.
That’s what Scrabble has done for me over the years.
Long, long ago, way back in the fall of 1982, my parents took me to college on a Sunday afternoon.
They helped me unload all my belongings and get my new dorm room in order, and then they did what parents do when they take their kids to college. They left.
With my bed made and my clothes hung, I wasn’t sure what to do next. So, I went to the room next door and met my neighbors, Nellie and Alice Jasper. They were twins and had grown up in a small town about 25 miles from the university we were entering. They knew the campus well, as both their parents were engineering professors there. The three of us talked for a moment. I could tell they were my kind of people and asked if they’d like to play a game of Scrabble.
It seemed like the thing to do.
We went to the dorm’s lobby and started setting up the game. A guy they knew walked by and ended up joining our game.
I have no idea who won the game, but I do remember one specific play from that afternoon. Midway through the game, this guy (who’s name long ago went missing from my head) played the word, “TORK.”
I said, “That’s not a word.”
He said, “Yes, it is. We learned about it in physics — something about the force required to turn an object.”
Nellie and Alice both started laughing and said simultaneously, “That’s not how you spell “TORQUE.”
The three of them debated the spelling of “TORQUE” for a few minutes before one of the twins ultimately decided to challenge the word. Of course, she was right and he had to take T-O-R-K off the board.
Throughout the exchange, I had stayed rather quiet.
Until that moment, I had never heard the word “TORQUE” and certainly had no idea what it meant or how to spell it. I vaguely remember the three of them launching into further discussion of exactly what “torque” means, but what I really remember is the major realization that came to me on that early Sunday evening in the lobby of Critz Hall: “It’s a good thing I’ve come to college, because apparently, there’s a whole lot I’ve got to learn.”
In the big picture, that may have turned out to be one of the greatest lessons I ever learned.
You just don’t know what you don’t know.