Last on MOTD: How to win at Scrabble

I WON’T say how we met, but it didn’t last long; she was keener than me, my indecision hardened into serious doubts, I called it off, she cried.

We didn’t break all contact immediately, which was a mistake, in hindsight. I got a few angry e-mails and text messages, and avoided answering my home phone for a while. I kept visualising her turning up on my doorstep, sly grin, ready to do something awful, although she never did. Things eventually calmed down, as they always do, except when they don’t.

Friends were generally sympathetic, although one or two told me I’d got off lightly. I don’t think I could go through something that intense these days, although I do wonder occasionally if I’ll ever inspire that level of emotion in someone again. I wouldn’t be sorry if I didn’t, to be honest. A boring, stable life has a lot to recommend it.

It’s funny what sticks with you when a relationship ends, though, however brief and unsatisfactory. Years later, when all bitterness has long since evaporated, when the bleep of your mobile phone no longer fills you with dread and you can barely remember their surname, the most random thing can trigger a memory.

With her, it’s Scrabble. Even now, I can’t look at a board without remembering her. She taught me how to win at it. The secret, she told me as she kicked my sorry ass the first time we played, is in knowing your two-letter words.

The mistake most Scrabble players make, she once said, is in thinking that big words are the key to victory. Sure, if you can score 137 with ‘CRAZIEST’ (assuming the Z is on a double-letter score, either the C or R is on a triple-word score and you receive the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles in your rack), but how likely are you to get that lucky?

No, the best way to accumulate points steadily throughout the game is through two-letter words, because it gives you greater flexibility as to where you place your tiles on the board. According to Hasbro, who hold the rights to the game in North America, you can increase your score by up to 50 points a game by knowing all 101 of the two-letter words allowed under Scrabble tournament rules.

So, for instance, if your opponent had started a game by placing the word ‘ORANGE’ across the middle of the board, and you had the tiles EENPRST in your rack, then you could place the word ‘PRESENT’ on the row above – but with the T on top of the O to make the additional word ‘TO’. Trust me, this would score you a lot of extra points.

By the time the relationship ended, I discovered she had taught me a lot of two-letter words. It turned out she knew a lot of four-letter words, too.

Last on MOTD: Norwich 1 Fulham 1
Commentator: Martin Fisher

I’d be curious to know what she made of Scrabble Trickster, a variation on the traditional game brought out in the UK by Mattel in the summer of 2010. (I’m not curious enough to get back in touch with her, though.)

Thanks to some rather misleading media reports at the time, Scrabble Trickster caused a lot of controversy – because its rules allowed proper nouns and people’s names to be used. Reports claimed that Trickster would effectively replace Scrabble, leading to the story being discussed at great length on Have I Got News For You by Richard Herring and Victoria Coren.

(As I recall, they both tutted amusingly, although Herring was just as befuddled by the fact that the word ‘ZA’ – which, apparently, is short for ‘pizza’ – is allowed in conventional Scrabble, despite being a term hardly anyone uses.)

Conventional Scrabble and the Trickster version are very different beasts, but the value of two-letter words remains key to both. So if you were to assess the worth of Premier League players in Scrabble terms, the most valuable would be Newcastle striker Demba Ba. (Believe it or not, ‘BA’ is acceptable in conventional Scrabble. It is an ancient Egyptian term for the soul.) But throw in the Trickster rules, and Fulham striker Orlando Sa must be worth a fair bit too.

There is unlikely ever to be a Premier League player with a shorter surname than Sa or Ba, unless someone signs Mr T from the A Team. While Ba has enjoyed a prolific season with Newcastle, Sa has taken a little longer to get going with Fulham since arriving from Porto last summer.

The Portuguese striker has started Fulham’s last two games, though, and scored his first goal for the club at Norwich on Saturday. It ensured that the Canaries’ failure to keep a single clean sheet all season continued, but it wasn’t enough for victory. Simeon Jackson equalised in the fourth minute of stoppage time to ensure Fulham continue their record of drawing a lot. They could probably draw a game of Scrabble at the moment.

If that was a disappointment for all you Fulham fans out there, take heart from the fact that you were last on Match of the Day, thus ensuring your club once again moves to the top of the Gubbometer. With no Europa League distractions to worry about in the New Year, you can look forward to playing on Saturdays a lot. The Last on MOTD crown is once again yours for the taking. And let’s face it, that’s far more of an honour than any Scrabble competition.

Gubbometer 2011/12

1. Fulham: 5 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
2. Aston Villa: 4 (2L: 3, 3L: 2)
3. QPR: 4 (2L: 0, 3L: 1)
4. West Brom: 3 (2L: 4, 3L: 2)
5. Swansea: 3 (2L: 3, 3L: 3)
6: Wolves: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 4)
7. Norwich: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
8. Sunderland: 3 (2L: 2, 3L: 0)
9. Wigan: 2 (2L: 5, 3L: 4)
10: Liverpool: 2 (2L: 1, 3L: 2)
11. Newcastle: 2 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)
12. Bolton: 1 (2L: 3, 3L: 4)
13. Blackburn: 1 (2L: 2, 3L: 3)
14. Stoke: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 3)
15. Tottenham: 1 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
16. Everton: 0 (2L: 4, 3L: 4)
17. Arsenal: 0 (2L: 2, 3L: 1)
18. Manchester United: 0 (2L: 1, 3L: 0)
19. Chelsea: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 3)
20. Manchester City: 0 (2L: 0, 3L: 0)

2L = On second last (Bolton 1 Wolves 1)
3L = On third last (Stoke 2 Wigan 2)

(Teams receive one point every time they are last on MOTD. Teams level are separated by the number of times they are on second last, then by the number of times they are on third last. MOTD2 not included.)

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