April 15, 2018, mall Scrabble recap, part 3

April 24, 2018

By Matthew E. Milliken
April 24, 2018

The tournament’s seventh round pitted me against N.C., the leader in B division. The game got off to a relatively tame start, with the highest-scoring play in the first four turns being my XI/XU/IT 31. I head a modest 85-73 lead in turn 5 when, playing first, I swapped out my entire rack: ACEEEGQ. (Remember that last tile — it will return to our narrative.)

I got a nasty fright in turn 6 when N.C. played ARCANEs/AE/GIs, a 74-point bingo. But it sat wrong with me: Wasn’t arcane an adjective, I wondered, and as such would it not take an -S? I challenged, and the play was negated.

That proved to be the start of a strong four-turn run by me. My seventh move was HAJ/HAIR 36; I followed up with WAILS/HAJI 50, thanks to the triple-word-score bonus at center row–far-right column, and CLANGER/CRANER*, a 70-point bingo.

Interestingly, my rival challenged the bingo but not the phony crossword it made, CRANER; since CLANGER is valid, he forfeit his ninth turn. That left me on top by a 251-129 score entering turn 10.

(The lesson there, dear readers, is simple: If you’re going to challenge a word, be sure to challenge all the other words formed on that play.)

I promptly added to my margin with YULE 33, which combined a double-letter-score bonus for the four-point Y with the TWS bonus at bottom row–center column.

The game threatened to become interesting when N.C. put down ENDeARED, a 65-point bingo, in turn 13. Even so, I retained a respectable 333-263 lead at that moment.

N.C. outscored me the rest of the way, 77-63, but that wasn’t enough to overcome my advantage. Even better, I went out with LOOIEs. The play by itself was worth just seven points, but it netted me an additional 20 points because there were no more tiles and N.C. was left with the 10-point Q on his rack.

(A looie is someone who holds the rank of lieutenant, incidentally, and yes — it does take an -S.)

Result: A 416-340 win, moving my record to 6-1 with a plus-218 spread. I still trailed N.C., who had an identical record but a far better plus-531 spread, but we were going to play again in the next round.

Since the player in third place only had a 4-3 record, I was in a fairly enviable position: Even if I lost my last game, I was still guaranteed to finish the tournament in second place.

However, I’d obviously prefer to notch a win and claim a tourney title…

N.C. opened the game with BIOTA 20, to which I responded with a parallel play of EMERY/TE/AM 19. (Biota means the fauna of a place or timeemery is a dark granular material or a hard abrasive powder.)

N.C. had a two-point lead after two turns. But he had a nice score in turn 3 with TRANQ/RET/YER 45. I replied with QUOD 28, partly in hopes of preventing N.C. from utilizing the TWS in the bottom-right corner.

It didn’t work: N.C. followed up with SPIEL/TRANQS/UP/OI/DE, a 57-point play that left me trailing, 140-64, midway through turn 4.

My rack consisted of BEGOORV at that moment, and I didn’t like it one bit. (Remember that last tile — it will return to our narrative.) I exchanged all of my tiles and drew the marginally better ADEEJSU. (Thank goodness for that S, at least.)

N.C. opened turn 5 with AFRO/ABIOTA*/FOX, a 19-point play of which I was instantly suspicious. I thought that biota was a noun, and as such not a word that could be negated by an A- prefix. I challenged it off the board.

I started a small rally in turn 6 by playing JURA; thanks to its combo of a DLS bonus for the eight-point J and a double-word-score bonus, it generated 38 points for me. N.C. used my J and three tiles of his own to play JURA for 33 points thanks to the TWS bonus in the bottom-left corner. (Jura is a plural form of jus, which means a right or a systemic or abstract conception of the law.)

But I had an even better follow-up: DEiFIES/EH/SO, an 80-point bingo that narrowed my deficit to 196-191. I was back in the game!

However, N.C. found a nice parallel play with his eight move: FAIL/FE/Ai/IF/LI 32. I might be able to rally for a win, but he certainly wasn’t going to make it easy for me to do so!

Fortunately, my foe gave me a bit of an opening in turn 9 when he traded all seven of his tiles. But I was hardly positioned to capitalize: Holding BEINSTZ, I settled for EN/NE/ON. It generated 10 points thanks to its utilization of a triple-letter-score bonus, but even so, I was facing a 228-207 deficit.

This move had one upside: It prevented N.C. from placing his X on the TLS bonus. Alas, it didn’t stop him from putting down IXIA/GOX for 33 points. My prospects were still looking bleak, as I trailed by 54 points midway through turn 10.

But hope abided within me. After all, I had the Z, which is worth 10 points, as well as a super-useful S. I put both to good use in turn 11 with ZEST/TOYS, a 49-pointer thanks to the TWS bonus at top row–center column. That cut N.C.’s advantage down to just 11 points.

N.C.’s 12th move was WINCER 21, which I ultimately declined to challenge. That was a good decision on my part, because it’s a valid word.

In turn 13, I held AINPSV?. After some pondering, I played SPAVINe*/DHOWS, a game-changing 78-point bingo. That put me on top for the first time in the contest by a 356-325 margin.

It didn’t last. After careful thought, N.C. challenged the play off the board.

Later, I discovered that spavinan affliction of horses, particularly bony enlargements of the hock associated with strain — was valid, as are spavined and…wait for it…spavins. A win had been within my grasp, but I was foiled by insufficient word knowledge.

I made another try in turn 14, playing AVIaN/AYER* for 40 points thanks to a DLS/TWS combo. But N.C. negated this play, too, with a challenge.

In the end, I went down, 378-322.

I finished the tournament in second place with a 6-2 record and a plus-162 spread. I played my new nemesis, N.C., three times, handing him his only loss on a 7-1 day. (His very impressive final spread of plus-587 was largely built by 200-point romps in rounds 4 and 5; as previously chronicled, I had the misfortune of being on the wrong end of the first of those games.)

Still, there were eight other players in our division who’d have loved to finish in second place. All in all, it was another fun day of Scrabbling.

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