Friday, July 6, 2018


Playing alien Scrabble on a planet where you don't know the language. The lighting is dark blue so you can't see the features of your opponent in this game nor any of the hundreds of people on folding chairs in the surrounding audience, who actually seem to like spectating this alien Scrabble and follow the moves with desperate attention. You don't know the language, so you set tiles down at random, and your opponent challenges them all the time. Some sort of shadowy official with a giant dictionary comes out, looks up the gobbledygook word you played, and he already knows it's not a word, but he goes through the ritual of pointing out its absence in this or that part of the alien dictionary. He raises a large fishy-slimy hand up high and brings it down heavily on the board, somehow not disturbing any of the tiles except the ones you've just placed for your errant move, sending them hopping inches above the board's surface and then nimbly catching them in that fishy-slimy hand while his other arm is busy folding the dictionary under that elbow. Every time he catches you making a bad move, everyone in the audience, every single one of them, pulls out this double-board clapper that they hold in a single hand. Thrusting them forward, they give them small swings side to side, and the wood panels hit each other, and they shake them punitively at you for your bad move and for being caught in the making of that bad move. More than half your turns, the official comes out with the dictionary and cancels your move, and each time the audience produces its wooden clappers and rattles its wooden disapproval of you, and your opponent is prepared and he makes a triumphant move but they never use the clappers to celebrate his move, you only see them when it's your turn and you've made a mistake you don't understand and never will understand. When he makes his move the air to your left of the table lights up with projected runes, has to be the score, yours must be zero, it's zero right, but you swear your side used to be slightly different so maybe that move you made with two tiles however many turns ago was real, how long have you been here in this dark blue light with that judge coming to void your moves and why did you why would you have agreed to this game it's impossible. Why are they even watching it, spectator Scrabble makes no sense and obviously they can tell you don't know the language am I drawing bad letters every time and I should waste a turn to switch I just don't know there's no way to tell, it's crazy to think that some of them might be better or worse for me than others, I have no way of knowing and it's stupid to think that one kind of random would be better than another, it could be worse too it's a risk either way and why do they follow this game so intensely isn't it boring to them?

And then suddenly you lay down some random tiles in a random place on the board and the crowd hoots in a vocal expression of pleasure. Your opponent moves his arms angrily and the dark blue light reflects all around in weird patterns and the glowing projected runes reappear and suddenly you have lots of runes, was it zero before or was it something, no way to tell. Your opponent looks nervous and fumbles his tiles on the next move and drops them on the floor and out come the audience's wooden clappers, they rattle punitively at him this time and he can't take the pressure and drops the tiles on the floor again and the judge comes over I guess to scold him or something, his hands shake and he plays a word but a buzzer sounds and the judge brings over the dictionary. You know that walk and you know the position of that book at readiness like he can already tell of course he can tell it's his language if you played "zort" in Scrabble in your own language it doesn't take a book to prove you failed. And sure enough the judge inspects your opponent's new word and slaps the board and those tiles jump and he catches them and the crowd brings its rattlers back out to shake their disapproval of his move and you start to sweat worrying that now they'll expect you to be good and what in the world they had to have figured out before you didn't know what you were doing it feels like they think they're now watching some kind of verbal expert when they watch you what if you let them down and they mob you and kill you when you can only play gibberish. The judge retreats and you lay out a random selection of tiles with twisted runes on their faces and it happens again, the projected scoring runes light up and change and your score goes way up like you got a nine-times score or something oh my goodness are you winning now that is completely ridiculous. But you have driven your opponent to some kind of despair, he drops his tiles and they shake the rattlers at him, all around the room wood clacking, wood clacking, a drowning sea of clacking wood, it used to be only for you but now it is his and he doesn't like it, you don't even know the language and you can see from the shaking of his fish-slimy hands that he's setting down complete nonsense, building shapes out of the tiles and stacking them double and doing other things that makes the judge respond fast and angry and that makes the wooden clackers come back out oh my goodness are they going to kill him? The rattling wooden panels are getting closer on all sides and the clacking is getting louder and your next turn you use every tile you have left and somehow it's a word or at least they don't challenge it, you have so many runes now the person adding up the score has to be padding the number doesn't he, how can you have a four digit score, no, there's a fifth digit, how can you have a five digit score in Scrabble, what are the rules what are the numbers how does their numbering system work I wish I could speak the language oh goodness put the clacking clackers away I can't stand the clackers don't you know what they mean to me a reminder of my failure what if there is a rematch or a challenger after this one I would never agree to play competitive Scrabble especially not in front of a studio audience that's allowed to express its opinions. When my opponent plays his next move a loud buzzer sounds and the dark blue lights are even darker all I can see is wall panels far away but I can feel the presence of the audience, the judge returns and hits the board but this time all the tiles fall off the board is sideways in midair I actually feel disappointed that the image of the words I played, the great words, is not saved for gaming posterity, what in the world I actually remember it well no don't think that they're trying to draw you into their sick reality you don't actually care about any of this that happened, the clackers just keep rattling punitively and your opponent has suffered his last failure, they are hitting him with the clackers oh my goodness it's really happening like that they close around him and the clacking intensifies and you can't believe those things once looked like a fun way to increase audience engagement maybe when they brought them out the first time you messed up. The judge approaches you rapidly, you twitch and recoil but people are everywhere and his fishy-slimy hand grips your arm and raises it overhead in an unmistakable expression of triumph, wait, the clackers were supposed to be for bad things so why are they rattling them now at you the winner and why do they seem to be praising your victory oh light I never even learned the language what if they figure it out later rather than sooner and they're mad and think I deceived them it was obvious I didn't know the game?

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