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Hard Scrabble made easy for dummies.

Byline: Sid McKeen

COLUMN: WRY & GINGER

Are you ready for the latest installment of The Dumbing Down of Everything You Grew Up to Hold Sacred? Well, it's here. The Mattel people, who own the rights to the tight little game of Scrabble, are said to be coming out with a new version that allows the use of proper nouns.

Proper nouns, can you believe it?

How many times have you stopped some clown from plunking down his tiles to spell out the name of some obscure place nobody ever heard of with a bunch of Zs, Qs and Ks in it and claiming a triple word score of 80 points or more?

You: "Wait just a second here, that begins with a capital letter."

Your opponent: "Sure, that's because it's the capital city."

You: "Nice try. The rules say no proper nouns."

That was then. This is now. The newest version of the popular word game will throw a monkey wrench at the old rule prohibiting names of people and places. The idea, one would guess, is to lure a younger, more hip audience.

There are two things you can say about most of today's youth: (A) They're not crazy about rules, most particularly rules that make things harder; and (B) Their lives are centered around proper nouns - especially brand names, almost all of which are capitalized.

And if the younger crowd enters the Scrabble scene in large numbers, stand by for demands to soften the rules in other ways - starting with allowing such non-words as LOL and OMG that you see in so many e-mails and text messages (Lots of Laughs or Laughing Out Loud and Oh My God , respectively, for the benefit of the unenlightened).

What can we look forward to after that? Allowing Scrabblers to stick the tiles down anywhere on the board that suits their fancies? Giving them extra points for words they manage to spell correctly?

And once people's names become a regular part of the game, what's to prevent an imaginative participant from inventing a new one on the spot? ("Oh yes, I once knew a kid back in kindergarten named Jaxkquez. Honest.")

Can we expect to see a new version of the old cutthroat game of Monopoly, in which players are allowed to buy houses and hotels with no money down and monthly payments by IOU? Remember how we used to make the first one to go bankrupt be the banker for the rest of the game? Thinking back on it now, maybe we gave the government some ideas about managing the economy.

I can't write about Scrabble without mentioning an old reporter friend from the dim, dark past, a quirky guy with a fey sense of humor named Hugh Mitchell. He and I spent many a night (and early morning) playing the game, and prided ourselves on coming up with arcane words. Then we'd argue about the words. When a game was over, each of us made a list of all the words on the board. Next day, both of us would write a story using all the words. Then we'd argue about who wrote the better story.

None of them ever made print, of course. Too bad. What they lacked in plot, they made up for in frequent references to zoos and quizzes and kayaks and jinxes. I can only imagine what we'd have been able to accomplish with Qatar and Kazakhstan.

Pulitzer maybe.

Reach Sid McKeen at mckeensidney@gmail.com.

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Title Annotation:COMMENTARY
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 18, 2010
Words:580
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