October 30, 2003 at 12:17 p.m.
A Chisago Lakes Middle Schooler hit two triple-word squares making a single word-- or what competitive Scrabble players call a triple-triple-- in recent play at a school Scrabble session. The single word netted her 252 points. Needless to say, 13-year-old Andrea Olson won the game.
More important than her winning, according to her instructor Bill Bigler, is that Olson exhibited advanced analytical ability to identify a use for her whole rack of letters achieving something quite rare in Scrabble.
Bigler is a competition-level Scrabble player himself.
“This is like getting the trophy buck hunters dream of; this is a 300 game in bowling on your first trip to the lanes,” the math teacher explained.
“I can’t describe how rare this is to have happen.”
Carol Dustin, who organizes competitive Scrabble events and heads the Twin Cities Scrabble Club, said any score over 200 on one word is “absolutely excellent...this is something she can be proud of.”
Dustin said 252 is not a record, 320 points on one word is the record.
But, Dustin added, “Maybe once in 500 tournament -level games will you see a score like that.”
They polled World Scrabble tournament players recently in Malaysia on what their highest score in a single play had ever been, and those players ranged between 180 to 260 points, Dustin said.
It started off as an ordinary game a couple weeks ago, during mini-course break in Bigler’s second floor classroom.
Most of the plays on the board showed novice level approaches that the casual Scrabble player would be expected to use.
To demonstrate, Bigler re-set the gameboard to show how the game progressed.
He pointed out how some blank tiles were “wasted” on low point words, and where the “s” tile had been used prematurely by the players.
But there was something about the first word played by Olson that told a player of Bigler’s caliber this might be a game to watch.
Not only did Olson later on snag the unbelievable one-word point score, but in her first turn she spelled “teenager” and used her whole rack. For that she got a “bingo” which is a 50 point bonus for using all letters on your first turn.
Bigler said one doesn’t often witness new players showing that kind of strategy.
Andrea said she just likes getting a lot of points. In her triple-triple score she spelled ‘question’ off another word in the lower left corner. “I really like the Q tile,” she noted. “It’s 10 points.”
So; what’s with a math teacher in 2003 introducing kids to a boardgame patented in 1948 ?
The top competitive Scrabble players on the planet are mathmeticians, Bigler said.
That’s why Scrabble is a regular component in his math classes and a favorite for kids attending his study hall.
High level play is all about statistical probability and combinations. Plus, Bigler teaches the correct method of scoring and tabulating totals, and his kids learn how the pros track challenged words or over-ruled plays.
He said at first Scrabble was sneered upon by the study hall gang as ho-hum .
Pretty quickly though, he was hearing from nearby classrooms to keep the noise down...it had gotten kind of rowdy amongst Bigler’s Scrabble players as they became engrossed in their games.
Dealing with teens normally physically attached to electronic video action games -- Bigler admits, “I had to nudge them along in the beginning,
“Now it’s what they desire to do.”
Competitive Scrabble players can make a lot of money at tournaments but they usually work hard and long to get there. Andrea’s game was such an awesome thing, Bigler just had to see a story done about it.
He observed that when young people do amazing things they often don’t even know how amazing that thing is.