H-i-a-t-u-s. In Scrabble, that’s worth nine points, four for the H and one each for the rest. But if you place the H on a double letter square it’s worth 13, unless you also spell along an axis with a triple word score, then you get 39 points.
So how do you use hiatus in a sentence? With a nod to current events, you’d say, “Because of the coronavirus, all meetings of the Marshes of Glynn Library Scrabble clubs are on hiatus.”
With different letters you could say, “The coronavirus has put the quietus on meetings of the Scrabble clubs.”
That Q is worth 10 points and you could score 78 points under the same board alignment.
By any measure, the coronavirus has resulted in no fun points for anyone as many in-person activities are canceled until further notice at the mainland and island libraries.
“So far, we haven’t resumed any of our in-person programming,” says Diana Graham, program coordinator for the libraries.
“It was up and down,” Graham says of the participation, but Scrabble appeared to be catching on. “A lot of our players seemed to be retired educators or people who had worked in libraries.”
In other words, people accustomed to working with the language.
Gloria Moreau, a founder of the clubs, misses the word play.
“I’m not Scrabbling,” she says. “I’m not Scrabbling at all.”
This from someone who has Scrabbled since she was 10 or 12 years old.
“My parents played,” and it adds up to more than 50 years with her beloved word game, she says.
Some have compared the game to crossword puzzles without clues as players score by forming words vertically and horizontally. Each letter has value from 1 to 10 depending on how commonly it is used, and there are squares that enhance the values of letters and words.
Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect, created the game in 1938 as a variation on one called Lexiko. He called it Criss Cross Words, and in 1948 sold the rights to James Brunot.
Brunot rented a building in Connecticut where he, his family, and friends turned out 2,400 of the games in 1949.
Legend has it, he lost money, but his fortunes were turned around by one player, Jack Strauss, the president of Macy’s who played it on vacation in 1952. When he returned to New York, he wanted to buy a game for his family but was surprised Macy’s didn’t carry it. He placed a big order and the game, which had been renamed Scrabble, took off.
It is now played in 121 countries and is printed in 29 languages. It is estimated a third of Americans and half of Britons have Scrabble games in their homes.
Moreau certainly has one in hers. She and Karen Larrick, who retired nearly a year ago and was replaced by Graham earlier this year, decided to form the Scrabble clubs five years ago.
“We had no idea who would show up,’’ but people did and the clubs have grown, Moreau says.
The onus of getting people to show up fell on her. Larrick says she usually considered a couple of things when people proposed forming clubs at the library.
“A lot of times, I would consider whether it was something I would enjoy,’’ she says.
Having played the game for decades herself, she knew it was enjoyable.
Secondly, she wanted some idea on the interest in the game, and she left that up to Moreau.
“I told her if she could come up with a core group to make it effective, I would give it a try,” Larrick says.
It took off with enough players to schedule play at both libraries, and if they needed someone to finish filling a table, Larrick would join if it fit her schedule.
With the library clubs on hiatus, neither she nor Moreau has played those regular games. But even with the break, they have not forgotten some key lessons.
For Moreau, one is to not simply add an S to another player’s word to make it plural to score a few points. Spelling a word that puts a big value letter, such as Q, Z, J, and X, on a bonus square makes for a bigger score.
Those high-yielding moves stick with you, too, Moreau adds.
“I think the best word I ever had was ‘tranquil,’” she says.
The Q ended up on a double letter square and the alignment also had her on two triple word squares so she multiplied three times.
“I think it was 212 points,” she says.
No novice is going to knowingly score that big, and those new to the game also don’t always realize that the words they play can set up their opponents for huge scores.
“You don’t want to put letters where the next player is going to get a triple,” she says.
That sort of knowledge isn’t gained at the first sitting, so the Scrabble clubs handicap the play, placing experienced and new players at different tables. Also, players can use a help sheet or a dictionary if everyone at the table agrees, she said.
“We wanted everybody to have fun. Losing every week isn’t fun,” Moreau concedes.
“But no experienced player is going to use a dictionary.”
For her part, Moreau tries to learn as many words as possible, but even she gets questioned sometimes.
“I have lots and lots of words memorized. My husband says, ‘You can’t play that until you tell me what it means.’” she says. “I say, ‘I don’t know what it means, but I just beat you.’”