Out on the Tiles, Down by the Sea

Put your Scrabble Face on and get your rack over to the Berkeley Hotel on August 20, for an ARC of Monmouth fun(d)raiser that can ONLY be called SCRABBLE BY THE SEA.

His imparted wisdom concerns the joys of parallel play, the importance of the word CANISTER, the necessity of closing bingo lines — and the reason why they don’t like tiles with etched letters.

Get him going on some of his most memorable games, and he’ll tell you about the time he exchanged seven on his first draw — or how things almost came to blows between him and his opponent, when his ILIA blocked the other guy’s carefully planned EXEGESIS.

But by all means, do NOT get him started on the topic of Ugly Racks.

We’re at words! in Asbury Park, listening to Jason Keller explain in detail his Ten Scrabble Tips for better, smarter, potentially pro-ey play — a set of gently suggested commandments that, while not exactly brought down from the mountain on stone tablets, are certainly as sensible as any philosopher or prophet’s guidelines for living.

The Highland Park resident (a four-time competitor in the National Scrabble Championship, where in Dallas in 2011 he came in 19th — that’s number 19 in the whole Scrabble-obsessed US of A) is spending a summertime Friday night on Cookman Avenue with a roomful of individuals who are here to play Scrabble, nevermind the beach and boardwalk and full moon outside.

Packed tightly at tables arranged amid the store’s bookshelves — and, in some but not all instances, psyching up for play with a complimentary glass of wine — a diverse lot of humanity has come to learn from a recognized expert, test their METTLE (8 points) and their MOJO (13 points), and maybe see if their lexicological legerdemain can stand up to Tournament-style play.

It’s the second in a brief series of warm-up events leading up to the big Scrabble by the Sea challenge on August 20 — and for this Scrabble Scrimmage (the first was held at NovelTeas in Red Bank), the participants have largely ignored the Scrabble boards furnished by proprietors Jan Sparrow and Scott Asalone, in favor of their own personal sets — an array that’s even more diverse than they are. In evidence are molded plastic cases with metallic boards and translucent tiles; wood-and-cardboard classics that look like family heirlooms — and a super-deluxe Collector’s Edition that sits on its own raised pedestal (this one owned by Scott and his partner).

The beauty part is that despite the hardware, all that truly matters is one’s word-power kung foo, and that all-important capacity for thinking several moves ahead; seeing the big-picture board without getting too hung up on playing that Q. This Saturday morning, Scrabblers of all ages and abilities are invited to take it to the Kingsley Ballroom of the Berkeley Oceanfront Hotel, for a figurative tango ’round the tiles in the service of a great cause.

Four-time National Scrabble Championship competitor Jason Keller — an affable guy, but a deadly deadly serious player in tournament action — prepares to meet a challenger at the August 12 Scrabble Scrimmage in Asbury Park. That’s Scrabble aficionado and artist Ellen Martin at right.

The brainchild of singer, actor and arts advocate Brett Colby, this first-ever Scrabble by the Sea event is a benefit for The Arc of Monmouth, the nonprofit dedicated to serving local people with intelectual/ developmental disabilities and their families. Having recently come aboard The Arc as a Development Associate, Colby (last seen in these paperless pages as the glittering star of a Cabaret for Life fundraiser revue) came up with the novel fundraising vehicle by drawing upon the long-running board game’s exponentially increased popularity in the internet era (there’s even a special Scrabble-tile variation of Cheez-Its), as well as his own passionate participation.

“Nothing is as discouraging as playing Scrabble with Jason Keller,” explains Colby. “But this event is for people like me, who enjoy the game, and who want to raise money for a great cause.”

For Saturday’s event, scheduled to run between 10am and 2pm, entrants will be divided into three divisions, with the Open Division reserved for “Scrabble experts,” particularly players with North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) ratings of 1000 or higher. Entry fee for this division is $65, and games will be played using The Official Tournament & Club Word List, 2nd Edition.

A LITE Division ($50 entry) is open to any unrated or rated players with a NASPA rating below 1000, and games will be played using The 4th Edition of The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. A Junior Division ($35 entry) is open to players ages 15 and under, with games played using OSPD4 Word Source.

The top five players in each division will walk away with cash and/or door prizes (based on number of entrants; projected top Open prize is $250) — with all proceeds going directly to The Arc of Monmouth and its ongoing slate of programs and services.

At least 100 people have signed up as we post this; Colby points out that it’s a fun and relatively low-pressure way to experience an old favorite pastime from a Tournament-level mindset — a rain-or-shine recreational option that leaves plenty of daylight hours for other seasonal pursuits. There’s still time to register, natch; you can do so right here, with questions and requests for additional info directed to bcolby@arcofmonmouth.org.

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