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Polyglot Scrabble at the ATA

[photo of welcome sign] It all started late last year when Aspen Scrabble Club Director Diane Manown wrote to tell me that she would be attending the October 2004 conference of the American Translators Association here in Toronto. She thought it would be fun to organize a Scrabble event at the ATA meeting, and when it turned out later that she would be unable to attend, Mississauga Club Director Craig Rowland and I put together an event that turned out to be more successful and popular than I expected.

25 translators showed up for what the ATA billed as its Scrabble Social. I was relieved there weren't too many more, as I'd brought along only enough decommissioned Toronto Scrabble Club equipment for 32 players. As the room filled up, it began to look like a typical Scrabble club anywhere. There were men and women, young and old from around the world and apart from their conference badges they didn't look like they had anything more in common than our own club members do. But they did, of course: they were experts in multiple languages *and* their idea of a fun evening was to sit around playing Scrabble.

[translators at play] Trying to strike a balance between formality and informality, I began by introducing myself as the director of the Toronto club (interrupting half a dozen players who had shown up early to get in an extra game) and went over the special Polyglot Scrabble rules that Craig and I had developed, asking the players if they wanted to play by them or change them. We agreed to omit an awkward rule about representation of glottal stops, and played what came down to ordinary Scrabble on an English board but where each word can be in a different language, and where each word is scored according to the official tile values for its language. As in most Scrabble crowds, some players were intensely interested in the implications of specific rules and had started memorizing the table of tile values, while others happily chattered with their neighbours throughout the opening announcements.

The ATA had donated two merchandise gift certificates as prizes, which I announced would go to the highest-scoring game and to the most spectacular play. Then play got underway, and Craig, Libero Paolella and I started our own polyglot game to see how it worked, joined early on by Anne, a French-Canadian translator. Here are the two games that we played.

   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O   
 1|=     '       R A J O U T e Z|1 
 2|  -     L I m I T E R   A -  |2 
 3|  C A R O T I D '     V U    |3 
 4|' A I E       '     P O P   '|4 
 5|        Q         S A N I N G|5 
 6|  "   D I V O T   " L   E "  |6 
 7|    '       ' W O G S   S    |7 
 8|=     '   H O A X   I '     =|8 
 9|    '       S E O   E   '    |9 
10|  "       "       A D   W "  |10
11|    M I T T       L -   H    |11
12|'     -   E F F R A Y A I   '|12
13|  N O N Y L ' E ' C     N    |13
14|  -       "   M   K     E -  |14
15|=     '       E       B R E D|15
   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O   

Libero Paolella Anne Craig Rowland John Chew
8f HOAX[eng]+28 = 28 Joined game late. h8 AVORTIoN[fre]
+0 = 0 7h WOG[eng] WA[jpn] OX[en]+23 = 23
k4 PALSIED[eng] WOGS[eng]+78 = 106 Joined game late. l3 VON[deu] PO#[eng] AN[eng]+22 = 22 9g SEO[jpn] OS[eng] WAE[eng] OXO[eng] =+30 = 53
k10 ALACK[eng] AD[eng]+28 = 134 12f EFFRAYA[fre]+52 = 52 m2 LInTIER[eng] VI[fre] PON[?] ANT[eng]
VI* challenged.
+0 = 22 m1 TAUPIES#[eng] VU[fre] POP[eng] ANI[eng]+90 = 143
6d DIVOT[eng]+24 = 158 1h RAJOUT[fre]+42= 94 2e LImITER[fre] RI[fre] AT[eng] JE[fre] OR[fre]+77 = 99 1h RAJOUTeZ[fre]+69 = 212
3b CAROTID[eng]+82 = 240 m10 WHINE[eng] EFFRAYAI[fre]+45 = 139 h12 FEME+27 = 126 e5 QI#[eng]+22 = 234
11c MITT[eng] TE[ita]+14 = 254 4b AIE[fre] CA[fre] AI[fre] RE[fre]+16 = 155 15l BRED[eng] WHINER[eng]+42 = 168 13b NONYL[eng] TEL[eng]+19 = 253
5j SANING[eng]+7 = 261         
(BEEGNRUU)+11 = 272 ?-6 = 162 ?-4 = 151 (R)-1 = 252
   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O   
 1|=     '       =       '     =|1 
 2|J E T     "       "       -  |2 
 3|    R       E A R N I N G    |3 
 4|M O O D I E S T       -     '|4 
 5|    Q   -           -        |5 
 6|  L U G E D     B "       "  |6 
 7|    E   L I F E R       '    |7 
 8|=   T '     A T O U R S     =|8 
 9|    '   t A X A T     H '    |9 
10|  "   Y O W       "   I   "  |10
11|      O W N         - C      |11
12|'     U N     '   H   h     '|12
13|    -   I   R E G A L I A N  |13
14|  -     E "       Z   M   -  |14
15|P O S E S     V O Y A I T   =|15
   A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O   

[photo of board]
Anne Craig Rowland John Chew Libero Paolella
8g ATOURS[fre]+12 = 12 9f AXA[fre] AX[eng] TA[eng]+45 = 45 l8 SHIChIMI[jpn]+80 = 80 7e LIFE[eng] FAX[eng] ETA[eng]+31 = 31
15h VOYAIT[fre]+54 = 66 e9 tOWNIES[eng] tAXA[eng]+78 = 123 13g REGALIAN#[eng]+74 = 154 15a SUEYS
+0 = 31
i6 BROT[deu] LIFER[eng] tAXAT[fre]+29 = 95 6b LUGED[eng] EL[eng] DI[eng]+22 = 145 c3 ROQUET[eng]+30 = 223 d10 YOU[eng] YO[eng] OW[eng] UN[eng]+26 = 57
15a POSES[fre]+24 = 119 f9 AWN[eng] YOW[eng] OWN[eng]+37 = 182 j12 HAZY[eng]+39 = 193 4a MOODIEST[eng]+80 = 137
2a JET[fre] TROQUET[fre]+38 = 157 ?
+0 = 182 c3 3g EARNING[eng] ES[eng] AT[eng]+75 = 308   
(KEVLAR)-13 = 144 (DINICEE)-10 = 172 (AABCDDEEEFIIKLNOPRUV)+38 = 346 (FUBAPOD)-15 = 122

[photo of board] I had a hoot, and not just because I was able to turn my opening garbage rack in the second game into a Japanese bingo. I'm sure we'll play this again, and we'll probably adopt Libero's suggestion that we play open book to some extent, perhaps providing a list of two- and three-letter words in various languages. I'll be sure to study Q and Z words from around the world before I next play: in both games, I drew the Q and Z together, and without a U.

The ATA-sponsored prize for high game went (not surprisingly) to Alexander Schwartz for a 253-point game. If that seems a little low for a serious Scrabble game, remember that the scores in a four-player game are on average only half what they are in a two-player game. If that now seems a little high for a casual Scrabble player, it is worth noting that Schwartz has been credited by the Guinness Book of World Records as having worked professionally with more languages (31) than any other translator, a fact that he was too modest to mention himself.

The ATA prize for most spectacular play went to Luc Bouchard, a translator at the Ontario Legislature, for his EXHUMERAI (an extension of his EXHUMER).

Next year's ATA meeting will take place in Seattle. If any of the Seattle Club directors would like to correspond with me at greater length about my experiences, please write to me privately.

John Chew
Director, Toronto SCRABBLE® Club (NSA Club #3)