We had been playing for a little while, and the game progressed rapidly, shrinking the stock of tiles in the bag. As I took a sip of a julep prepared for me by Parker in anticipation of an early spring, she laid down five tiles to spell BLUES, the last letter "hooking" onto the beginning of the word HARD to create SHARD.
"Bravo!" I said, and I allowed my eyebrows to rise a skosh upon seeing how many points her play had scored. "You have been spending time reading the dictionary, I see," I said, engaging in a little coffee-house banter. I knew that what I had suggested was the last way in the world she would choose to spend her time.
"Oh, cut it out, you old fraud!" said Parker. "First of all, these were perfectly ordinary words I played, and second, you know that 'preparation through memorization' is just not my style."
"Hm-mm," I acknowledged, as I surveyed my tiles, "but you know, good competitive players go to the trouble of memorizing a sizable chunk of the 83,667 words that are two to eight letters long, and really top-flight players will have committed many of the 29,150 nine-letter words to memory, as well."
"But that's them, and this is us," said Parker, spreading her hands over the board as if presenting the denouement of a magic trick. She paused, and added: "Unless you've been staying up nights memorizing word lists?"
"Perish the thought, my dear!" I protested, and played some tiles to form a word that Parker immediately challenged successfully, foiling my attempt to sneak in a word spelled the way our British cousins would, with a 'C' instead of an 'S'. My gamble had not paid off, and the affirmation of her diligence had boosted Parker's spirits.
"Memorization is over-rated," she said, alternating her gaze between the tiles on her rack and the game board. "Me, given a choice between a doctor who has simply memorized the parts of the body and one who actually understands how the body works, I'll always choose the one who understands."
"I'm afraid you'll get no argument from me with regard to the last part of your statement," I said. "But can we really say that a doctor who does not know the names of the parts of the body understands how the body works? Surely knowing what things are called is essential if information is to be gleaned from the medical literature, or acquired during lectures or in conversations with colleagues?"
Parker said nothing, but picked up all the tiles from her rack and arranged them on the board, pulling off a 'bingo' and scoring an extra 50 points on top of a 'double-double' because her letters covered two double-word squares. "Your turn, old man," she said, and added, before I could slip into deep contemplation of my tiles: "But all that information is going to be acquired over time, anyway. Why go to the trouble of memorizing?"
I looked up from my rack. "Consider your average superstar basketball player," I said. "Said athlete will spend an inordinate amount of time practicing, say, shooting fouls—the same motion, over and over, thousands of times. And it is that kind of dedication that distinguishes the superstars from those who are merely 'very good' and are satisfied to acquire their skill 'over time', as you put it, during actual games." I made my play.
"What does memorization have to do with sports?" asked Parker, and quickly made a play of her own, dumping a single letter onto the board.
"The same dynamic is at work," I said. "The more you practice, the better you get and the easier it is."
I then made my play, after which both Parker and I remained silent for a turn each, during which the bag was emptied of tiles. This allowed me to identify an interesting opportunity to rob Parker of her last turn, and to narrow her margin of victory. But she'd have to, um, cooperate.
I took an H from my rack and placed it on the triple-word square in the bottom right-hand corner of the board. The letter hooked onto the end of YEA to create YEAH, and onto the end of MUST to create MUSTH. I endeavored to present a positively cherubic poker face in Parker's direction as I calculated points.
"Wait a minute!" said Parker. "You've got to be kidding. 'Musth'? Really? I think I'm going to challenge that!"
"And I believe it means 'a state of frenzy occurring in male elephants'," I said. "Look it up."
Parker's expression fell as the game's official dictionary demolished her challenge, causing her to lose her turn, whereupon I managed to empty my rack of tiles, ending the game. I had not won, but at least I had not lost as badly as I otherwise would have.
"Musth," said Parker, and then repeated the word several more times, letting it roll around in her mouth. "Of what possible use is knowing that word?" she said finally.
"Well, in the admittedly unlikely case of finding myself in the presence of a bull elephant in musth," I replied, "I will make every effort to tread carefully and stay away from the animal. Otherwise," I said, and paused for effect, "knowing such words can, on occasion, help narrow the score in a Sunday afternoon game of Scrabble." I smiled, and asked: "Shall we play another game?"
"Sure!" said Parker, laughing, and got up. "Get ready to lose big, this time. You want another julep?"
"Absolutely!" I replied.
It was turning out to be a marvelous, if rainy, afternoon.