Ross Murray's Border Report
Ross Murray
is a freelance writer living in Stanstead, Quebec. You can reach him at
Posted 09.23.13
Stanstead, Quebec


Scrabble babble squabble

Whenever I play Scrabble with my family, they give me grief over some of the words I make.

"That's not a word," they say.

"Of course it is," I argue. "It's a slang word. Used in certain Portuguese quarters. An alternate spelling. I think. I don't know. I saw it somewhere. But it's definitely a Scrabble word."

"Is it in the dictionary?"

"Well, not our dictionary, but our dictionary is lame."

"If it's not in the dictionary, it's not a word."

"Wait, I'll Google it…"

"Hands up, who accepts ‘bize’? Sorry, not a word."

"You guys suck. S-U-C-K on a triple!"

In our house, it's not whether you win or lose, it's making sure Dad loses. Not that I need to win, but someone has to, so it might as well be me.

Tired of my family ganging up on me, I recently purchased the Scrabble app for my iPad. Now I can play the way I like -- with myself.

The app comes with a Teacher option that, after your turn, shows you the best word you could have made. So, really, I'm not wasting my time and ignoring my family; I'm learning.

Earlier this week, I started a game against a computer opponent at the Advanced level because, yeah, I'm just that good.

I opened with "writs" on a double letter and double word. "Outstanding," the Teacher applauded with a broad happy face. "That's really tough to beat!"

On my next turn, I spelled "bandits." The Teacher's face looked concerned. "Hmmm…let me show you what you missed." The computer pointed out that I would have scored higher with "tabinids." It didn't explain whether "tabinids" are something you eat or wedges of cardboard you jam under chair legs to keep them from wobbling. But who was I to argue? What's important is that the computer didn't contest my "bouge," my "qat" or my "kow." That's right: "kow" with a K. Such a reasonable and accommodating computer.

Did I frown when the computer foisted "dorr" and "gamborag" on me? Did I say "Oh, come on!" Of course I did. But app knows best. In app we trust. Don't worry, be appy.

But as the game proceeded and grew increasingly tight, I noticed a change. When I had to settle for "huge," missing the G on a triple word, the Teacher responded with, "Nice one. No, seriously, don't hurt yourself."

Did I detect a tone?

I next spelled "roof." "Good God! Is that the best you can do?" mocked the Teacher and showed I had missed out on "fool," using one of the O's to turn "real" into "realo." Really? "Realo"?

My computer opponent scored big with "cepage," but on my following turn, I noticed that "real" was still open, so I stuck an O on it as the Teacher had suggested and made "realo" and "blog."

"Soooo original," sneered the Teacher.

I tried to keep my cool and not seek solace in the constant positive reinforcement of Facebook. I had some killer letters on my rack and the game was too close to call. "Aha!" I cried and plunked down "hijab."

"Oops," alerted the computer. "You are playing Scrabble in Quebec. HIJAB is not a word recognized in Quebec. Please try again."

Over on the Q, I tried "niqab."

"Perhaps you weren't paying attention," the computer alerted me. "The Quebec Secular Scrabbler Charter has banned the spelling of religious symbols in the gameplace. Please try again to better integrate into Quebec society."

I settled for "habit" with a double letter on the A. "Hmmm, let me show you what you missed," said the Teacher with obvious condescension. I was then treated to a three-minute pop-up video on the life of Lionel Groulx. The computer then proceeded to spell "revanche."

I had no luck in my next turn trying to spell "kippa." "Oops!" said the app. "After a series of warnings, you must now exchange all your pieces and forfeit your turn. The Quebec Secular Scrabbler Charter grants this app the right to change rules midstream. Please pay no attention to the fact that the computer is losing."

I couldn't believe it. How could this happen! The game had been going along just fine. Well, mostly fine. But now it was nothing but confusion and hard feelings. I didn't even want to play anymore. But then I looked at my new letters: F-C-X-I-I-U-R. I saw an open C on the board. CRUCIFX!

"Outstanding!" crowed the Teacher. "That's really tough to beat -- from a purely historical perspective, of course."

But I still lost.

I'm done playing games with programmed, narrow-minded drones. At least with real people you can expect a little reason.

Ross Murray's collection, You're Not Going to Eat That, Are You?, is available in Quebec in area book stores and through He can be reached at