My commute into work is usually a mundane affair. I board a London Underground tube train at my Central Line suburban station, I read some news or write a little, maybe play a game on my phone or listen to music until I must change trains at Stratford for the Jubilee Line. 20 minutes after boarding that train I get off and a 5 minute walk sees me into work. It’s that straightforward.
Sometimes, I like to live on the razors edge. I like to mix it up a bit. And today was one of those days. I didn’t get off at Stratford. That was because I was too busy engaged in a game of online SCRABBLE with a new foe – Tetunde – who is a fucking cheat.
Tetunde isn’t very good at Scrabble. I know this because he is tactically poor, allowing the highscoring letters to go cheaply and the tactically superior letters (blank tiles and ‘S’s) to be wasted. His online rating shows that he has a win percentage of just 22% from 1550 games – meaning that in 1550 games he has won just 341. His highest word score until today was a bog-standard 70pts for the underwhelming offering of ‘COVERED’.
Tetunde joined my game. I’m not so much of a Scrabble snob that I refuse to compete with players significantly ranked below me, although there are plenty of other players who do refuse. I opened the game with an unremarkable but solid word. ‘GRUMP’ scored me an easy 26pts to kick off with. Tetunde joined the game a few minutes later. Hello Tetunde. I checked his profile, saw what I was up against and felt confident I would give him a savage beating at Scrabble. A few minutes later Tetunde began his game with ‘PARRY’. Average and similarly solid to start with.
And average seemed to be the order of the game for both of us. I scored okay and so did Tetunde. I was beset by having too many vowels to contend with and Tetunde seemed to be consonant heavy with his words. Back and forth we went until I played the word ‘VALUABLE’ which scored a fine 86pts (for those unfamiliar with Scrabble, I scored a bonus 50pts for clearing my rack of letters). Ooh, get some of that Tetunde!
It was on his next turn that my opponent confirmed what I suspected: that he was shit at Scrabble. Tetunde played the word BIZ, utilitizing the ‘B’ I’d played in the word ‘VALUABLE’ and, criminally, using the all-important BLANK TILE as an ‘I’ to facilitate his word. Worst still, the ‘Z’ wasn’t on a bonus square and so Tetunde’s ‘BIZ’ scored him the shamefully low score of just 13.
Stratford station was the last station on my commute where the train travelled outside of the deep underground tunnels. From Stratford onwards the Central Line descends into dark, sooty tunnels and that means no phone signal or wifi. I was too busy shuffling the new rack of letters I received for my next go to notice that I should have gotten off at Stratford. Never mind. I settled on getting off at Holborn and enjoying a walk into work. I had plenty of time and the weather was clement.
In the meantime, while my connection was down and I was temporarily unable to play, something snapped with Tetunde. My game with him was the breaking point. He was 142pts behind and on for another loss. I would hand him a shellacking and move onto another contender. But Tetunde was unimpressed and possibly downbeat about being shit at Scrabble and I would be the catalyst for the GREATEST FIGHTBACK IN HISTORY!
I listened to music for the underground journey to Holborn station – I went for my usual serving of classic rock with a side order of punk. It was music to keep me from nodding off on the stuffy, swaying tube. With AC/DC urging me to ‘Shake A Leg’ I mildly observed the other passengers on the cram-packed tube. There were the usual types – women putting make-up on with postage stamp sized mirrors for assistance; men, smart in their off the peg suits and Oliver Sweeney shoes but affected by bad breath from last night’s beer. There were hip young things wearing unconventional combinations of clothing; even more young ‘sheep’ following the sad, uninspiring line of being walking adverts for Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Prada and Ralph Lauren – many of the items being horribly obvious fakes of the real thing.
The tube arrived at Holborn and I stepped from the train onto a platform packed with people slowly creeping towards the exit. I mingled into the throng shuffling my feet in baby steps, careful not to bump uglies with the woman in front and keen not to have my butt prodded by the irritated guy directly behind me, eager to piss everyone off with his impatience.
It seemed like an age to walk the few short yards to the escalators that carried commuters to street level. Once in sight of the escalators I quickly realised the cause of the delay. One of the four escalators wasn’t working and this was causing a back-up of people. I was tucked in so tight that it was impossible for me to avoid the non-moving stairway and before I knew it I was at the bottom steps of the broken escalator. Okay, no problem. I’ll walk up.
The escalator was nothing more now than a metal staircase, onto which I bounded with the eager élan of a springbok happy to have escaped the clutches of a mean ol’ lion. I began walking up. It was at that point I done something really fucking stupid.
I looked up.
I looked up to see that what used to be an escalator and was now just a fucking metal staircase went on forever and people half way up and towards the top were really struggling. Fuck.
I sucked in a deep breath and tried to concentrate on the music in my ears. I focused on the bad hair of the woman in front of me; the youth in front of her, whose jeans were so low slung it exposed his scruffy faded red underpants – anything other than the step-after-step increase in lactic acid permeating my thigh and calf muscles.
About halfway up, my legs suffered what I can only describe as ONSET JELLIFICATION, a term I intend to submit to the British Medical Council for consideration as a real and serious condition pertaining to unfit, fat bastards like me who can’t walk up a fucking staircase of 200 steps without feeling the urge to throw up, flake out or generally descend into a pit of fucking misery.
I wondered if I was going to make it. My steps were getting slower, holding up people behind me, those who were obviously much fitter and not stricken with ONSET JELLIFICATION of their fucking legs. As steps got slower, so breaths were more laboured and the first flush of sweat appeared on my brow. I was struggling.
As I approached three-quarters of the way up, I saw another portly fella who’d stopped still on the stairs. He looked absolutely shattered. His face was flushed red. Sweat poured from his brow. He had the look on his face of someone who had eaten shit thinking it was chocolate. And to top it all his glasses had steamed up, so he couldn’t see a thing. He was too tired to wipe his glasses. He was defeated by the evil, non-moving escalator.
It is a horrible thing to admit, but his miserable defeat inspired me to forge onwards. I wasn’t going to stop. I was going to complete the staircase that never wanted to end. The last few steps were touch and go – I was in autopilot; my mind was a screaming tumult of emotions, my jellified legs a hot mass of pain. I was sweating so much that my earbuds were sliding out, depriving me of stereophonic music. I was conscious that my normal stepping gait was over-pronounced and comedic. I was cursing my poor levels of fitness. I was crying with laughter at the steamed up glasses of the poor fat fella beaten by the stairs and my Monty Pythonesque walk up the stairs. I was struggling with my empty pride and stubbornness to not just give in and have a breather. My mind focused on the pain and labour when all I wanted was to focus on the chunky riffing of Mötley Crüe’s ‘Dr Feelgood’ that was gradually slipping away.
I reached the top.
I reached the top and felt an unworthy sense of accomplishment, elation and relief. I’d managed to climb to a rise of a mere 23.4 metres (77ft) at a reasonable 30 degree(ish) incline. It was, at best, a very modest achievement. However, I would contend that only the super fit could comfortably cope with the 200+ steps of this monster escalator, especially when it is not bloody well working! Maybe, I was being harsh on myself.
I exited the station. The morning air of Central London refreshed me in wafts of pleasurable coolness, albeit the air is generally sooty and rank. I didn’t care. I drew deep breaths and felt the tightness in my lungs and in my muscles slowly dissipate. I rued the fact that I still had a 30 minute walk ahead of me.
On exiting the station, I stepped out of the way of the madding crowd and checked my phone. The only notification was from the Scrabble app, letting me know that Tetunde had taken his turn.
Back to Tetunde. You may recall that I temporarily withdrew from my game of Scrabble with Tetunde, due to losing my phone signal in the tube tunnels. For the 20 minutes I was out of action ol’ Tetunde was getting busy. He’d had enough of getting spanked at Scrabble or maybe he just took exception to getting a thwacking from me. I can never know. It is quite possible that he was affected by a period of miraculous insight into the vast lexicon of English words; a paranormal exposure to something unknown that is only reported in stellar institutions like The Fortean Times. Whatever it was, Tetunde turned into a Scrabble grandmaster.
A likelier scenario is that Tetunde typed into his search engine – SCRABBLE WORD CHEAT – and employed the nefarious services of an online anagram solver to do the hard work for him.
I opened the Scrabble app. Tetunde had hit me with a humdinger of a word: WUDJULAS.
I closed my phone and let the word WUDJULAS stew in my mind. I would look it up later.
I made my way to work, dogged by achy leaden legs and the foreboding challenge of defeating a Scrabble cheat. I imagined Tetunde chortling away at his brazen methods. I imagined his chubby, happy face beaming with mischievous delight. I imagined him gleefully entering his new pick of letters into the anagram solver ready to bash me with another unheard of word.
There is a long list of obscure words that every decent Scrabble player encounters when they play regularly against stiff opposition. It’s not unusual to be slapped with a QI, QAT or QANAT. Tetunde would have been walloped with a ZA, DZHO or XYST in his 1550 games thus far, no doubt. He might have even retained some useful words not familiar to every day use.
Were Tetunde to have bashed me with a ‘regular’ seven letter word I wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. After all, that’s part of the game. QUETZAL is a famously high-scoring 7 letter word. ZYGOTES is another big scorer that even modest Scrabble players ought to know. But Tetunde hit me with one I hadn’t heard of before – WUDJULAS. I put it down to it being just one of those words someone might just know of. He scored 130 – his best ever score.
I got to work early. My walk had eased the leadenness of my legs and I felt exercised and refreshed. The walk improved my mood. I sat in the works canteen, supped hot, bitter coffee and returned to the challenge laid before me by the sly and crafty Tetunde.
I countered with a tasty word of my own – ‘SHARIF’. I waited. Not satisfied with cheating his way back into contention, Tetunde wanted more. His lust to win was fuelled by the success he had with WUDJULAS. He wanted to press home his win in emphatic style. Next came the seldom heard word of VODUN. My turn came and went with nothing so remarkable. Almost instantly, Tetunde responded with another pearl. This time I was hit with the likelier word of INHIBIT which, despite its conventional usage, was still a high scoring word given that all 7 letters of Tetunde’s rack were used, thus scoring a 50 point bonus on top of the 28 scored.
From being 142 points in front, I was now 33 behind. I was fuming. I’d struggled to keep the deficit that low. Tetunde racked up points with ease using unconventional words that boggled my mind. I questioned how he went from being tactically poor and using regular, everyday words to being a fucking supreme Scrabbler in the space of 20 quiet minutes. Tetunde went too far. His next move was the outrageous offering of CTENIDIA.
Fuck off now. Just fuck right off, Tetunde.
I looked up what CTENIDIA was. I’d never encountered the word. In fact, I could probably play a million games of Scrabble and never see the word again. I could enquire of the great minds of a million learned people and very few – if any – would know what the fucking fuck CTENIDIA was!
Plural noun: ctenidia
A comblike structure, especially a respiratory organ or gill in a mollusc, consisting of an axis with a row of projecting filaments.
I done something I wouldn’t normally do. It’s something that, on reflection, I regret. I messaged Tetunde on the chat feature of the Scrabble app.
ME: -Really? CTENIDIA!!!???
I waited, expecting Tetunde to ignore my enquiry.
TETUNDE: -What do you want to know?
It wasn’t the response I expected.
ME: -where you learnt that word?
Tetunde responded with something brazen and bare-faced.
TETUNDE: -It’s a normal word for me
ME: -normal? What does CTENIDIA mean? What is it?
There was a long pause. Minutes passed into an hour. I played my move – AX – which benefited from the ‘X’ being on a bonus triple point square that ran above INHIBIT to also make XI; 50 scored. Back in the game!
Eventually, Tetunde responded to my message. I wondered if he’d been irked by my latest play of AX. His message seem puffy and dismissive, even arrogant.
TETUNDE: -you don’t need to know what it means.
Tetunde played his move as I typed out my retort.
BIG. Obviously, his cheat app had let him down or had a swallowing wave of guilt encompassed Tetunde and he rued falling into the dark arts of cheating? No.
I played my turn. Tetunde countered in a matter of seconds with TYLOSIN, which according to various search engine returns is an antibiotic used in sheep, cows and pigs. Nice.
ME: – Are you cheating?
I felt a rush of adrenaline as I hit the send button. It was silly. I didn’t feel comfortable asking such a bold and accusing question to someone I didn’t know, who was ostensibly on the other side of the world.
TETUNDE: – You cheetah too. Everyone cheats now.
While I could have laughed off the fact I’m clearly not a magnificent big cat found on the African savanna, instead I muttered a few expletives and fought the urge to respond with a volley of vitriol. I was besmirched. I was sautéed in a sauce of chagrin. I was slandered by the guilty; a dirty slur against my integrity!
I didn’t respond. I wanted Tetunde to stew; to wonder if I did cheat. Had I denied it, he wouldn’t have believed me nor cared one jot for my protestations of innocence. Within his reply was a drop of poison. Did everyone cheat now? I didn’t want to believe that. It seemed such a nihilistic, cynical expectation of people and not a viewpoint I wanted to share.
But of course, people cheat at games and sport because of their desire to win and to achieve. And even something so mild as Scrabble isn’t exempt. No matter what someone may want to cheat at, the internet readily facilitates cheaters with endless information and methodologies. With this reminder of the flaw in the human condition, I shook off my naïve, rose-tinted belief like a shaggy dog shakes off water from an unwelcome bath.
I played my turn, not caring whether I won or lost. The joy of the game was sucked away on Tetunde’s revelation. That joy only exists when the game (or any game) is played under the auspiciousness of integrity and goodwill. I settled on the moral high-ground opinion that to cheat at something so mild and benign as Scrabble is really just to cheat yourself.
I was behind again by 17 points. There were no letters left. In my hand I had 3 letters left – ADD.
Tetunde had his full quota of 7 letters. I expected Tetunde would put the game to bed with his turn. He could gloat on his win and I would be mindful of being too cocky in the future. Except, Tetunde done something that I didn’t expect. He passed his turn.
I can’t say why, but this really pissed me off. I went from not caring whether I won or lost to really bothered by the outcome of this tainted game. Of course, Tetunde may have not have had a workable combination of remaining letters to play a word. But I suspected this wasn’t the case. It seemed like an act of indignance; a protest. This was the harsh view, that of a cynic. Tetunde may have had a moment of self-examination whereby he chose not to win by illicit means. After all, he’d proved his point – he could win, but was he morally better than that?
I scoured the game board for a turn that would get me enough points to overhaul the marginal lead Tetunde held. With 3 low scoring letters and a no obvious opportunity to score well, a 17 point deficit seemed a tall order. I had an advantage though.
For those unfamiliar with the game of Scrabble, there is an important rule of the game whereby whoever plays the last turn in a game, the opponents’ remaining point values of their letters are deducted from that player(s) score and added to the player’s score that went ‘out’. This meant that given both blank tiles had been used, the lowest possible total on Tetunde’s rack was 7 (7 tiles with a 1 point value each). This minimum of 7 points would be deducted from Tetunde and added to my score if I could get play all three of my remaining letters. With that rule working to my advantage I needed only to score 4 to win.
I played the word ADDAX, which as you probably know is a type of North African antelope.
That scored 14 and that gave me the victory.
I felt elated and deflated all in one. Had Tetunde played his last turn instead of passing, and I went onto win I would have revelled in winning. Had Tetunde played and won I could have pointed to the fact I’d been cheated. Instead, I felt embarrassed for Tetunde and deprived of a satisfactory outcome in this sullied game. Unhappily, It left me wondering how many opponents I’d faced that also cheated, or worse still were cynical of me cheating.
Moreover, and long after I’d closed the Scrabble app, it opened an avenue of internal discussion on Tetunde’s actions. I wrestled with the thought that by passing his final turn, Tetunde intentionally actioned something sly and aggressive. It was a complicated concept. He tainted the game with cheating and dishonoured my victory by not concluding in the correct manner. It was petty gamesmanship, but enough to irritate me. I wanted to believe that integrity had come knocking on Tetunde’s door or that the manoeuvrings of the gameplay had conspired against him and genuinely left him snookered with no legitimate turn left to play. Was Tetunde victim to FAT THUMB FIDGETS that saw him accidentally hit the PASS YOUR TURN button not once but twice (once to action that and twice to confirm)?
I can never know.
I had one last remnant of my game with Tetunde to explore. I looked up the word WUDJULAS.
WUDJULA is a word used in Western Australia that means a non-Aboriginal person. It’ll almost certainly be a word I will never use again nor ever have the opportunity to piss off an opponent in the shady, tainted world of online Scrabble.