Like Russian roulette, Scrabble is a game best played among associates who don't mind a little fevered aggression and the occasional unexpected outburst. And as with any intellectual competition between self-proclaimed literati, the tension is thickest when ability is challenged and refuted. Sure, there are the TM rules and regulations, even The Official Scrabble Player's Dictionary, but Scrabble has long been a game of words, gentlemen's agreements, rebuttals and one-upmanship—like chess and Jenga, it's just not interesting or entertaining to play with someone of a lesser caliber. That's not to say all games must birth $10 nouns onto that self-righteous grid; sometimes the best Scrabble is an after-hours affair: Porno Password for nerds and drunk humanities majors. But there's an undeniable joy in knocking your opponent out with words like "qat"—sure to inspire a challenge from the neophyte who believes all Q's must be immediately followed by a U. A quick glance at the Scrabble dictionary (available online at www.hasbro.com/scrabble/home.cfm), however, and you're sitting in the catbird seat while your challenger's cheeks redden with shame.
For a society that doesn't read, we sure love to use the few words we do know. Since the game's inception in 1938, there have been world Scrabble tournaments, the creation of travel boards for WASP road trips and a myriad of online offerings. For all these modern updates, however, nothing beats the experience of hunching over the board, nose-to-nose with your local Will Shortz wannabes, waiting for someone to use a letter that will let you play "quixotic" on a triple-word score.
Scrabble Club at Borders Bookstore, South Coast Plaza Crate and Barrel Wing, 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-7854. Every Thurs., 7 p.m. Free.