116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
IOWA CITY — Yes, “Scrabble” is in the Scrabble dictionary of allowable words.
So were a lot of obscure words being used in a typical Sunday afternoon meeting of the Iowa City Scrabble Club on March 27.
Players gathered in the Market Grille at the Hy-Vee Food Store on South First Avenue in Iowa City, where the group meets from October to April, before moving to outdoor play at the Bread Garden downtown.
“Oxo,” “qat,” “re,” “vids,” “ya” and “sec” are all in “The Official SCRABBLE Players Dictionary,” along with ”new“ words “emoji,” “facepalm,” “bitcoin” and “listicle,” as noted on the cover of a well-worn issue at club founder Gary Sanders’ table. “Qi” won the game for Rod Sullivan, 55, of Iowa City.
A member of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors since 2004, Sullivan said he began playing the build-a-word board game with his grandmother in his youth. So when Sanders announced that he was officially organizing an Iowa City Scrabble club 12 years ago, Sullivan said he “decided to show up,” and has been coming ever since.
Others can join in the fun when the club teams up with the Iowa City Public Library to celebrate National Scrabble Day with a free, community game-playing event from 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday in the library’s Meeting Room A.
What: National Scrabble Day celebration
Where: Meeting Room A, Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St.
When: 1 to 3 p.m. Sunday, April 10, 2022
To play: All ages and skill levels welcome; bring a Scrabble board or borrow one on-site
Club: Iowa City Scrabble Club meets from 2 to 4 p.m. Sundays from October to April in the Market Grille at Hy-Vee, 812 S. First Ave., Iowa City, and May to September on the outdoor patio at Bread Garden Market, 225 S. Linn St., Iowa City. All ages and skill levels welcome. Information: Gary Sanders, (319) 337-7739 or email email@example.com
Players of all skill levels are invited to bring a board or borrow one there, to mind their P’s and Q’s — creating words from whatever letter tiles they draw from the bag.
The actual National Scrabble Day is observed on April 13, the birthday of the game’s creator, architect Alfred Mosher Butts. However, Iowa City organizers thought the public would be more apt to play on a Sunday afternoon than on a Wednesday, so the celebration was moved to up Sunday.
Butts, born April 13, 1899, in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., died April 4, 1993, in Rhinebeck, N.Y. Falling on hard times during the Depression, the out-of-work architect began developing the game in 1933.
According to scrabble.hasbro.com/en-us/history, “established game manufacturers unanimously slammed the door on Butts' invention.” He eventually joined forces with entrepreneur James Brunot to bring the idea to fruition, and Scrabble was trademarked in 1948.
The Hasbro site further notes that according to legend, in the 1950s, the president of Macy’s department store discovered the game while on vacation, and ordered some for his store. Within a year, the game was “the must-have hit” and was so popular that Scrabble was “being rationed to stores around the country.”
Among about 10 regulars who attend the Iowa City club sessions, many have English, communications or journalism backgrounds — and know their words.
March 27 was Corbin Sexton’s first time back with the club in a long time. She lived in Baltimore for seven years and last summer moved back to Iowa City.
“A long time ago, I asked (founder Gary Sanders) if he could help me improve my Scrabble game,” Sexton, now 64, recalled.
She had joined a Saturday night group, and even though she holds a master’s degree in English from the University of Iowa, said she was out of her league in Scrabble play.
“I’m still out of my league,” she uttered.
At her behest, Sanders came to her house to give her some pointers, and he ended up scoring 175 points with the word “twisters.”
“By far the highest I ever got,” Sanders, 74, of Iowa City, said incredulously.
“The significance of that, is that the later that night or the next day, a tornado came through Iowa City,” Sexton expounded.
“She never wanted to play with me again,” Sanders replied facetiously.
“It took me this long to come back and play,” Sexton quipped.
Sanders, who started the group as a way to connect with friends and community, started playing the game as a child, while visiting his aunt and uncle in New York City. A Detroit native, Sanders came to Iowa City in 1978 to visit a friend, and stayed.
“To me, (the Scrabble club) is about having fun. It’s about seeing my friends and having a good time, and playing this game also, that we all enjoy,” Sanders said convivially.
“It would be great to have a lot of people” turn out for the group’s first National Scrabble Day celebration, he said merrily, giving credit for the event idea to Beth Fisher from the Iowa City Public Library staff.
“I hope that we have people at different levels,” he added zestfully. “We’re all mid-range players, but this (celebration) is open to anyone.”
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