Casual players of Scrabble, take heart. Even in yesterday’s final of the national championships, the two opponents were unafraid to adorn the board with words more usually suited to the playground.
Alongside “zinebs” (an agricultural fungicide) and “cothurni” (leather boots worn by Athenian actors), spectators were treated to a few smirks at the appearance of “tit” and “nads” along the way. When Mark Nyman played “cut”, perhaps it was the thought of his own young children watching at the back of the auditorium that stopped him from deploying his “n”.
There comes a time in every Scrabble player’s life when you have to choose whether to play that word against your granny, one spectator laughed.
The eventual winner was more colourful than the language. Mikki Nicholson, a 33-year-old transsexual from Carlisle, achieved his 3:2 victory dressed in a shocking-pink PVC dress, pink wig and lace tights. Mr Nicholson, who clinched his win with “obeisant” – showing deep respect – marked his victory with no hint of the grandiloquence expected of a stereotypical Scrabble champion. After brief thanks to his supporters and a few bold poses for the photographers, he declared simply: “Pub time it is.”
His achievement, which was completed with a 483 to 337 win in the fifth and final game, was all the more remarkable given his adversary. Mr Nyman is not only a former four-time national Scrabble victor, but is still the only Briton ever to have won the world championship and was also the first champion of champions on Channel 4’s Countdown, where he has since served in Dictionary Corner.
Mr Nicholson told the Independent that he had only been playing tournament games for five years – in contrast to the three decades Mr Nyman has clocked up – and trained his vernacular skills and strategies by playing online rather than face-to-face.
He also laid claim to the most amusing word of the day: “mutha”. “We both had a little giggle with each other when the odd word came up,” said the part-time salesman, “but if it’s not the best word you don’t play it just for aesthetic value.”
As might be expected of such an event, there was plenty of beard-stroking going on, both literally and metaphorically. The tight match was followed move-by-move by a 50-strong crowd at a conference centre in London, watching via a video link to the game room next door and a large replica of the game board, with tiles placed on it after each turn by a pair of Carol Vorderman-esque assistants.
With commentary provided by Scrabble expert Brett Smitheram, the tension rose as Mark pushed the match to its final game, keeping the dictionary-laden and predominantly male audience on their toes. Mr Smitheran’s descriptions became almost as technical as Test Match Special’s cricket coverage at some points. “The floaters that are out there are duplicating his rack,” he told spectators at one point.
Proving that winning the game is as much about playing simple words at the right time as knowing thousands of obscure ones, the top-scoring one was “updates,” which gained 105 points. That beat the likes of “inficete” – Mr Nicholson’s personal favourite – as well as “oceanaut” and “soredia”.
Mr Nyman was disappointed at being denied what would have been a record fifth win, but was at least spared the pain of losing by just one point – as he experienced a few years ago in a final of the world championships, when he was served up with an unplayable ‘q’ late on.