Wordsmiths wage ‘war’ at Scrabble tournament

Monday, May 31, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 4:14 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A hush fell over the Ragtag Cinemacafe as 22 Scrabble players took a first look at their tiles. The murmur of soft voices was accented with the tinkling of tiles in cloth bags. Players reached into the bags, hoping for the best combination of letters.

The players were competing in the first winner-take-all Scrabble competition Saturday at Ragtag.

David Wilson, a long-time Scrabble player and auxiliary programmer at Ragtag, organized the competition. "It’s a fairly casual tournament," Wilson said. "We don’t have any regular tournament players here."

Paul Sturtz, who puts together the Ragtag’s calendar, came up with the idea for the tournament when he booked the movie "Word Wars," a documentary of the 2002 National Scrabble Competition. Players ranged from college students to long-time Scrabble players. Twenty-six games were played through five rounds.

Sturtz said jokingly that the tournament was "shameless marketing" for the documentary. He said he wants to have interactive tie-ins with the movies.

"It’s an opportunity to make ties within the community with each film and make it more than us sitting and watching (a film)," he said.

Columbia resident Greg Foster won $50 for first prize, and second-place winner, MU student Osagie Evbuomwan, won $15. They both received 10 free movie passes to Ragtag.

Foster, a writer, said he was delighted to win but had not thought he would. "Any one of these games could’ve broken differently," he said.

Foster said he loves the strategy behind the game: improving his rack of letters and thinking of what letters he will have left for the next word. He has played since he was child but had not played in a couple years. Foster did not even prepare for the tournament.

Evbuomwan did not have any time to prepare either. "My uncle talked to me about it last night at about 3 a.m. this morning," he said.

Evbuomwan said he came to have fun and did not expect to get to the final round. "I was hoping to watch most of it," he said.

As an international student from Nigeria, Evbuomwan learned English from his parents and at military school because it is the official language of Nigeria.

"I started liking words because I had to take the SAT exam," he said.

Jefferson City resident Ruth Robertson made it to the second round. She found out about the tournament through Logophiles, a club of mid-Missourians who love words.

Robertson’s father was an English teacher and then a copy editor, and her mother was a secretary.

"They were always constantly correcting us when we grew up, so words were very important," she said.

Like the other players, this was her first tournament. "I’m just here to have fun, learn words and meet new people," she said.

Jefferson City resident Adam McKinnie also made it to the second round. He has played Scrabble "off and on" throughout his life. "I’m just out here to have a good time and enjoy the comradery," he said.

McKinnie spent three days before the tournament preparing.

"I went out and bought a computer version of the game," he said. "The computer has all sorts of tips for you."

Players set up a list of names at Ragtag of people who are interested in a tentative monthly Scrabble night. Wilson said he does not doubt that the Scrabble tournament will be a yearly competition.

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