Phil Goddard is always up for a game of Scrabble -- even when he’s about to walk down the aisle.
The London native owns three Scrabble sets and admits to playing the game online 24/7. On the morning that he got married, Goddard challenged the priest, a friend, to a game. The priest won with the help of two high-scoring words that aren’t exactly associated with romance — “latrines” and “urinal” — but Goddard said the loss didn’t weaken his wedding day excitement.
“I'm obsessed with the game, and I love words,” said Goddard, a New Orleans-based translator and copywriter. “I like it when they do what you want them to do, and when they fit together into a nice sentence.”
So Goddard established a local Scrabble group through Meetup.com, a website that lets people find nearby acquaintances with similar interests.
Goddard’s Scrabble group is composed of men and women who come from different walks of life but who all happen to be enthusiastic about words, the English language and thoughtful conversation shared over good food and wine.
The Scrabble Meetup New Orleans group gets together in person every other Wednesday evening at Arabella Casa di Pasta, a restaurant on St. Claude Avenue in Faubourg Marigny.
At a recent event, six players sat at a dinner table topped with a flickering candle and a bottle of red wine. A woman with a fuzzy scarf flipped through The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, while a man with gray hair and glasses organized his letter tiles.
Three Scrabble boards were situated between the competitors, including a wooden deluxe edition with a rotating game board, built-in storage compartments and golden accents.
“I started the group about two years ago, partly because my wife wanted me out of the house — because we’re always in the house together — and partly because I love this game,” said Goddard, adding that he also launched a Scrabble group while studying at the University of Cambridge, and organized the first varsity Scrabble match against the University of Oxford.
Like Goddard, group member Rachael Adamiak honed her Scrabble skills while in college.
“My longest best friend and I would sit in her apartment for an entire weekend, watch movies and play 50 games of Scrabble,” she said. “We just loved it. I’m always trying to find people to play Scrabble with, but no one I know has ever liked it.”
Vilma Todden, an 84-year-old from Honduras, joined the group a little more than a year ago. Todden, whose native language is Spanish, says she enjoys “the friendship, the challenge and the brain stimulation” the Wednesday night gatherings provide.
Although she doesn’t rely on one specific strategy, she tries to place words worth several points, like “quiz,” in a place that maximizes her potential for a high score.
Competing in a second language is a challenge that Goddard knows well. He speaks Spanish, French, German, Italian and Dutch.
“It makes you use a completely different part of your brain,” he said. “Letters that are really valuable in English Scrabble, like J and Z, are common letters in Dutch Scrabble, so you have to rethink your strategy.”
The Wednesday night participants use only American English words and spellings, approved by the official Scrabble dictionary. More than 500 locals have signed up for Goddard’s Scrabble group, but only a few of them show up on game night.
After the Scrabble group completed its first game at Casa di Pasta, the group began ordering dinner and replenishing wine glasses. They chatted about everyday life and Scrabble-related topics, like crossword puzzles. (Adamiak’s mother loves them but hates Scrabble; they make one member’s “brain hurt”; and another person admits to only doing the “easy” puzzles in the Monday edition of The New York Times.)
“Conversation is more important than the game itself,” Goddard said. “The game is just an excuse to get around the table with a group of people that you like.”