Waimea’s wordsmiths

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Donni Sheather, left, and Annabel Spielman contemplate their next moves during a Scrabble group meeting at Tutu’s House in Waimea.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today Gary Cassel, left, places his tiles on the board as Lowell Kuberka and Fran Sanford contemplate their next words during a Scrabble group meeting at Tutu’s House in Waimea.

  • LAURA RUMINSKI/West Hawaii Today A scrabble board fills up at Tutu's House in Waimea.

WAIMEA — Some sentences speak volumes beyond what they’re communicating, phrases — if you keep your ear sharp — that say much more than just what they say.

It’s not boasting — more like clues sprinkled about.

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Like what I picked up talking with Gary, who they call Mr. Bingo.

“That’s when I moved to the Washington coast to build a sailboat and sail it,” he said casually when we were getting to know each other at Tutu’s House in Waimea.

It’s little Easter eggs like that which are worth paying attention to, almost forewarnings.

As it was, I learned about Gary’s building and sailing prowess after he thumped me at Scrabble, when we were just chatting, so it didn’t serve as a heads up that I might be out-skippered on the game board.

Enough warning was issued, anyway.

“Watch out for Mr. Bingo,” said Anna Spielman, club founder, when I first walked into the Scrabble group on a recent Friday for one of their weekly sessions.

“He always draws the S and the diamond,” warned another player, Fran Sanford — the familiar laments of swearing another player has better luck at drawing more advantageous tiles.

Which, in my case, is true.

It’s uncanny how my fiance — and regular opponent — always pulls the S, the beauty of a letter that pluralizes almost everything and allows a player to stack words and double the points.

With an S, you’re never boxed in or out of options. She draws 90% of them. The diamond is the blank tile, which can be used as anything. And yeah, she gets almost all of those, too.

As avid players, we were curious what the club in North Hawaii offered.

It offers a lot, it turns out.

Friendly people, great stories and top-of-the-line competition, at least for this player.

The score was so lopsided in the game I played with Gary and Donni Sheather, I did not write it down in my notebook. I put my pen and pad away about halfway through, about the time Gary Scrabbled for the second time — that’s when you play all seven of your tiles on one turn, worth an extra 50 points.

I’ve had one Scrabble, which the group calls bingos, in my last 21 games. I know because my fiance and I keep our scorecards and time-stamp them.

Gary, though, had two bingos in half an hour. Hence his nickname.

“Doing this keeps my mind sharp,” said Gary, who moves, talks, looks and acts much younger than his 83 years, about why he likes to play.

True to form, before he laid down his second Scrabble, “violets” for 75 points, he chuckled to himself quietly but pleased.

Anna, an English woman with a sharp mind and an affinity for the game, formed the group a few years go after she and her husband moved back to the Big Island following stints on Maui and Kauai.

She belonged to a group on Maui and started a group on Kauai, which is still going, so she wasn’t going to do without when they retired and came back to Hawaii Island.

“Each place, I really needed Scrabble. I love it,” she said. “It’s yoga for the brain.”

So hooked is she that when she reads, she breaks words down like she is looking at them stacked on a Scrabble board. If it’s longer than seven tiles, is it a compound with a standalone root upon which a player can build? During walks with her dog, she tries to think of all the J or Q words she can.

Each of those tiles is worth big points and pretty easy to play.

“I’m a little bit of a nut,” she said.

So are we all.

“I used to play with my mother as a kid, and it got so she wouldn’t play with me anymore,” Fran said about taking to the game early.

When she saw the group of several members in Waimea, she thought she’d give it a try.

“And everybody was very welcoming,” she said.

They were for me and my fiance, too.

The backgrounds of all the players represent a cross-section of careers, which made conversation fun. In fact, Gary, a retired teacher, was a linguist lover at Gonzaga University, and Fran trained a student who went on to win the state spelling bee.

After a few games and spending a couple of hours with the group, I learned a few things to bolster my talent, which is only so-so to begin with.

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But my fiance picked up a few things, too, I’m sure.

Email Tom Hasslinger at thasslinger@westhawaiitoday.com.

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