Boggle is one of the easiest games to play at a casual level. It’s endured as a family and tournament favorite since its creation in 1972. Rounds are short, set-up takes less time that it would take you to grab your next soda from the fridge, and, provided you have a passing familiarity with the English language, you will score points. I would argue that simple, accessible nature of Boggle is its best feature. I’ve enjoyed its many computer and smart phone knock-offs over the years. Boggle, to me, is a familiar, friendly game.
But, friends, there is a dark side of Boggle. On the outskirts of the high-stakes world of competitive Scrabble (which has some interesting drama now and then), there are those who live to hear the letter cubes shake. These are the ones who see “SPLINTERS” and “SPINSTERS” on the same board where Joe Casual is pleased to find “LINT” and “PINS”. Could I sit among these Bogglers? Read on, and try to imagine yourself in my shoes (“SHOES, HOSE, HOES, OHS…”).
Scene: Classic Cardboard Lounge (stocked with retro and modern games by Tiki Tiki Board Games, 10:00 am. “I’m just happy there are other people who will play Boggle,” I say to my husband (check out his overview of day one here), and some of the other entrants milling around give a friendly nod. I get the feeling I’m not the only one here who has the word game itch. The Enforcers usher us to tables, and after a slow start with a manual matchmaking, we are in game. The vibe is relaxed, but focused. With no entry fee and no prize at stake, most seemed to be there for the love of the game.
I played the three games of round one with two friendly young people. We congratulated each other for finding good words (“We both got ‘FRIGATE!’ Nice!”) and made small-talk about previous PAX experiences. I came out on top, but my competitors were no slouches. I felt in my element. At long last, people who are not my mother (Love you, Mom, my all-time favorite Boggler) were playing with me! It was amazing! We thanked each other for the game, and I moved to the final round.
This is the chapter of our story where it becomes clear that I am in over my head. I merely adopted the Boggle. Michael, Chris, and Philip (with one “L”, please), were born into it. Molded by it. Philip, a soft-spoken, white-haired gentleman came to PAX Unplugged, his first board game convention, clearly ready to rumble. Chris is friendly and quiet, but behind his glasses lies a dictionary. Michael, the bartender with big smile and an anime-worthy mop of curly hair, says no one he knows wants to play with him anymore. These guys have all played in Boggle tournaments before. I suddenly feel like I’ve gone from the goldfish bowl to Lake Michigan. Put three minutes on the clock, shake up the cubes, and…
…Spoiler alert, I was the loser of three rounds with these guys. Michael trounced us all by over 100 points. To give you an example of the kind of conversations we had during the game, here are some quotes:
“We all have ‘SHIN’, but does anyone else have ‘SINH’?”
“As in the garment? Yes, I do.”
“I have ‘TOEA’, I also have ‘TOEI’, Or is the plural ‘TOEAI’?”
“It’s neither. It’s ‘TOEAS’.”
“How many points for a 7-letter word again?” (It’s 5, in case you’re curious)
I was not sorry at all to lose to these gents. They, like me, love this game. There was something exciting about meeting people who were clearly above my level- I was inspired. Maybe next year, I’ll finish better than fourth out of fourteen. If I’m going to get a seat in the final round again, I’d better start studying now (“STUD, STUDY, TYING, DYING…”).