It was back to Monday night Scrabble for this Trans-Tasman adventurer. I anticipated that the exhilaration of playing 24 games against the 12 toughest Scrabble players that NZ could muster might carry me through 4 games against the toughest players that Wollongong could muster.
After a warm welcome back, I settle down to play our hottest player for the last few months - Keith Bioletti. My opening rack is ELOADED so I wish I was going second as I played LOADED, keeping an E rather than a D had I played ELODEA (an aquatic herb). Keith responds with CUB down to my E which instantly makes me think of the B end hook of CUBE. Little did I know that he was already setting up for a huge follow-up move. I fitted a simple EGAD under the middle 5 letters of LOADED to be ambushed by SEQUENTs through the U of CUBE! Apparently it is a noun that means "something that follows". Therefore you could have a SEQUENCE of SEQUENTS. Again, I'm holding a tantalizing rack of BESOTTE and choose to kill the triple-word rank with BEsOT (aptly meaning "to stupefy"). We swap a few rack-balancing moves and I notice that my rack has balanced to FRRNNST. I swiftly change, keeping synergistic ST, and Keith takes the opportunity to dump VIA. Unfortunately for him it allows JIVE for a cool 66 point. Keith then continues his generosity by trying *WILEY and I net a cool 44 points for ZA in the hot spot that he would've blocked. This puts me into the lead for the first time in the game and I see ANTLERS in my rack for 78 points. RENTALS would have played too, but I thought that TRENTALS would have been too obvious. I have a hunch that ANTLERS takes a P front-hook so that is of a risk. STERNAL, SALTERN and SLANTER (new CSW word) would have played in another more dangerous spot. After I play RIP to build a 74 point lead, Keith dumps 2 of his 4 I's with WILI but risks an S word on the bottom triple-word line. My rack is FAURIES and I talk myself out of playing AURIFIES through his 2nd I to instead play FURIES for 39. This turns out to be a stroke of "genius" since my leave of A matured into MATURED which I promptly play with the D hooking onto the front of my RIP opener. Keith replies with MIRTH and I get lucky in finding EpOXY for 71 points. By the end I had turned a 101 point deficit into a 167 point surplus - faster than a Tony Abbot promise. If only I could have received some of this luck in NZ !
Up next was lovely Lila whose bingo prowess improves by the week. This proved to be a low-scoring stoush with no bingoes and awkward racks for both of us. In the early exchanges I had 4 A's and 3 I's on my rack accompanied by Q, Z, X at intervals. The game culminated in Lila's menacing triple-word threat SPELl play that I killed with DOSE to secure a win.
Rene was my next opponent. We usually have close low-scoring affairs and this was to prove no exception. Her JOINER was hooked by my SEDGY, her LOOTER was met with my ZAG for 46. I now held ?ILNPPS - no place for LIPPeNS, PoPLINS or NIPPLeS on a congested board but with a possible bingo opportunity through a Y. By forming -ILY I could visualize SNaPPILY so long as Rene didn't block the S. After a change of mind, she played CAR to form LAR vertically that allowed my S hook. For once Rene's bingo radar had misfunctioned. A little later, my radar told me that Rene was setting up for a next-turn bingo. I changed my mind a few times before playing TEFFS instead of FENTS. She was still able to get down EQuINES but I'd herded her bingo alongside the triple-word lane. I chose to play my TOAD in the most dangerous spot but that allowed Rene to dump her CHV around E for a blocker that outscored my effort. My final 5 racks were littered with 4 U's, 2 I's, 2 A's so I thought I was a goner while struggling to average 14 points per turn. Fortunately for me, Rene was caught with an awkward mix of consonants so that the final outcome was a low-scoring tie when I went out with HUH !
Last game was a matchup of the only two undefeated players. Natalie, or ANTLIAE as I call her, replied to my HARP with VIRGIN. I stifled any witty reply, and played PINKY. After her PAX offering, I twinkle-toed with TARSALS (didn't know ASTRALS) but she played a hunch with BENTIEST through my T. It took another 6 turns before I could slap down OTARIES but that only supplied an opening for her 54 point ZEIN reply. I sheepishly blocked 3 bingo lanes by playing EWE underneath the TAR of OTARIES and noticed EEOUCG? on my rack. I can thank Derek McKenzie for this word EClOGUE that miraculously fitted underneath and parallel to EWE to also form TEC, AWl and REO - the first and last words being new CSW words. Natalie could only reply with AW this time and victory was mine!