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Word games

I stink at Scrabble. Tucked away in a closet at the house, a box with a deluxe version of the game has been gathering dust for years.

I’m no good at crossword puzzles, either. Never got hooked on them, never mastered their peculiar vocabulary. I have, however, learned the fundamental principle of newspaper journalism: Never mess with the crossword puzzles. The people who like them like them with a frenzy, and they will come at you by the hundreds and thousands if you muck about with their puzzles.

James Thurber and his friends played a version of the word game Ghosts that they called Superghosts. You can read about it in his essay "Do You Want to Make Something Out of It?" in Alarms and Diversions. In Superghosts, as in Ghosts, the players go around a circle, each adding a letter until a complete word is formed; the distinction in Superghosts is that letters can be added at both the beginning and the end. Experienced Superghost players are the kinds of people who would recognize, say, that cklu is the middle of lackluster.

I’d really stink at that.

I know how to spell Vercingetorix.  I can edit copy. I can write headlines in a tight count — you try summarizing a 750-word story in five or six words, not one of them longer than six letters. But I am hopeless at all word games.

This comes up because my learned colleagues at the District of Columbia chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association and The Sun’s diversity committee have scheduled a benefit Scrabble tournament that I will not attend on May 5, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Sun’s Community Room. For details about costs and registration, consult The Sun’s Liz Kay, at, or The Washington Post’s Doris Truong at

I’m told that the prizes will be exciting.

Posted by John McIntyre at 3:43 PM | | Comments (5)


Have you played Balderdash? A very obscure word is presented, the players make up definitions that are shuffled up with the real one, and the players guess which one is real. Lots of fun.

I go through sporadic Scrabble binges, but I'm with you on crossword puzzles -- they do nothing for me. One of my favorite childhood stories, though, was crossword-influenced. My family was watching "Family Feud," and the clue was "Name an animal spelled with three letters."

"EMU!" I blurted out.

I am so relieved to hear this. I too am not particularly good at (nor have an interest in) crossword puzzles (only fair at Scrabble). Maybe it's because it's too much work away from work. I don't know. Haiku, though? Can dash 'em off half-asleep.

I confess to having played tournament-level Scrabble in the distant past but whatever skills I picked up as an editor over the years had nothing to do with my proficiency. Scrabble is foremost a game of strategy. Just knowing the allowable 90 or so two-letter words -- many of which would never show up in a newspaper -- will add hundreds of points to your game.

"a benefit Scrabble tournament that I will not attend"

AHA! Now I understand the entire reason for your post: The group has tried to shanghai you into playing because they assume, being a copy editor, that you are excellent at other such "wordy" thingies.

No, I don't want to do your club's newsletter, either. :-P

This reminds of the movie "Wordplay." In the beginning, Shortz names professions whose members, one would think, would do well at crossword puzzles. He mentioned copy editors, and I felt like we had a starring role in the movie.

Alas, like you, I am not good at crosswords or Scrabble. But if there is a Scattergories tournament, well, look out.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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