Saturday, January 25, 2014

Beclasp Me!

I suppose that many of you, like myself, find time during the busy hours of the day or evening for a little relaxation. I know (because my family has told me many times) that I am a bit odd in my relaxation habits. I relax by working on family history and genealogy rather than watching TV or playing games. I will admit that I do like to solve the daily Sudoku and Cryptoquip in the paper as well. But I draw the line when it comes to Scrabble.

Old fashioned Scrabble sitting around the table was bad enough, but now you can play it on your phone with friends and have dozens of games going at the same time. The problem I have with Scrabble is that is does not test your skill at anything useful. Instead, it tests you on how many obscure words–words that no one in their right mind will ever use–you can look up. Because if you are playing online or on your phone, no one really knows the words they use, they just look them up.

And now the newspaper Scrabble guy seems to have decided to follow the same path. In the newspaper they give you four seven-letter words to unscramble. Your task is to at least make the "par" score, or if you are really good, equal the "best" score of someone who has already unscrambled the words. It used to be that the four words that were scrambled were usually fairly common words. But lately, the words have gotten more and more obscure, just like with online Scrabble players.

For example, last week when I had already completed the Sudoku, the Cryptoquip, and the crossword puzzles, I gave in and thought I would just try the newspaper Scrabble challenge. I mowed down the first three words, which were at least ones I had heard used in conversation. They were: pompous, daybook, and cousin. Daybook is pretty marginal, but I still got it. Cousin, the third word did not appear to have a 7 letter solution, but that was okay because I could still get the "best" score with a strong finish on the last word.

But the fourth word I could not solve. The letters were AEPLSBC. I knew I needed to use all 7 letters to reach the "best score" and no word I could think of would fit. I thought that maybe there was a misprint in the paper and the B should have been a second L because then I could make the word "scalpel." I finally gave up and settled for a shorter word that only gave me enough points to get into the "par" score category.

But since the answer was just on the other page of the paper, I turned it over to see the solution. The word was "beclasp." Really? Beclasp? My spell checker didn't recognize it. I looked it up. It wasn't in my regular dictionary, so I got out the big Random House dictionary. And there it was–beclasp. A transitive verb meaning to clasp all around or on all sides. If it hadn't been in there, I would have thought that the newspaper guy was doing what all other Scrabble players do when they can't think of a word, they just make it up!

Beclasp is a word I have never used and never plan to use in any possible conversation. I mean when could you possibly use beclasp and sound like a normal person? Greeting an old friend? "Oh hello, Henry. Congratulations on the new baby. Let me beclasp your hand." Or perhaps getting home from work. "Hi, Honey! I really need you to beclasp me right now. It was a hard day at the office."

The problem is that to a die-hard Scrabble player "beclasp" is a perfectly good word even though playing Scrabble is the only place it will ever be used. It's as if Scrabble players have banded together to single-handedly save all the obscure words in the English language rather than let them die a normal, honorable death. Well, I will not be joining them. I hope that in the next version of the large Random House dictionary that beclasp will be omitted, or at least marked as archaic usage. It's only a faint hope, however, because there will probably never be another large, printed edition of the Random House dictionary. Everything is online. Just thinking about it makes me a little sad. I think I'll go beclasp that ancient tome right now.