Parrots, Pointers and Reading Partners: From SUSAN PARKER

Tuesday August 10, 2004

I received an e-mail about a column I wrote several weeks ago. The writer said, “Tell your friends, the Scrabblettes, that they’re not following Scrabble rules. The first player must start with a four-letter word. Unless my ability to count is off, kea, a word your co-player Louise used, does not have four letters. Plus, you left out an important part of the definition of a kea. It is a green New Zealand parrot that kills sheep by TEARING AT THEIR BACKS TO EAT THE FAT THERE (Webster’s New Universal Unabr idged Dictionary, page 996). If you want to lead off with an acceptable parrot, try the kakapo, also green, and also from New Zealand. It does not have a breastbone and so it is the only bird of the parrot species (psittaciformes) that cannot fly. It is o ften misidentified as an owl, eats only at night, and stays in holes in the ground during the day.” 

I thanked the e-mail writer for his input, but pointed out to him that Scrabble websites including www.hasbro.com/scrabble, www.scrabble-assoc.com, and www.scrabblelinks.com clearly state that the first move can be made with two or more letters. Furthermore, there is only one K in a Scrabble set, (worth a whopping five points), and therefore kakapo cannot be used in the game, unless one employs a blank. A Scrabblette would never use a blank during the first move except to make “bingo”, the use of seven letters, resulting in 50 points, plus the score of the word, plus doubled because it is the lead-off word. Scrabblette’s hoard their blanks, of which there are only two. And one more thing, I added. According to the website www.earthlife.net/birds/psittaciformes.html, keas are misunderstood. They do not rip off the backs of sheep and eat their flesh. They are simply trying to get at blowfly larvae, which live within sheep wool. Blowfly, by the way, is a great Scrabble word because one can add the word fly to blow, which would provide an additional nine points, 18 if it’s on a double word score.  

The Scrabblettes are lax about some rules, but firm on others. They were stricter before the recent death of Elizabeth Hansen, one of the founding members of the Scrabblettes and the official rule keeper. Bipsi (as she was known by close friends) insisted that the Scrabblettes start on time (during dessert, not afte r), and complained when someone took too long to make a move. She forbade looking up a word in the dictionary until after it was played. Although the Scrabblettes are too polite for hardcore challenging, Bipsi made sure that fake words did not appear on t he board. Now that Bipsi is gone, the Scrabblettes tend to linger longer over lunch and are constantly looking up words in the dictionary before playing them. Bipsi would be very unhappy about this turn of events.  

Like the rest of the Scrabblettes, Bips i was a remarkable woman. A 1949 graduate of the University of Colorado, she grew up in New Orleans. From strong Norwegian stock, she loved to hike, ski, swim, and bike. She was a patron of the arts, volunteering at the SFMOMA library, attending local the ater productions, and seeing all the latest foreign films. Single and independent, Bipsi adopted a child in 1969, and raised her to be a responsible member of society; a wife, a mother, and a Democrat. 

After retiring from teaching English at Castro Valle y High School, Bipsi was a volunteer for Reading Partners at Piedmont Elementary School, an Oakland public school located a block from her home. The program offers students in grades K through 5 a chance to read for pleasure with an adult partner. Volunteers read once a week, one-on-one with two students for 30 minutes each. Since its inception 10 years ago, the program has grown to include 30 volunteers and 60 students. But there’s a waitlist of students who want a reading partner. For more information, to make a cash donation for books in Bipsi’s name, or to volunteer, call Ruby Long at 595-9514. Bipsi, ever impatient to move things along, and to spell words correctly, would be grateful.