The scribbling of pens jotting down scores. The monotone declarations of points. The soft scrambling of letter tiles in bags. These are the only noises that interrupt the silent concentration of players at Club #44.
Some are writers, while others work in finance or education. Some are young parents, while others have grandchildren. Some have played for decades, while others started a few years ago.
But, all these players have one thing in common — they are not “Scrabble civilians.”
“There’s a lot of laughter and joy,” said player David Pearl, who has been coming to the club for 20 years. “There’s also a lot of frustration when somebody’s not drawing well or not playing well. That’s part of the competition.”
Los Angeles Scrabble Club #44, which hosts roughly 12 to 25 players each Wednesday night, creates a community built on competition and a shared love of the game.
The club is part of the North American Scrabble Players Association. Founded in 1977, it is one of the oldest Scrabble clubs in California.
The players spend hours sharpening their skills during meetings in a dimly-lit room at the Plummer Park Community Center. Despite its far-from-flashy location, the club is an established fixture of the area, home to some of the top players in the country.
“We have a lot of tournament winners,” said Alan Stern, who has been directing the club since 1991. “But our philosophy has been to make it fun and just keep it simple, so [players] have a good time.”
For many players, this club has spurred some of their closest friendships. For Stern, playing at the club was how he met his wife.
“There was one time someone came to the club because they had learned there was a tournament,” Stern said. “She went to the tournament with a friend of hers and then learned that there are actual clubs. She showed up to the club the next week and after a while she ended up being my wife. We’ve been married for 32 years now.”
Although the room in West Hollywood is mostly quiet during the four rounds of Scrabble, it buzzes with banter and laughs in between rounds.
Lois Oda started coming to the club eight years ago, after moving back to California from Honolulu when her husband passed away. She said that the bonds she formed are what motivate her to keep coming back.
“I’ll tell you, I wouldn’t drive from Santa Monica over here if I didn’t think it was fun and relaxing and friendly,” Oda said.
Another one of the club’s players, Yaa Aba Acquaah, uses Scrabble as a way to explore her love of language. She started playing with her grandmother when she was seven years old.
“[My grandmother] said we basically had two options when we came home from school,” Acquaah said. “She was a very regimented person and you could either do homework or play Scrabble. That’s when I began playing Scrabble. It really helped me develop a beautiful relationship with her.”
Acquaah joined Club #44 a few weeks ago after recently moving to Los Angeles. She said she is excited to further develop her skills at this club.
Previously, Acquaah lived in London for three years where she played at a more casual Scrabble club. She and her Scrabble partner documented their time playing in London and other parts of the world on their Instagram accounts.
“It just adds to our life,” Acquaah said. “I started posting to show people how much fun we have playing Scrabble and also some of our arguments. We just want to show adults you should still enjoy your life and find something you love doing with someone else who loves doing it.”
Although the club is close-knit, it also hosts occasional rivalries and arguments.
Judy Levitt, who has been coming to the club since 1992, had a mustache drawn on a photo of her holding a tournament trophy in 2007. She alleges that the culprit was Pearl, another one of the club’s most experienced members.
Even though Levitt said they don’t get along, they frequently play matches against each other. Recently, she ended his 19-win streak.
“We don’t like each other,” Levitt said. “But he’s good. He’s a very good player.”
The club has several traditions that unify the players too. Whenever someone wins an outside competition, they buy pizza for the club. If they come in second, they sometimes bring salad.
“You show up and you might not realize that somebody won a tournament out of town,” Pearl said. “Then you see there’s a really nice pizza spread in the back. It’s a fun bonding tradition that we have.”
Pearl, Stern and many of the other players are avid Dodgers fans. They often discuss sports while playing and in between rounds.
Another one of the highlights of the club is its annual tournament. Typically held in June each year, the tournament challenges players to do their best in the standings. Multiple past winners said that winning the tournament was one of the highlights of their Scrabble careers. Each year’s winner earns their name inscribed on the club trophy.
At the center of the trophy, etched in black, capital letters is the club’s 2020 winner: COVID-19. Stern said he is planning to retroactively crown Pfizer and Moderna as the club’s 2021 winners.
Some of the players continued to meet through Woogles.io, an online Scrabble platform, during the height of the pandemic, but many said it didn’t provide the same connection.
“During the pandemic, it was really hard,” Oda said. “You couldn’t play with like, people, people. I mean you could play online, but in the pandemic you had no other choices.”
The club resumed its in-person meetings about two months ago. Stern said he didn’t know how many people to expect and was delighted to find it resumed its pre-pandemic turnout.
“People were definitely jonesing to get back to playing live, that’s for sure.” Stern said. “So it was a lot of fun to come back.”
Joining the club is daunting, but now that the players are back in person, they said they would love having new members.
Players who are interested in joining the club can attend one of the Wednesday meetings from 5:45 pm to 10:00 pm at 7377 Santa Monica Blvd.
“I would say just come in and don’t expect to win,” Pearl said. “Just come in and ask better players how to get better and how to enjoy it.”
As life in Southern California speeds by, the players at Club #44 continue to stop and enjoy the subtle beauty of Scrabble and of each other.
“It’s one of those hobbies that actively works your mind and competitive spirit,” Pearl said. “I’ve met a lot of friends within the club and it’s a really nice subculture of the L.A. community.”