Many in Area Scrabble Till They Babble

By Barbara Santee and Joan Hess
Co-Directors, Tulsa Scrabble Club

WORDSMITHS: Several members of the Tulsa Scrabble Club recently met to discuss various words. From left, Jim Johnson, Irene Bookbinder, Nancy Buck, Doris Patneau, Joan Hess and Barbara Santee.

How many of you have been in the Barnes and Noble Bookstore on 41st Street and noticed several people hunched over game boards, playing one of America’s favorite pastimes? No, not chess but Scrabble. Few people know there is an official Tulsa Scrabble Club right here in Green Country, and it meets twice a week in the coffee shop at B&N.

Barbara Santee, founder and current co-director with Joan Hess, confesses to being a word junkie, as Scrabblers are sometimes labeled. Santee is a native Tulsan who likes to say she graduated from Union High School when there were 15 seniors and outhouses, but she left Tulsa in the 1970s to live and work in New York City. It was there she stumbled upon “The Game Room,” a now legendary place in Manhattan where she was introduced to Scrabble for the very first time. “I was so intimidated, I just watched the first three times I went there, but finally I worked up the courage to sit down and play a game,” she says. I didn’t realize these people had played for years and had gained a lot of word knowledge that I had never dreamed of. But after that first session, even though I felt like a used mop when I left, I felt exhilarated and thrilled to have found a game that was so interesting and challenging. And I’ve been playing ever since.”

When Santee decided to come back home to Tulsa, she found to her dismay there was no organized Scrabble club. “I kept waiting to see if someone would get one organized, but they never did,” she says. “Finally in 1996, I decided I was the person I had been waiting for.” Santee obtained a list of Tulsa players from the National Scrabble Association and mailed letters to them (pre e-mail). They soon held their first meeting at the downtown Tulsa library, and the Tulsa Scrabble Club was born.

“Scrabble is a very democratic game in that we’ve had every type of person you can imagine come play in the club,” says Santee, “from teens to 90-year-olds.” Players have included a former golf pro, a retired rehab nurse, a Ph.D who does brain research, an attorney who teaches law, a fry cook at What-a-Burger, a computer expert, a female member of the National Guard, a master welder, a political activist, and several people who used wheel chairs to get around but had great Scrabble minds. “Everyone is welcome,” Santee says, “but we’ve learned from experience that Scrabble is difficult for children under 12 to master. Ironically, it’s not the spelling. It’s the math that throws them. But we love to work with people who have all levels of skill and will help the other players as much as we can.”

Santee and Hess have found that those who play Scrabble love words, love the competition and love people. Almost every weekend there is a Scrabble tournament somewhere in the United States, and some of the die-hard players go to 10 or more tournaments a year. There is also an annual national tournament held in a different city each year that can host from 500 to 800 people, with a major grand prize of upwards of $25,000. “The chances of a player like me winning a prize like that is about as probable as being struck by lightning,” says Santee. “But luckily, I don’t play the game for money. I’ve competed in national tournaments and always came home in a body bag.

“For you Scrabble junkies, I’m often asked what is the most unusual word ever played by my opponent? It was in a tournament and was rufiyaa, a noun meaning: ‘a monetary unit of the Maldives.’ I almost fell off my chair. The most unusual I ever played was when I had this rack: STTLLAA. Believe it or not, this unlikely combo makes the word ‘atlatls, a noun that means ‘a device for throwing a spear or dart.’”
Santee remembered the word from an anthropology class some 25 years earlier. “I got 50 extra points for playing all of my tiles—never used it before nor since,” she continues.

There are several words that make the highest scoring word that a player can make by playing one eight-letter word. “Without drowning the reader in information, she says, “one of them is quixotry. By playing the first and last letters of the word on triple word spaces and placing the “x” on the double letter square in between, this gives a total for one word of 392.”

The highest game score ever made by one player was 830 by Michael Cresta at the Lexington, Mass., club, Oct. 12, 2006. Cresta defeated Wayne Yorra 830-490, a staggering combined score of 1,320. For more world records, go to this web page:”

Santee adds: “The game hasn’t changed much since 1938 when it was invented by a man named Earl Mosher Butts. But what has changed drastically during the last 20 years has been the development of the Internet. People can now play Scrabble online with their computers or cell phones without leaving home, and as more people tend to do that, they drop out of our club.

“Our numbers have dwindled from 12 to 14 members per session to perhaps 4 to 5.”

But Santee says she has never done that. “When you are playing online, it is very easy to cheat using these modern electronic Scrabble dictionaries. In addition, Words With Friends has a different dictionary, board configuration, and strategy. I’m a Scrabble purist.”

Several years ago, long-time club member, Hess became the club’s co-director. The Tulsa Scrabble Clubs meets twice a week at Barnes and Noble at 41st Street and Darlington Ave. Tuesdays at 6 p.m. and Sundays at 1 p.m., and they play four or five games per session. There are no dues or membership fees. The club supplies the equipment, dictionaries, and a wonderful time for first-timers. To learn more, go to, write to, or if you have questions, you can reach Santee at 918-663-4278 or Hess at 918-850-4495. For information about everything Scrabble, go to the North American Scrabble Players Association (

Updated 03-25-2014

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