Word games draw patrons to market

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

July 01, 2004|By Alexandra Fenwick | Alexandra Fenwick,SUN STAFF

There are probably a lot of things at the downtown Whole Foods Market that you didn't know existed.

A basket full of green, scaly monster fruit sits in the produce section, the beverage aisle houses six-packs of gluten-free, organic black cherry soda, and over in the cafe area people are talking about something called "milneb."

The deluxe grocery store specializes in all things obscure, exotic and hard-to-find and, today, words are no exception. "It's a kind of fungicide," explains Jeffrey Veigel of Charles Village, as he slides the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary across the table so another player can see for herself.

The two are busy setting up a Scrabble board and picking out lettered tiles, preparing for another Scrabble Night at Whole Foods, a weekly activity that is gradually garnering a loyal following.

For six months, the Harbor East store has made its cafe available every Monday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. for anyone who wants to bring along a game board or borrow one from customer service.

"It's hard to get certain [Scrabble] customers out at night when you're trying to close," says Nick Pratt, a Whole Foods employee who works Monday night shifts and estimates that 10 to 12 players show up each week.

Based on the success of a similar game night in one of the company's Philadelphia locations, Whole Foods' Harbor East marketing specialist Linda Smith decided to bring Scrabble Night to her location.

She says it's just one of the more grassroots methods that the store, which does not advertise, has tried to appeal to customers.

"We want to become part of the community and just let people know there's a place they can come and do something simple like play a board game, get a coffee or sandwich, and socialize," she says.

Meanwhile, nothing breaks the players' concentration, not the constant chirps of the checkout aisle scanner or the sound of shopping-cart wheels skimming across the tile floor. But despite their intense focus, the players at Whole Foods aren't out to intimidate. Veigel, who has come to the Scrabble Night for the past 12 weeks, says he is still a beginner, and Delores Brock, a Canton resident who plays casually at Waxter Senior Center, says she is used to friendly play.

Still, the games can also be healthily competitive.

Some Whole Foods players are veterans of Scrabble tournaments, a competitive circuit where winners walk away with cash prizes, and 500-point scores are not uncommon. At these professional-level tournaments, documented in the 2001 book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis, and Word Wars, a recent film on the subject, players make their moves on deluxe edition boards with grooved grids and spinning turntables and are timed with a double-faced chess clock.

Pro Scrabble players are often known for their eccentricities, but the amateurs at Whole Foods are a fun-loving bunch.

"I keep saying it's just a game, but I know people who disagree with me," says Brock.

Yet no matter how relaxed they usually are, every Scrabble player gets excited about learning a new word.

The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, or the bible, depending on who you ask, is the authority when it comes to all word disputes. Much different from your everyday reference book, the Scrabble dictionary lists only the freaks of the English language; words most likely to be challenged in a game.

Perusing its pages reveals that "ai" is a three-toed sloth, "ta" is an expression of gratitude and that a "franker" is someone who marks pieces of mail for delivery.

So next time you're feeling curious, stop by the Harbor East Whole Foods Market and throw a spiky, orange-colored horned melon in your shopping basket and look up the word "aa" in the Scrabble Players Dictionary (it's a type of rough, cindery lava).

Who knew?

Scrabble Night

When: Mondays, 7 p.m.-10 p.m.

Where: Harbor East Whole Foods at 1001 Fleet St., Suite A.

How: Boards can be borrowed at Customer Service and games can be played in the cafe or at one of their outdoor tables.

Cost: Free.

Parking: Free for up to two hours in the Whole Foods garage on Aliceanna Street.

Contact: 410-528-1640, www.wholefoods.com.

For more club events, see Page 28.

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