How many points is "LEGO" worth?

I recently began playing competitive Scrabble again. Years ago I played at Scrabble tournaments and got quite good at it (peaking at 47th among the thoasands of rated players in the United States). I stopped playing in late 2004, but during the run I was at the height of my LEGO building career.

Many of the players I met on the "Scrabble circuit" learned of my LEGO profession, and invariably someone would mention, "you should build a Scrabble board out of LEGO!"

Scrabble boards are a very serious thing at tournaments. You can buy "deluxe" Scrabble sets at the toy store... they spin about, but they have a major shortcoming: the rotating board is rectangular. In the heat of competitive play, most players unconsciously move their racks of seven letter tiles toward the board. Then, when their turn is over, the opponent spins the board. If the board is rectangular, the corners form a longer radius in the rotation, and wham!, the racks of tiles are often hit by the board as it spins about.

Players don't want to worry about their letters getting knocked about, so there is a whole cottage industry of Scrabble board makers. Such boards are circular so that players never accidently move their racks of letters to close. The board is larger than the set you buy at the store. The actual playing field in which the tiles are lain is the same size, but the circular nature of the board makes it an overall larger area.

Anyway... at any given Scrabble tournament you'll see most players with customized boards. It's a very personal thing.

I never really seriously considered actually building a board out of LEGO bricks, either during my first tenure as a player or more recently when I resumed competitive play. But then the strangest coincidence occurred...

During Veterans' Day weekend of 2007 I participated in a tournament in Asheville, North Carolina. When I got back home the following Monday, I began working on a rather mundane LEGO commission that I had been negotiating earlier: a company in Atlanta wanted a giant white disk made from all white LEGO bricks.

Yep, a giant hockey puck shaped model 60 studs wide and 16 studs thick. It was a pretty straightforward "sculpture"... actually it was almost too straightforward. Not very exciting at all. But, as I sat there building the thing (it was quite heavy, being almost solid LEGO bricks -- 5 inches thick and about 19 inches in diameter), it sat in my lap. As it got near completion, I suddenly had a revelation.

This disc I was building was almost the exact diameter of a tournament Scrabble board. I had just been staring at these boards all weekend, and now I saw this LEGO object which I was sure was the same size (a lot thicker, yes... but the diameter was very close).

I'm sure that when most people suggested I build a board out of LEGO bricks they were thinking that it would have a bumpy top surface as the board sat on a tabletop. But what I now had in mind was different... build the disc upward and then tip it on its side. I built a partial prototype out of blue bricks (you'll notice a groove built into the surface -- this is for the plastic tray that holds played letter tiles).

Once I was confident the project would work, I got more serious and bought a lazy susan turntable/caster to attach and some glue. Yes, this is a project that would not be 100% LEGO. While I might have been able to rig up a working, stable spinner out of LEGO, and while the board would have probably held together under careful handling without glue... the final board had to be more durable if it was going to actually be usable. Tournament Scrabble playing is not as rough as, say, Sumo wrestling, but the board was still going to be moved about, bumped, and so forth.

I wanted to be sure it could stand up to the usual wear and tear.

So, I glued each piece as I built the circular body. I used red bricks and plates because those were most handy in my supply. I constructed it lying flat to make sure the pieces did not dry slightly warped (sizable LEGO "walls" that are built only 2 studs thick will actually flex noticably). Once the glue dried, it was a simple matter to fasten the lazy susan to the underside and then glue the letter tray on the upper side.

Some pictures

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