City Journal: The Saugus Scrabble King

Secrets from a man of letters.

This fall, Michael Cresta became a pop culture hero. During a game at the Lexington Scrabble Club, in the basement of the town’s Unitarian church, he scored 830 points—the highest total ever recorded for sanctioned Scrabble in North America.

Cresta was averaging about 400 points before the landmark victory. His previous high game was somewhere in the 500s—maybe. “I really can’t remember,” says the carpenter. He admits he’s no good with names, either, but Cresta’s a whiz with the small words that are an integral part of competitive Scrabble. Over a game on his coffee table, he preaches the value of two- and three-letter words like “ne” and “ars” that are foreign to most English-speakers (there are 101 two-letter words approved by the National Scrabble Association). What do they mean? “Doesn’t matter,” Cresta explains. Here’s another tip: When playing an expert, try not to spill the tiles (as I did) or take more than allowed (as I did twice). Makes you look unequal to the task.

Final tally: Cresta 416, Gonzalez 229. (My self-respect scored considerably lower.)