Aug. 17 2009 12:00 AM

Scrabble lovers bring passion outdoors

Following a rainstorm last Thursday, Kate Katje was worried her game night was ruined.

“I don’t know what happens if it rains,” Katje said. “This has never happened before.”

On a normal game night, most Scrabble players don’t consult the Weather Channel nonstop, and they certainly aren’t worried the four-point “V” will wash away into a puddle, taking their chance of “V4”ictory with it.

“It’s kind of funny to think that a Scrabble game can get rained out,” said Katje, business manager for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing. “I’ve got two games we can play inside, but they’re not as fun as outdoor Scrabble!”

It’s unusual all right, but for Katje, her partner Dave Smith and a gathering of four friends, this giant 10-by-10 foot outdoor Scrabble board is definitely a relief from the storm. When the rain finally stopped, the group began the second night of their new Thursday tradition shortly after 6.

The board, set up in the backyard of the couple’s Tecumseh River Road home in Lansing, is an exact replica of the traditional 15-inch-by-15-inch game board. Its made from handpainted ceramic tiles, professionally stenciled, along with the Scrabble alphabet on hand-cut blocks of wood. The letter tiles, housed in a giant canvas bag, were created by Katje, who took a special woodburning class so she could make them.

As for the giant Scrabble color racks, Katje set them at eye height atop metal poles in the ground.

All in all, the process was a lot more involved than she first expected. “I started [the project] in early May, and I finished two weeks ago, at the beginning of July,” she said. “I thought it was only going to be a weekend project, and everybody laughed at me.”

When it comes to Scrabble, Katje said she has always loved the game. “My earliest memory is when my parents played Scrabble, and I would always be looking over the edge of the table and turning the letters for them,” she said. “It was an every Saturday night thing when we were kids.”

Katje still needs to create a life-size index of all the letters and their points for the board. Its a work in progress, she said, but a huge step from where she began.

The idea for the giant board came from a newspaper story about another homemade board constructed by a couple outside of Michigan. When Katje saw it, she knew it was something she wanted to do.

“The article was on my mirror in my bedroom for a long time, but I never built it because it was so big; it looked tough, and I was scared,” she said. “But then I finally decided just to do it.”

Back at the game, Smith and his Scrabble partner were slowly building words in their heads.

“It’s like watching paint dry,” Katje mumbled.

"Oh, Kate we’ve had like 25 seconds of a turn here," Smith shot back.

“I have to brush the dust off of me, because I’ve been sitting and waiting so long,” she replied.

They may like to trash talk, but it seems the couple can stand it. Scrabble has been a big part of their relationship since the two met about three years ago.

“[For my family] that’s the criteria for a boyfriend, whether they played Scrabble or not,” Katje said. “So, Dave passed the test.”

With the new board, Smith said the couple is playing more often than ever. Drinking beers and spending time with friends makes the perfect addition to their summer.

“I was saying it’s like the movie ‘Field of Dreams:” ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Katje said. “I thought, ‘This is like my little ‘Field of Dreams,’ but I don’t know of any famous Scrabble players that will show up. But you never know, [there] could be one.”

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