By Matteo Perez and Jane Hamilton
Zach Ansell ’22: Scrabble Master
Zach Ansell ’22 got into Scrabble in 2013. His decision to play the board games has led him to compete in tournaments all across the country. He has won two major tournaments and the chance to be on a highly regarded late night talk show.
Ansell started playing Scrabble after reading “Word Freak” by Stefan Fatsis.
“It’s about the adventures of Stefan Fatsis in the world of competitive Scrabble,” Ansell said about the book. “I gave it a read and I thought it sounded interesting, so I started going to some local Scrabble clubs, and I started studying and I kept improving, and I’ve still gotten all this way.”
Ansell spoke of why he loves to play.
“I enjoy the competitive feeling that you kind of get when you are facing someone else, and if they are much better than you, it gives it more excitement and pressure. Some people might think Scrabble is boring or slow, but I find it very enjoyable and I love playing,” Ansell said.
Ansell uses word lists to study two to three letter words and seven to eight letter words that appear commonly in Scrabble.
“I practice four hours every Saturday, and throughout the week I play a few games online or look at a few wordlists,” Ansell said.
Ansell has competed in around 40-50 tournaments around the nation.
“There are Scrabble tournaments all around the country. I’ve ventured to Rhode Island, Florida, Chicago and Seattle. I’ve won a few lower level divisions in Monrovia, but I aspire to win the highest division, which I haven’t done yet,” Ansell said.
Ansell’s most notable tournament win is the North American School Scrabble Championship (NASSC), which he won for the first time in 2015 and another time in 2017. The competition was eligible for students between third and eighth grade in teams of two. Players compete in seven games against other teams. Then, a final match is played between the top two teams.
Ansell won $5000 each championship and after taking the prize for the first tournament, became a guest on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.”
“I was really nervous because there were so many cameras and everything rushing around, it honestly didn’t feel real to me. I felt kind of in a dream, I just recently broke my collarbone the day before it was filmed, so I was in bit of pain, but I muscled through and I really enjoyed the experience,” Ansell said.
The highest word that Ansell has played is calcites, for 176 points, and some of Ansell’s favorite words to play are “phonies,” which are words that players use as a bluff. Playing phony words is a strategy in Scrabble as a player could gain points if the opponent doesn’t challenge the word, but if their opponent does challenge it the player loses a turn.
“I am notorious for playing phony words, most notably in the 2015 NASSC. In the finals I got away with three to four phonies, one of the words being ‘idolites,’ I remember seeing the word somewhere, and I played it and it was good, and that’s just been who I am,” Ansell said.
During Ansell’s free time he likes to read books, code with Java and play with his dog Coco. He also plays tennis and fencing. He also likes to play other board games.
“I am excellent at Connect 4, but in Monopoly I’m not exactly the best strategist, but I tend to enjoy that. I do play a bit of chess and checkers,” Ansell said
Ansell also runs the school’s Anagrammers Club, which allows students to play board games like Bananagrams, Anagrams, Scrabble, Boggle and other games.
“Annagramers is a club here that I run in Harvard-Westlake. It meets Wednesdays at break in Hazy 310, the World Language’s conference room. We play board games and eat homemade cookies that I bake, and we tend to have a lot of fun,” Ansell said.
Finally, Ansell wanted to give advice to anyone who wants to play Scrabble like he does.
“If you want to reach my level you need to study and you need to play, because not all Scrabble is word knowledge, and you just need to just keep at it,” Ansell said.
Casey Ross ’23: Rockclimber
By Jane Hamilton
Casey Ross ‘23 discovered her passion for rock climbing about four years ago.
“I tried rock climbing at some birthday parties, and then I saw that there was a recreational team at one of the gyms where one of the birthday parties was, so I thought it would be fun to join, and I kept on loving it and moving up in the ranks until I joined some better teams,” Ross said.
Ross recently moved to Los Angeles from Dallas and compared climbing in the two places.
“[In Los Angeles] there is a lot more outdoor climbing since it’s less flat, and the gyms here are bigger [than in Dallas],” Ross said.
Ross climbs at Cliffs of It, a gym in Culver City, three days a week for three hours each day. She also climbs at a gym called Hollywood Boulders on weekends for fun. She spoke about her challenges of balancing school with rock climbing.
“I think it’s pretty hard, but I’ve learned to do homework in the car which has been useful, so it hasn’t been that bad,” Ross said.
Ross has competed on the local, regional, divisional, national and world levels. Her passion has taken her to a variety of locations.
“My biggest success [in rock climbing] was when I qualified for the national championship in speed climbing,” Ross said.
Ross usually competes in an indoor gym but also enjoys climbing outdoors for fun. She has never endured any major injuries while rock climbing but has pulled a few muscles.
“The biggest challenge is getting discouraged whenever you fall and sometimes you lose your motivation, so finding your motivation again would definitely be the most challenging thing,” Ross said.
Aside from rock climbing, Ross also plays the cello. She said that in some ways the two are very similar.
“Rock climbing helps me hold the instrument better and move my fingers better,” Ross said.
In her future, Ross definitely sees rock climbing being a part of it even if she does not do it competitively.
“I definitely see myself rock climbing in the future. I want to do a lot of other things in my life, so I think that [rock climbing] will be great for when I’m older to go into rock climbing gyms on the weekends and maybe join an adult team,” Ross said.