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Senegal’s Wordsmiths Back on the Board

Dozens of Scrabble players jousted in leafy school grounds late last month in Senegal’s capital, delighted and relieved to be able to compete in real life for the first time in months. It is hard to underestimate the popularity of Scrabble in this West African nation. Senegal has produced several global champions in the French-language version of the word game and its national squad has several times been crowned champions of Africa. But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic was disastrous for the hobby. Restrictions forced Scrabble clubs to close across the country and players had to get their fix on mobile phones or tablet computers. “Scrabble was in the doldrums,” says veteran player Madicke Fall, 65. Despite an uptick in coronavirus cases, players have started meeting in person again. Many Senegalese scrabblers who first met online gathered at the event in the town of Bambilor, about 40 kilometers outside Dakar. Thirty-two players put their names down for the competition but 52 turned up, sending Malick Ndiagne, president of the Senegalese Scrabble Federation, into a panicked search for more boards.