Sophia Loren Has A Penchant For Cheating At This Iconic Board Game

You may not be particularly surprised to know that life on movie sets isn't all glitz and glamour, despite what the industry tries to convince you of otherwise. For most actors, it can mean hours or even days spent with nothing to do, as scenes are set up, various technical matters are attended to, actors and directors and writers and studio executives talk things over, and so on.

So what is a bored actor to do while sitting on a film set waiting to be needed? Probably the same things you would do if you were bored and waiting: scroll your phone, read a book, etc. Over the decades, some actors have become known for bringing board games to the set. John Wayne and Humphrey Bogart both played chess on their film sets; Wayne was practically unbeatable (although his competition may have sandbagged to avoid the wrath of The Duke), and Humphrey Bogart's chess career extended beyond just movie sets and to participating in U.S. Chess Federation tournaments.

Sophia Loren also brought a board game to movie sets, but it wasn't chess, but rather, the equally cerebral Scrabble. And she cheated at it, and got caught at least once, according to The Daily Express.

Sophia Loren conned Richard Burton

You would think that being good at Scrabble (the English-language version, anyway) would require, you know, a good command of English. As it turns out, that's not actually strictly necessary: as The Nation explains, for a time the world Scrabble champion was a Thai man named Komol Panyasophonlert, who, surprisingly, didn't speak English (memorizing a list of words in a language is one thing, speaking it is another).

Sophia Loren's English has always been a bit broken, perhaps not unexpectedly since she was born and raised in Italy (per Britannica). However, as Panyasophonlert's case illustrates, you don't have to speak English well to play (English-language) Scrabble well. You just have to know English words.

Or if you're Sophia Loren, you just cheat. And she admitted in a segment on BBC's "Desert Island Discs" (via The Daily Express), Loren cheated at pretty much every game she played, telling host Lauren Laverne, "I was cheating ... yes, I liked to cheat because I had fun ... It's fun, it's funny yes."

Costar Richard Burton (above, with Sophia), however, didn't find it funny at all. He caught her cheating and steadfastly refused to play Scrabble against her ever again. "I was cheating him a lot and then when he found out he said, 'I'm not going to play with you again,'" she said.

Wait, how do you cheat at Scrabble?

So Sophia Loren got caught cheating at Scrabble; that much is established. What's not clear is what Burton caught her doing that tipped him off that his adversary was cheating. And in a broader sense, it's not clear how Loren cheated generally.

It is possible to cheat at Scrabble, however, although it takes the sleight-of-hand and misdirection skills of a stage magician to pull it off, and having an opponent who's a dupe and isn't paying attention doesn't hurt. Over on question-and-answer forum Quora, Scrabble-playing users talked things over and determined a few ways, one of which involves using your phone (which wouldn't have been an option in Loren and Burton's day). 

Another way is to rely on the Old West caricature of a gambler having an ace up his sleeve, although in this case, it's not an ace, but a key tile that you can surreptitiously pull out when you need it. Expanding on that, it's not a bad idea to see to it that the tiles Q, X, J, and Z, and the two blank tiles are in your possession before the game starts. That not only allows you to use them when you need them — and score boffo points if you pull it off — but it keeps your opponent from using them as well.

When all else fails, you can "consult the dictionary" when you dispute an opponent's play, and while doing so, also try to find playable words while you're at it.