Guest Blogger: Ellen Doyle

Rodents?  What rodents?
By Ellen Doyle, HF Guest Blogger

Scrabble tiles are a delicacy. (Photo Credit: Ellen Doyle)

Living in an old house in the hilltowns, we’ve had mice flock in each fall only to journey back out into the world each spring. We’ve learned the hard way not to store birdseed or cracked corn inside the house lest we find little piles of it hidden in some warm dresser drawer. We now keep baking chocolate sealed up tight because mice don’t care if it’s sweet or not. We’ve often labeled one jar of peanut butter for human consumption and the other for Havahart trap baiting. Oh, and the scrubbing! I’ve scoured entire contents of kitchen drawers and spice cabinets after discovering one tiny dropping. I’ve even given in and called an exterminator when the epidemiologist in me concluded that health risks to family (Salmonella) outweighed any concerns about karmic justice. I mean, we really tried. Usually, we could get the mice under control.

Last fall I got my first inkling that the rodent situation might be a little bit worse in the coming cold season. The chilly October temps brought a slew of little creatures in from the elements. Chipmunks scurried around the wood pile. Red squirrel footprints led right up to the house and disappeared. And, a few of the mice who were supposed to have made their own way in the world during the summer months decided they liked hanging out in our cool basement.

I’ve heard that the rodent population has exploded in recent years, not just in the hilltowns, but all over. Perhaps global warming is to blame. In any case, the furry little foragers got the better of me. Let me tell you what happened…

My husband and son were playing Scrabble on the floor recently when their game got interrupted. They left the tiles in place thinking they’d be coming back to finish up. After a couple of days, I really needed to vacuum and decided to put the game away. Curiously, I could only locate seven Scrabble tiles. After a cursory glance around the living room, I decided to quiz my family. No one had any idea where the tiles had gone. Suspecting that some of them may have been hidden on purpose, I offered a free ice cream cone to anyone who could locate them. We searched behind furniture, under rugs and in the wood pile. Finally, when I saw my son looking up at the smoke detector as a possible location, I knew we had a true mystery on our hands.

A few evenings later I was rearranging the bookshelf near the woodstove when I hit the mother lode in the binding of a photo album. Not only did I find numerous Scrabble tiles socked away, but I was also happy to discover a missing chocolate chip, some macaroni noodles from a kindergarten art project and few grains of dried rice. Leaping into disease-ridding mode I trashed the old food and commenced a frenzy of hole-plugging and caulking every crack thicker than a whisker. I dumped the Scrabble tiles into a big bowl of hot, soapy water. After they had a good soak, I spread them on a towel on the kitchen counter to dry overnight.

The next morning: Sleepily wandering into the kitchen in search of coffee, I spotted the tile towel on the counter, COMPLETELY DEVOID OF TILES. I ran upstairs to question my husband, who swore he had not touched the tiles.  My son  had been tucked into bed happily asleep during the whole tile-drying time. Fearing a ghost (perhaps one attempting to spell a message?), I returned downstairs quaking. Had to have that coffee.

The next night: A brilliant idea! I would conduct an experiment. I furiously searched for the Scrabble game I’d cleaned up a few days before and located the 7 remaining tiles tucked into the box. I would tempt the creature to take the last 7 and then would know for sure that Scrabble tiles are a delicacy. I carefully arranged the tiles on the kitchen floor to avoid little footprints on the counter and went to bed.

Morning #2: I anxiously peered into the kitchen to see what results my experiment had yielded. Drum roll, please… Ta Da! The tiles were still there, just as I had left them. A little disappointed not to have lured the creature out of hiding, I set about trying to figure out what had happened.

Conclusion: Some friends and family went so far as to use the “R” word, causing me to shudder, imagining a pack rat in our house! Luckily, we don’t possess much in the way of expensive, shiny jewel-type objects them might temp such a creature. However, after an exhaustive web search, my husband came up with what I think is the most plausible explanation for Scrabble tile hoarding. Check out this little creature.

I doubt if gerbils have found their way into our home, but I wouldn’t put it past a little red squirrel… Oh, as for those remaining tiles, I suspect they don’t have the same delicious varnish on them that the stolen ones did. Our Scrabble set was inherited from the neighbors and has probably traveled through about 10 families and had countless replacement tiles before making it into our living room. We’ll need a new Scrabble game. And a cat. 


Ellen lives with her husband and son in Williamsburg, MA. She holds degrees from Stanford in biology and international relations, and a master of public health degree from Boston University in epidemiology and biostatistics. In previous incarnations, Ellen has worked as a research scientist in molecular biology and, most recently, as an infectious diseases epidemiologist. As a stay-at-home-mom, Ellen’s current passion is conducting independent medical and environmental research in order to get her own blog up and running.

2 Comments on “Guest Blogger: Ellen Doyle

  1. What a great idea! We’ll definitely try hair clippings.

  2. I just recently moved to the area from the rural southwest. We have lots of packrats. One thing that works is the scent of human hair.

    I used to be a hair stylist in a retirement community (Ie;snowbirds) and every so often folks that would come into the salon and get hair clippings. Apparently you stuff them into squares of cut up pantyhose (or knee highs) and tie them up. Set these out where you see mice. It works for keeping mice and packrats out of cars/homes that sit unoccupied for over half the year in the desert so maybe it would work in New England. It might be worth a try anyway!

    Anyway just an idea for those battling mice/rats!

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