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Should the rules of Scrabble be changed?
March 18, 2009 5:10 PM   Subscribe

Za and qi are now worth more than money, power, and sex.

But quizzicality is better than them all.
posted by twoleftfeet (53 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
But hard to play.

I dislike za and qi (and xi) but they're awfully handy.

Best play for me ever was "enquired" -- on two triples.
posted by eriko at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2009


I might accept qi, but za and zzz are right out. In fact, I may just decide that, in my house, should anyone play either of those words, they lose points. And may only play with six letters instead of seven for the rest of the game.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:17 PM on March 18, 2009


Wait ... doesn't Scrabble usually come with just one z, anyway?
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2009


That can have my QAT when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!
posted by vibrotronica at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


just one z

And two blanks, making "zzz" valid -- but it would have to be pretty well placed to justify tossing both blanks at it - "z(a)" scores as much as "z(z)(z)" does.
posted by eriko at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mulp: 2 blanks. = zZZ

Also see this thread for much discussion on this issue.
posted by lalochezia at 5:22 PM on March 18, 2009


That can have my QAT when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!

SUQ it, haters.
posted by eriko at 5:23 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


Alternately, as some Scrabble scientists have suggested, you could adjust scores upward or downward based on how lucky, or unlucky, players were in their tile draw.

That's an interesting idea. Measuring per-game or per-hand performance against the raw materials you're dished out by the random draw would make for some interesting data. How much of your score is your hand vs. the opportunities the opponent's hand leaves open for you after they play? Etc.

Though the idea lends itself better to computer-moderated gameplay than to folks sitting down around a board. Adding that kind of extra record-keeping would be a big turnoff for a lot of folks—Scrabble isn't Magic: the Gathering and most folks who play probably prefer it that way.
posted by cortex at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2009


A bit of trivia. The original Scrabble Players Dictionary included one unplayable word: pizzazz.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:30 PM on March 18, 2009 [4 favorites]


Getting graded on the curve was bad enough in university; I have no interest in repeating it in Scrabble.
posted by GuyZero at 5:33 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nothing beats zzz after sex.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 5:42 PM on March 18, 2009


I thought this was going to be about the record breaking 830 game which is a much more interesting story IMO.
posted by Rhomboid at 5:49 PM on March 18, 2009 [10 favorites]


Scrabble scientists?

"Well, we've always theorized the existence of a qzjx particle, and the new Large Hadron Tile Collider could finally prove us right!"
posted by yoink at 5:52 PM on March 18, 2009 [9 favorites]


The best way to play scrabble for normal people is to forget about the Scrabble dictionary altogether and agree that only words in an agreed upon regular dictionary are allowable. That eliminates a lot of garbage words that you never encounter outside of Scrabble.

"Professional" scrabble resembles regular scrabble the same way professional Korean Starcraft resembles regular Starcraft.
posted by Justinian at 5:59 PM on March 18, 2009 [3 favorites]


I could swear qi was always in there... I've been using it for years, and my iPod app accept it.
posted by sunshinesky at 5:59 PM on March 18, 2009


Best play for me ever was "enquired" -- on two triples.

I know how you feel... UPWAFTED across two triple words netted me a cool 238 points a while back.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:04 PM on March 18, 2009


I had a great game of Scrabble last night - my first two turns were seven letter words and then between us we had two or three more during the game. About half way through however, it became clear that there were far more letters left in the box than there should have a been and we realised that half the letters from the other set had become mixed in somehow. We soldiered on regardless because after a bottle of red wine these minor technicalities seemed a lot less important, and man, the game was going great. It became a lot harder right near the end when there weren't any damn squares left to make words in. Final score: about 500 each.
posted by Miss Otis' Egrets at 6:16 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


Grr. Facebook scrabble keeps stalling my computer ever since their last bug "fix."

(Qi and Za have been there for a while. I'd like to see Ew added, and, in my flightier moments, Ur and Oa.)
posted by klangklangston at 6:34 PM on March 18, 2009


I once came up with a democratic variant (at least, from the point of view of the letters) of Scrabble based on pitch class set theory.

The premise is this: each letter corresponds, in alphabetical order, to a number in the set [0, 1, 2, ..., 25], so A = 0, B = 1, etc. The set is modulo 26, so it's closed under addition (such that 24 + 3 = 1, for example). Visualizing this set as a clock face with 26 hours, words appear as characteristically spaced subsets of those hours, and so in my version, any word is playable that meets the following two requirements:

a) that it derive from a word originally in the Scrabble dictionary or whichever canonical source of your choosing;

b) that it be either a rotation (i.e., a translation) of that word (DAD might become AXA, for example), a reflection of that word about an axis of the clock face (DAD reflected around the axis between B and O such that B and O map onto themselves would become ZCZ; note that axes can also be between two letters, such that, for example, B maps onto C and O maps onto P; in this case DAD would become ADA), or a combination of these two operations.

For the sake of play balance, it would require that the distribution of letters be uniform and that they all be worth the same number of points, but the reign of luck over word plays would be almost completely overthrown.

It'd probably be difficult as all hell, but if anyone ever wants to get several Scrabble sets together so that we have enough Qs and Zs and play, just give me a holler...
posted by invitapriore at 6:38 PM on March 18, 2009 [5 favorites]


See also
posted by exogenous at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2009


I thought this was going to be about the record breaking 830 game which is a much more interesting story IMO.

It may be a much more interesting story, but it has been discussed before.
posted by twoleftfeet at 6:47 PM on March 18, 2009


I could swear qi was always in there... I've been using it for years

Me too. And za for that matter. Although my girlfriend maintains that za is a made-up word and thinks less of me for using it.

So I looked both words up in my (North American) Scrabble dictionary (4th edition), and they are in there (along with zzz). The copyright on the book is 2005, so I'm not sure why the WSJ is just reporting on this Very Important News right now.
posted by flipper at 6:47 PM on March 18, 2009


My 2005 Scrabble dictionary already has "za" "qi" and "zzz". I have on from the 70s that has "qi" and almost certainly "za". What's going on here?
posted by Science! at 7:05 PM on March 18, 2009


I think there's some difference between the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary and the Official Club and Tournament Word List, which is what the competitive players cited in the article would use.
posted by twoleftfeet at 7:13 PM on March 18, 2009


I was in my early 20's, or maybe younger, the first time I saw a Scrabble dictionary, and I was furious! It's not a dictionary at all, but just a list of words. What the fuck? The way my family played when I was growing up, if someone challenged a word, you had to be able to define it from memory before the dictionary (a real dictionary, with pronunciations, definitions, et cetera) was consulted. Usually that was enough to satisfy whoever challenged the word, and the dictionary wasn't resorted to. Huge interruption of the game, challenging words.

So here's this mentality of "I don't know what it means, but it's in this little book the Scrabble people published, so that's good enough for me." No, thank you. I think you've gotta know what a word is to use it. That's how I play, and I probably miss a lot of points that way, but I feel like I played fairly.

Also, Scrabble "dictionary" aside, 'za is an abbreviation, or maybe a contraction (aren't contractions disallowed?), and qi is a "foreign" word (aren't those still disallowed, too? I haven't played in a while). I would have gotten "challenged" to my room for both of those, and trying to explain different character sets of transliterating Chinese to my father would have probably reduced me to tears of frustration. Pre-internet, so no good on-hand resources for backing up things I knew but couldn't prove.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:20 PM on March 18, 2009 [6 favorites]


Also, my scrabble box still insists no foreign words are allowed, so I dunno.
posted by boo_radley at 7:28 PM on March 18, 2009


In spite of the comment above mine, I swear the thin-ass book I was so outraged by called itself a Scrabble dictionary rather than a word list, and it was just words, listed in order by number of letters, rather than a proper dictionary. Hmmm...
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2009


Everytime I use QAT, my husband accuses me of cheating because of that "no foreign words allowed" statement. I continue to use it despite his protestations.

Another favorite word is TOGATE. It may not be worth a whole lot. I just like it.
posted by onhazier at 7:49 PM on March 18, 2009


I may just decide that, in my house, should anyone play either of those words, they lose points. And may only play with six letters instead of seven for the rest of the game.

In my house, I would levy all those penalties simply for saying 'za in my presence.
posted by deanc at 7:55 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think you've gotta know what a word is to use it.

It's a game, not the GRE!

Competitive play of any game is just on a completely different plane than how most of us play most games. I remember reading John McPhee's In Search of Marvin Gardens and being floored that people would actually mortgage properties in Monopoly's early game. And I felt a little of the world's magic disappear when I saw how kids train for the spelling bee in Spellbound.

But it's fascinating... and absolutely delightful once you can start playing strategically and take a little control away from chance. And I hate moralized, elegant house rules; they just suck all that life out of the game. They serve their purpose in tying everyone's hands and keeping the playing field level, but at what cost? At what cost?
posted by pokermonk at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2009 [1 favorite]


All these foreign words like qi and suq are bullshit. I mean, just last week my friend tried to play a bunch of foreign crap like chile, pretzel, and fiasco off on me. I know a Spanish, German, or Italian word when I see it.
posted by 0xFCAF at 8:15 PM on March 18, 2009 [7 favorites]


We abandoned the dictionary and started playing Obscene Scrabble.

The only rules were each word had to be obscene and had to be connected to the rest of the pack.

One point was awarded each round to the most obscene word via a vote. In the event of a deadlock no point was awarded. In most rounds it was completely obvious which word was the most obscene.

We ended up with one bizarre compound word that filled an entire row, which may have been an object or an act - I can't remember now.

Spelling was often phonetic. I thought I was being clever by turning a W on its side to use it as an E, but was beaten by my girlfriend who laid down a word and its last letter was outside the grid.

It was both the fastest and funniest game of Scrabble I've played.
posted by hifimofo at 8:25 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


The nature of English is that it constantly accumulates new words. The addition of QI and ZA just make for higher scoring, more exciting games. They're also not particularly hard to remember, which is a nice thing about Scrabble, you learn new words.

Personally, I have no fun playing with people that don't play strategically and know all of the two-letter words, because they're just so easy to beat. No fun for anybody when the games are that out of balance.
posted by paperzach at 8:45 PM on March 18, 2009


We abandoned the dictionary and started playing Obscene Scrabble.

You'll definitely want the official list of words for Obscene Scrabble.
posted by twoleftfeet at 8:47 PM on March 18, 2009


Scrabble rewards vast vocabulary, but does not depend on it. In theory the game could be played with colored tiles, with no rhyme nor reason as to which of the memorizable color sets are valid and what colors are worth how many points, but it wouldn't be any fun, unless you decide that runs of a shape and runs of a color are valid, which is Qwirkle. As to the actual question, Lexulous (Scrabulous take two) uses a modified board, letter values, letter set and rules, and seems to work fine as a game. You're allowed to mess about with games; that's one of the things they don't bother to put in the box.

Like it or not, QI is in the tournament dictionary and therefore is valid in the tournament environment. You don't have to play by tournament rules, although with people you don't know, it's reasonable to consider them the default. You choose your rules to suit you, you only need to all agree and all know what they are.

If you want to play Scrabble with an ordinary dictionary, nothing stops you. If you want to play with the official TWL or SOWPODS dictionaries, or the German dictionary (whether or not you know German), go for it. The problem only arises if players are for some reason uncertain as to which source of words is to be used.

Most often those who complain about "Scrabble words" are highly literate people, and are justifiably proud of their extensive vocabularies (although ignoring the fact that a word with more than about 10 letters is nearly useless), but they're dismissing two thirds of the game. Scrabble is only about one-third vocabulary; it's also one-third placement, and one-third luck.

In my opinion the use of an ordinary dictionary, or ideally a junior high school dictionary, can improve the game by adding a better bluff element. While all might know that a word like "quine" is a valid English word, and be able to define it, whether it is actually in the dictionary (and therefore valid to play) is anyone's guess. With this, it also helps to be playing with the American challenge rule (invalid played word, or mis-challenged valid word = player at fault misses a turn).

The British challenge rule (which I very much prefer with the tournament dictionary) requires a player whose word is found invalid to pick up the word and play another until a valid word is played, but imposes no penalty. In a tournament environment, this amounts to an automatic challenge every play, which is how computer versions implement it.

Q and Z were costed at 10 points each before QI and ZO/ZA made it into the game. J has only one valid two-letter word, JO, and X has five, AX/EX/XI/OX/XU and both of these are costed at 8 points. If Scrabble were an online game to which updates can be patched out daily, I'd re-cost Z to 8 and Q to 9. But it's not, it's carrying a massive weight of extant sets out there, and it makes very little difference, so why bother?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:13 PM on March 18, 2009


I think you've gotta know what a word is to use it.

Whatever do you mean? I use 'Zzz' all the time!
posted by Avelwood at 9:35 PM on March 18, 2009


a word with more than about 10 letters is nearly useless

Metafilter: an almost nearly useless word.
posted by twoleftfeet at 10:01 PM on March 18, 2009 [2 favorites]


I first heard the expression "za" when I was a freshman in college by some guys in the dorm. It sounded like one of those desperate-to-be-cool abbreviations and I hated it from the moment I heard it. I was seriously chagrined to see it accepted in Scrabble/Lexulous. Seems like a pathetic play, somehow.

Also, should we really accept variant spellings of KWYJIBO? I've seen it spelled sometimes "QUIJIBO".
posted by darkstar at 12:31 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Scrabble is only about one-third vocabulary; it's also one-third placement, and one-third luck.

Exactly. You see a triple letter space, open. To the right of that, an A and an empty space. Below it, the same. In your rack, a Z.

You play one tile -- the Z, and score ZA (10x3+1) and ZA (10x3+1) -- 62 points, for playing one tile. One of the tricks of the game is making sure that high value letters get doubled (or better, doubled then doubled again.) The Holy Grails are the Double Double word and Triple Triple word. There are four places where two double word spaces can be reached with a single bingo, but you need an eight letter word to get two triples in one play, which is very, very hard, but it does happen.

The other factor is playing bingos -- seven tiles in one play. That's 50 points right there, and the absolute worst score you'll have is 56 for the play, but you have to work hard to manage that. In tournament scrabble, early in the game, often people will play "bingo or dump" -- all seven tiles, or just exchange letters.
posted by eriko at 2:52 AM on March 19, 2009


I'm beginning to think that the folks in charge of marketing Scrabble put out these press releases from time to time just to drum up interest in the game (remind them it exists). "Za" is so clearly not a word, in that its definition is "short for 'pizza'". "Zzz" can't barely be pronounced, but it's an cartoon onomatopoeia for sleep that sounds more like a bee buzzing when said out loud; either way, not a word.

"Qi," I'm on the fence, but I lean towards "not a word" because it's an alternate transliteration of a word that we already have in the dictionary, "chi". The latter I can dig, because the concept of "chi" is distinct, and we have adapted the word into English. The former, though? What's the line? How far will they go against the spirit of the rules that says "no foreign words"? Will we see "Grande" and "Venti" in the official dictionary in another 5 years?
posted by explosion at 4:27 AM on March 19, 2009


There are plenty of abbreviations everyone finds acceptable just because the shortening happened before we were born. For example, "bus" comes from "omnibus".
"Za" bugs me a bit too, but only because it makes me picture a greasy disaffected teen saying it.

Scrabble's a game. Trying to make it an educational or purely linguistic experience might be a good idea for teaching children, or making an interesting variation, say. But ultimately it's the same as people who play shooting games and complain that someone else is whoring up the rocket launcher. It's in the game. If it annoys you, learn how to counter it.
posted by lucidium at 4:50 AM on March 19, 2009


I prefer playing Scrabble with a regular dictionary, too. I think za and aa and ae and jo and such are cheap Scrabble cheats. But so many people play online now (I do, too), that this is how you learn to play if you want to survive. It makes the game more competitive, but I think less fun. I think it actually narrows the range of words people play, because it's more rewarding to go for the big-point easy word, relying on a memorized list of 2-letter words, than to expand your real vocabulary.
posted by rikschell at 5:17 AM on March 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


relying on a memorized list of 2-letter words
If I recall correctly there are 119 2-letter words in SOWPODS, but you already know about 80 of them and use them every day: BE, AT, and so on; and you're passingly familiar with another 10 to 20, like EM and EN. So you only need to memorize 20 to 30.

The way I did it, the first time I did it (I am shamefully out of practice), was when I had a job at a call centre: I'd take a notepad, and for the minute or two between calls, I'd write the 2's out, pause to answer a call, and carry on. It only took a couple of days of doing that and I could easily write them out from memory. I'd chunk them into sections by letter, and note how many 2's each letter started. Then I re-sorted the list by second letter, and memorized and chunked them in that order. Then, far more easily, I combined them: starting and ending with A, starting and ending with B, etc. All up, it took about two weeks to have it down pat, time during which I wasn't doing anything else (and really couldn't), and it improved my game dramatically.

I'd recommend the same to anyone looking to improve their Scrabble, especially if you have that kind of job, or take a bus to/from work, or have similar down-time available to you.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 6:24 AM on March 19, 2009


They aren't words, they're acceptable patterns, like a straight or full house. The fact that they also have some meaning is just lagniappe. By saying "Only everyday words are acceptable" you cause more problems; I guarantee your and my versions of "everyday words" is different from someone else's. (For example, I'm prone to use "lagniappe", are you?)

If you don't like words like "AA" or "QI" or "XU" then play Boggle instead. Or a game that doesn't involve vocabulary. But don't play a game that involves language and then bitch about the fact that it has words you don't know. Learn the words, don't worry about the meanings, or play something else.
posted by Legomancer at 7:53 AM on March 19, 2009


But don't play a game that involves language and then bitch about the fact that it has words you don't know. Learn the words, don't worry about the meanings, or play something else.

That's just the thing though! Scrabble adds "words" that aren't words for the sake of a press release and a shakeup of the game. "Zzz" in particular is in no way a word. "Za" is a regional slang word that isn't used aside from "cool" California cartoon characters that are aimed to be "hip" for kids.

Is there a line at all? How will you feel when "LOL" or "ROFL" become legal Scrabble words as "variants" of the word "ha"?

I enjoy Scrabble, but I like knowing that the legal combinations have to be words.
posted by explosion at 9:12 AM on March 19, 2009


You don't think ZA is a word? Take it up with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles!
posted by vibrotronica at 9:17 AM on March 19, 2009


Is there a line at all? How will you feel when "LOL" or "ROFL" become legal Scrabble words as "variants" of the word "ha"?

I'll be fine with that, the same way I'm fine with SONAR, RADAR, LASER, and MASER being legal. Are people really so terrified of language change?
posted by 0xFCAF at 9:24 AM on March 19, 2009


When is INTERNET going to make it into the scrabble dictionary? I guess it's a placename and thus invalid?

I once jokingly played POON and was challenged. turns out it's a type of Asian tree. yay!

Best scrabble moment (after POON): making MANGOSTEEN out of MANGO and TEEN by adding a simple S. (the surprise is that it's not in the scrabble dictionary which is almost as stupid as INTERNET being left out.)
posted by vespabelle at 10:23 AM on March 19, 2009


MANGOSTEEN is in the Scrabble dictionary. You may have been using an edition that didn't have the 10-letter words included. Check your copy for a common 10-letter word, you'll not find it.
posted by 0xFCAF at 10:35 AM on March 19, 2009


The "no foreign words" rule is for sissies who don't know all the world's languages. Me, I put all the tiles from the world's Scrabble sets into one big set of over 36,000 tiles, and I play with that. Every dictionary from every language is acceptable.

For the last three weeks I've been stuck trying to play ‎Λ‎‎ŐЯÑﻍ‎ФZ
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:01 PM on March 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


Twoleftfeet

Don't joke. On isc.ro (internte scrabble club) theres a dictionary (MULTI) game that plays with the combined english, american, french, romanian, dutch and italian. The've kindly removed all the >9 letter words. 495k words is a lot to learn. TWL98 (american, contains a mere 170k words - easy!).
posted by lalochezia at 7:24 PM on March 19, 2009


What annoys me most about the Scrabble (official and everything) ap on Facebook is that it takes the "word" PL.
posted by klangklangston at 10:53 PM on March 19, 2009


And two blanks

Oh, right right. Duh.
posted by The Great Big Mulp at 1:45 PM on March 20, 2009


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