Scrabble

Scrabble sets can be found in most college bars or family homes. In some places, they are prominent, well worn sets; in other places, they are pristinely tucked away in a corner only to be re-discovered on a rainy weekend. So common is Scrabble that it seems to have been with us forever but in fact was invented only in 1938 by American architect Alfred Mosher Butts.

A Scrabble set consists of:

A game-board. This consists of a grid measuring 15 tiles horizontally and 15 tiles vertically. Certain tile spaces allow the letter placed on it to double or treble its value; other tile spaces allow for the whole word to be double or trebled in value.  A bag containing 100 letter tiles. The 100 letter tiles contain the entire English alphabet, but the frequency with which a letter appears was calculated according to a frequency analysis of letters from a variety of sources, including the New York Times, hence letters such as ‘Q’ only appear on 1 tile as opposed to 12 tiles with the letter ‘E’. Each letter carries a different value, with commoner letters, such as ‘T’ generally carrying a lower value of 1, and rare letters carrying a higher value, such as 10 points for the letter ‘Z’. 4 tile racks Score sheets

Between 2 and 4 people can play at the same time.  Players take turns to place words onto the board in an almost crossword like fashion. The object of the game is to score points through making words; the player with the highest number of points at the end of the game wins.

Unlike some of its popular board game counterparts, such as Monopoly, Scrabble is a game of skill rather than pure luck. A common mistake is to think Scrabble relies only on an expansive vocabulary. Knowing unusual or many words can certainly help, but placement of the word on the grid is arguably more important, as is the ability to solve anagrams.

A player must have 7 tiles at the start of their turn until there are no more tiles in the bag, and use these to make the best possible word. The key here is to make the highest scoring word, which does not always equate to the most linguistically impressive word.

Extension of words already placed on the board is allowed, and making several words simultaneously in this way is a valuable way of scoring points. For example, adding an ‘S’ to the end of a word that is placed across the board, whilst making another word in the vertical direction containing the letter ‘S’, allows the player to score points for both words.

Another tip in scoring extra points is to place high-value letters onto a Double- or Triple- Letter or Word space, and maximising it further by trying to make a word in both directions. For example, the letter ‘J’ is worth 8 points. If a triple letter space lies adjacent to an ‘A’, making the word ‘JA’ with ‘J’ on the triple letter score will give 25 points (24 points for ‘J’ and 1 point for ‘A’). However, if the player can add an ‘O’ (worth 1 point) to make ‘JO’ in one direction with ‘JA’ in the opposite, the total score now obtained will be 50 points. As this example illustrates, strategic placement can give handsome returns, with the addition of one letter worth only one point adding 25 points onto the same turn.

Knowledge of 2 letter words in Scrabble is extremely important as this can help with strategic placement. Players can choose which dictionary from which to allow words; there is a Collins Scrabble Dictionary that is the set standard, and contains many useful 2 letter words such as ‘QI’, ‘XU’ or ‘HM’ that a player would not ordinarily think of. Proper nouns are still disallowed in Scrabble, as is the use of slang, abbreviations or foreign language words unless they have been formally been incorporated into the English dictionary. Illegal words can be challenged by other players, and if not found in the dictionary, can cause the player of the illegal word to forfeit their turn.

Remember, the rules are a guideline only – Scrabble can be enjoyed by incorporating themes, such as only allowing words from Disney lyrics or Harry Potter novels, or even attach penalty feats to the double or triple letter tiles. Scrabble can also be enjoyed online, playing against the computer or even in Scrabble Puzzle Books. There even used to be a Scrabble TV gameshow until the 1980s.

It is easy to see why Scrabble is a fun game, one that taxes the mind and brings out the competitive spirit. Its strategic nature means that people of any age can enjoy competing against each other, and it is an enjoyable way to improve children’s or adult’s vocabulary alike.  It has been in our midst for almost a century; it is likely to remain here for several more.