Scrabble

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Template:Infobox Game Scrabble is a popular word board game, in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a 15x15 game board. The words are formed across and down in a crossword fashion, and must appear in a standard dictionary, although there are official reference works which list all permissible words, some of which are rarely found in standard English writing.

Each letter is worth a certain number of points, with the value depending on the letter's frequency in standard English writing; commonly-used letters such as E or O are worth one point, whilst less common letters score higher, with Q and Z each scoring ten points. The board is marked with "premium" squares, which multiply the amount of points awarded. Some premium squares multiply the value of an individual letter, whilst some multiply the value of entire words.

The name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the US and Canada and of J. W. Spear & Sons PLC elsewhere. Scrabble was a trademark of Murfett Regency in Australia, until 1993 when it was acquired by Spears.

History

The game was invented by architect Alfred Mosher Butts in 1938, as a variation on an earlier word game he invented called Lexiko. The two games had the same set of letter tiles, whose distributions and point values Butts worked out meticulously by counting letter usage from the New York Times and other sources. The new game, which he called "Criss-Crosswords", added the 15-by-15 game board and the crossword-style game play. He manufactured a few sets himself, but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day.

In 1948, lawyer James Brunot bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Though he left most of the game (including the distribution of letters) unchanged, Brunot slightly rearranged the "premium" squares of the board and simplified the rules; he also changed the name of the game to "Scrabble", and sold sets to, among other customers, Macy's department store, which created a demand for the game.

In 1953, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter (one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game). J. W. Spear & Sons began selling the game in Australia and the UK on January 19, 1955. They are now a subsidiary of Mattel, Inc.

In 1986, Selchow and Righter sold the game to Coleco, who soon after sold the game to Hasbro.

The game is commonly known as Alfapet in Sweden.

In 2005, a Welsh language version of Scrabble was launched, with separate tiles for Welsh letters such as DD, TH, LL and CH.

Game details

File:Scrabble board.png
An empty Scrabble board. Colored squares represent bonus scoring.

The game is played with two to four players on a square (or nearly square) board with a 15-by-15 grid of cells, each of which accommodates a single letter tile. In official club and tournament games, play is always between two players (or, occasionally, between two teams each of which collaborates on a single rack).

An important feature of the game is the presence of color-coded "premium squares" affecting scoring: dark red "triple word" cells, pink "double word" cells, dark blue "triple letter" cells, and light blue "double letter" cells. (The distribution of premium cells is shown on the diagram at right.) The center cell (H8) is often marked with a star or logo, and counts as a double-word cell.

For information on tiles, see Scrabble letter distributions.

Notation system

In the notation system common in tournament play, columns are labeled "A-O" and rows "1-15". A play is usually identified in the format xy WORD score or WORD xy score, where: x denotes the column or row on which the play's main word extends; y denotes the second coordinate of the main word's first letter, and WORD is the main word. Although unnecessary, additional words formed by the play are occasionally listed after the main word and a slash. In the case where the play of a single tile formed words in each direction, one of the words is arbitrarily chosen to serve as the main word for purposes of notation.

When a blank tile is employed in the main word, the letter it has been chosen to represent is indicated with a lower case letter, or, in handwritten notation, with a square around the letter. Parentheses are sometimes also used to designate a blank, although this may create confusion with a second (optional) function of parentheses, namely indication of an existing letter or word that has been "played through" by the main word.

Example:

A(D)DITiON(AL) D3 74

(played through the existing letter D and word AL, using a blank for the second I, extending down the D column and beginning on row 3, and scoring 74 points)

Sequence of play

Before the game, the letter tiles are either put in an opaque bag or placed face down on a flat surface. Opaque cloth bags, along with Protiles, are staples of clubs and tournaments, where games are rarely played without both.

Next, players decide the order in which they play. According to NSA tournament rules, players who have gone first in the least number of times in the tournament have priority. In both the case of a tie and in the regular Scrabble rules, players instead draw tiles, then reveal them. Players who pick a letter closer to the beginning of the alphabet go first (with blank tiles ranked higher than As), and redraw in the case of a tie.

At the beginning of the game, and after each turn until the bag is empty (or there are no more face-down tiles), players draw tiles to replenish their "racks", or tile-holders, with seven tiles, from which they will make plays. Each rack is concealed from the other players.

During a player's turn, they will have seven letter tiles in their rack from which to choose a play. On their turn, players have the option to: (1) pass, forfeiting the turn and scoring nothing; (2) exchange one or more tiles for an equal number from the bag, scoring nothing, an option which is only available if at least seven tiles remain in the bag; (3) form a play on the board, adding its value to the player's cumulative score; or (4) challenge the previous player's move on the grounds that an unacceptable word was made (see Acceptable Words and Challenges).

A proper play uses any number of the player's tiles to form a single continuous word ("main word") on the board, reading either left-to-right or top-to-bottom. The main word must either use the letters of one or more previously played words, or else have at least one of its tiles horizontally or vertically adjacent to an already played word. If words other than the main word are newly formed by the play, they are scored as well, and are subject to the same criteria for acceptability.

At the very beginning of play, when the board is blank, a player must form a word which covers H8, the center cell. The word must consist of at least two letters, extending horizontally or vertically. H8 is a premium tile, and the first player to make a play receives a double score.

A blank tile may take the place of any letter. It remains as that letter thereafter for the rest of the game. Individually, it scores no points regardless of what letter it is designated, and is not itself affected by premium tiles. However, its placement on a double-word or triple-word cell does cause the appropriate premium to be scored for the word in which it is used. While not part of official or tournament play, a common "house rule" allows players to "recycle" blank tiles by later substituting the corresponding letter tile.

After playing a word, the player draws letter tiles from the bag to replenish his rack to seven tiles. If there are not enough tiles in the bag to do so, the player takes all of the remaining tiles.

After a player plays a word, his opponent may choose to challenge any or all the words formed by the play. If any of the words formed are found to be unacceptable, the play is removed from the board, the player returns the newly-played tiles to his rack, and his turn is forfeited. Penalties for unsuccessfully challenging an acceptable play vary within club and tournament play, and are described in greater detail below.

With North American rules, the game ends when (1) one player plays every tile in his rack, and there are no tiles remaining in the bag (regardless of the tiles in his opponent's rack); or (2) when six successive scoreless turns have occurred and at least one word is on the board. In the first case, the player who uses all of his tiles receives a bonus of twice the point value of his opponent's remaining tiles. Scoreless turns can occur when a phony word is challenged off the board, when a player passes, when a player exchanges tiles, or when a word consists only of blank tiles. This latter rule varies slightly in international play.

Scoring

Some diagrammed Scrabble scoring examples may help to clarify the play.

Each word formed in the play is scored this way: first, any tile played from the player's rack onto a previously vacant cell that is a "double letter" or "triple letter" premium cell has its point value doubled or tripled as indicated. To this is added the normal point value of every other letter in the word (whether newly played or existing). Then, if any newly-played tile was placed on a "double word" premium cell, the total is doubled. Likewise if any newly-placed tile was on a "triple word" premium cell, the total is tripled. If two newly-placed tiles in the word are played on double-word cells, the total is doubled, and then redoubled, scoring four times the letter total. Likewise, a word played with two new tiles on triple-word cells is tripled and then retripled for nine times the letter score. In the unlikely but possible event that a 15-letter word is formed using new tiles on three triple-word cells (this requires using at least eight previously placed letters on other cells), the letter score is multiplied by twenty-seven. It is not possible for double word and triple word cells to be used in the same word (since there are no such cells in the same row or column of the board). Finally, if a player uses all seven of the tiles in his rack in a single play, a bonus of 50 points is added to the score of that play (this is called a "bingo" in Canada and the United States, and a "bonus" elsewhere). These bonus points are not affected by premium cells. Premium cells, once played, are not counted again if another word is formed using a letter previously placed on a premium cell.

Acceptable words

Acceptable words are those words found as primary entries in some chosen dictionary, and all of their inflected forms. Words that are hyphenated, capitalized (such as proper nouns), marked as foreign, or appear only as part of multi-word phrases are not allowed (unless they also appear as acceptable entries: "Japan" is a proper noun, but the verb "japan" — to decorate with black enamel or lacquer — is acceptable). Variant spellings, slang or offensive terms, archaic or obsolete terms, and specialized jargon words are allowed if they meet all other criteria for acceptability. "College" level dictionaries are generally used in preference to unabridged dictionaries.

In formal competition, pre-compiled official word lists are used (usually compiled from combinations of several college dictionaries), along with an official dictionary for backup. The pre-compiled word lists generally contain only words of two to eight letters — those most frequently used in the game. (One letter words are impossible to play, and you only get seven tiles on the rack at one time, so it is very difficult to build a word that is longer than eight letters.) The dictionary is consulted for longer words. There are two popular competition word lists: the North American 1998 Official Tournament and Club Word List (OWL) (or for school use the bowdlerized Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Fourth Edition (OSPD4)) and the British Official Scrabble Words. North American competitions use the Long List for longer words, while the British use the Chambers Dictionary (but may soon change to the Collins Dictionary). The OWL and the OSPD4 are compiled using seven major dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster (10th and 11th Editions, respectively). If a word appears in at least five of the seven dictionaries, it is included in the OWL and the OSPD4, unless the word has an offensive meaning, in which case it is only included in the OWL. The key differences between the OSPD4 and the OWL is that the OSPD4 marketed for "home and school" use, and has been expurgated of many words judged offensive; the OSPD4 is available in bookstores, whereas the OWL is only available from the National Scrabble Association. Many international competitions use the combination of the British and American word lists; the union of the two lists is commonly referred to as SOWPODS, derived from an anagram of OSPD+OSW. Many countries in the English Scrabble-playing world now use SOWPODS (published in the UK as Official Scrabble Words International, or OSWI) for their own tournaments year-round, with the United States, Canada, Israel, and Thailand being notable exceptions. On March 1, 2006, the OWL2 will replace the OWL in (American, Canadian, Israeli, and Thai) tournament play.

Challenges

The penalty for a successfully challenged play is nearly universal: the offending player removes the tiles played and forfeits the turn. However, the penalty for an unsuccessful challenge (where all words formed by the play are deemed valid), varies considerably, including:

  • The "double challenge" rule, in which an unsuccessfully challenging player must forfeit their turn. This penalty governs North American (NSA-sanctioned) tournaments, and is the standard for North American clubs. (It is also the standard in Israel and Thailand.) Because loss of a turn generally constitutes the greatest risk for an unsuccessful challenge, it provides the greatest incentive for a player to "bluff" with a plausible word that they know or suspect to be unacceptable. Players have divergent opinions on this aspect of the double-challenge game.
  • A pure "single challenge" or "free challenge" rule, in which no penalty whatsoever is applied to a player who unsuccessfully challenges. This is the official rule in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and well as for many tournaments in Australia.
  • A modified "single challenge" rule, in which an unsuccessful challenge does not result in the loss of the challenging player's turn, but is penalized by the loss of a specified number of points. The most common penalty is 5 points, the rule in South Africa (since 2003), New Zealand (since 2004), and Kenya, as well as in contemporary World Scrabble Championships. Some countries and tournaments use a 10-point penalty instead. In most game situations, this penalty is much lower than that of the "double challenge" rule; consequently, such tournaments encourage a greater willingness to challenge and a lower willingness to play dubious words.

Club and tournament play

Tens of thousands play club and tournament Scrabble worldwide. The intensity of play, obscurity of words, and stratospheric scores in tournament games may come as a shock to many parlor players. There is an Example Scrabble tournament game between two top-notch players in which the combined score was over 1000.

All tournament (and most club) games are played with a game clock and a set time control. Typically each player has twenty-five minutes in which to make all of his or her plays. For each minute by which a player oversteps the time control, a penalty of ten points is assessed. The number of minutes is rounded up, so that if a player oversteps time control by two minutes and five seconds, the penalty is thirty points. In addition, the players use special tiles called Protiles which are not engraved, like wooden tiles are, thereby eliminating the potential for a cheating player to "braille" (feel for particular tiles, especially blanks, in the bag).

Players are allowed "tracking sheets", preprinted with the letters in the initial pool, from which tiles can be crossed off as they are played. "Tracking" tiles is an important aid to strategy, especially during the "endgame", when no tiles remain to be drawn and each player can determine exactly what is on the opponent's rack.

The most prestigious (regularly held) tournaments include:

  1. The World Scrabble Championship: held in odd years, the next to be in London in 2005.
  2. The American National Championship: an open event attracting several hundred players, held in the summer in even years (usually) until 2004, and annually afterwards, the 2005 event having been in Reno, Nevada.
  3. The Canadian National Championship: invitational to the top fifty players, held every two to three years.

Clubs in North America typically meet one day a week for three or four hours and charge a small admission fee to cover their expenses and prizes. Clubs also typically hold at least one open tournament per year. Tournaments are usually held on weekends, and between six and nine games are played each day. During off hours at tournaments, many players socialize by playing consultation (team) Scrabble, Clabbers, Anagrams, Boggle and other games.

Strategy and tactics

The object of the game is to score more points than your opponent. The key skills are knowing which words are acceptable or unacceptable (according to the official tournament reference) and being able to find them from a jumbled set of letters. All serious tournament players study word lists extensively, and practice solving words from alphagrams or randomly jumbled letters. It is doubtful that any player — even those among the top echelon — knows all 108,225 acceptable words for international play. But it is almost certain that the premier players know almost all, if not all, of the words they are likely to come across in their lifetime. For instance, there is no practical advantage in knowing a word like ZYZZYVAS, as this would require an extremely improbable rack containing both Ys, both blanks, and the only Z. By contrast, there is great value in learning and reliably finding the word THIOUREA, which uses a very common group of letters.

For a beginning club player, the most important list to memorize is acceptable two-letter words, because these allow one to play parallel to existing words, often scoring more points than merely extending or crossing a word. After mastering the two-letter words, a beginner can greatly benefit by studying the shorter words containing high scoring tiles e.g. QI, QAT, ZEK, JEUX, as well as "hook" lists which show what letters can be added to the front and back of words and are therefore essential for forming multiple words in a turn. Another important tip for beginners is to value the esses and the blanks, which are by far the most useful for hooks and for bingos. Above a certain level of play, a good rule of thumb is that holding onto an S is worth 8–10 points, and a blank upwards of 25 points.

Esoteric words do not necessarily score more points than common words. For example FAERIE, depending on board placement, generally scores fewer points than FAIRY. The word CWM is quite famous for being a three-letter word with no vowels - not even a Y, which is often used as a vowel substitute - but it generally scores less than MACAW, for example. In this particular case, the player who plays CWM also risks overloading his rack with vowels.

Letters which are worth four or more points should be played on premium squares if possible, and letters such as X, H, and Y are powerful if they can score in both directions, for four or six times their face value. A vowel next to a double- or triple-letter score creates a hot spot where a valuable consonant can potentially be played for many points.

Rack management is the strategic element most overlooked by beginners. It is disadvantageous to keep duplicates of most letters or to have a large imbalance between vowels and consonants. For example, the highest scoring whole word that can be formed with the letters AADIIKR is DARK. However, this leaves the player with no consonants and a double I. Because vowels are more commonly represented in Scrabble, it is entirely possible that the player will enter the following turn holding the unpromising letters AIIEUAO, for example. If the player had instead played RADII - which scores fewer points than DARK - he or she would have been left with an A and K, a combination which is common. Experts who know all the four-letter words might also have played KADI or RAKI to good effect, leaving an R and a D respectively.

Because of the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles in one turn, known as a "bingo", many players manage their racks specifically to score as many bingos as possible. Making seven- and eight-letter words is generally the fastest way to achieve a high score. The letters A, E, I, N, R, S, and T are the most useful letters for this purpose, and so a good player will be reluctant to play off these letters without some benefit in return. Conversely, good players will strive to play off undesirable tiles, at times even if that play is not the highest scoring one available, and will use a turn to exchange tiles if necessary.

A good tactic for intermediate level players is to memorize "bingo stems," or groups of six letters that combine well with almost any seventh letter to form a bingo. The best bingo stem to have is SATINE, followed by SATIRE and RETINA. With SATINE on the rack, any seventh letter except for Q or Y (or, in North America, J) will create a seven letter word (SATINE + A = TAENIAS or ENTASIA; SATINE + B = BASINET or BANTIES; SATINE + C = CINEAST or ACETINS; etc.) Since many of these seven letter words are obscure, it is useful to memorize not only the stem, but all the possible bingos that may be created with it. In order to speed up this process both for memorization and during play, some players utilize mnemonics, including a specific type known by the coined term "anamonics" (see links below).

Experts at the highest level average over two bingos a game, and four bingos by a player in a single game is not at all uncommon.

Computer players

Scrabble has been an object of interest for many artificial intelligence researchers and enthusiasts. As already outlined above, playing the word with the highest score is not always the best strategy, so teaching a computer to play well requires knowledge of a number of much more subtle strategies.

The game is especially interesting to implement because it can be broken down into two phases that are, from a computer's perspective, fundamentally different. The first lasts from the beginning of the game up until the last tile in the bag is drawn. During this phase, it is not known what the other players' tiles are, and the game has an element of randomness. However, when the last tile is drawn and the bag is empty, the computer can deduce from the overall letter distribution what letters must be on the other players' racks. In particular, when playing against a single opponent, the computer knows exactly the tiles on your rack and thus what your possible moves are for the rest of the game.

The best known Scrabble AI player is Maven, created by Brian Sheppard. The official Scrabble computer game in North America uses this method of artificial intelligence and is released by Atari. Outside of North America, the official Scrabble computer game is released by Mattel.

Records

The following records were achieved during competitive club or tournament play, according to authoritative sources, including the book Everything Scrabble by Joe Edley and John D. Williams, Jr. (revised edition, Pocket Books, 2001) and the Scrabble FAQ. When available, separate records are listed based upon different official word lists: 1) OSPD or OCTWL, the North American list also used in Thailand and Israel; 2) OSW, formerly the official list in the UK; and 3) SOWPODS, the combined OSPD+OSW now used in much of the world. To date, new editions or revisions of these lists have not been considered substantial enough to warrant separate record-keeping.

High game (OSPD) — 770 by Mark Landsberg (CA), 1993. Landsberg defeated Alan Stern 770-308.[1]

High game (OSW) — 793 by Peter Preston (UK), 1999.[2]

High game (SOWPODS) — 750 by Joan Rosenthal (Australia), 2002.

High combined score (OSPD) — 1111 (653-458) by Ira Cohen and Bruce D'Ambrosio, in a Los Angeles club, 2001.[3]

High combined score (SOWPODS) — 1082 by Helen Gipson and David Webb, 2000.[4]

Highest losing score (OSPD) — 539 by Joel Sherman (NY) to David Poder's (CA) 541, 2001.[5]

Highest tie game (OSPD) — 502-502 by John Chew and Zev Kaufman at a 1997 Toronto Club tournament.

Highest opening move score (OSPD) — BEZIQUE, 124 by Sam Kantimathi (CA) in Portland, OR Tournament in 1992. This is the highest possible legal score on a first turn, also possible with the word CAZIQUE.

Highest single play (OSPD) BRAZIERS, 311 by T. A. Sanders (TX) 1997. Highest single play (SOWPODS) CAZIQUES 392 Karl Khoshnaw. [6]

Highest Average Score (two-day tournament) (OSPD) — 467 by Joel Sherman (NY) over 11 rounds; Wisconsin Dells, WI 1997.


Absent better documentation, it is believed that the following records were achieved under a formerly popular British format known as the "high score rule", in which a player's tournament result is determined only by her own scores, and not by the differentials between her scores and the opponents'. As a result, play in this system "encourages elaborate setups often independently mined by the two players"[7], and is profoundly different from the true competitive game in which defensive considerations play a major role. While the "high score" rule has unsurprisingly led to impressively high records, it is currently out of favor throughout the world; associating its records with normal competitive play is extremely misleading.

  • High game score of 1,049 by Phil Appleby of Lymington, Hants, UK, on June 25, 1989 in Wormley, Herts, UK. His opponent scored just 253 points, giving Appleby a record victory margin of 796 points.
  • High single-turn score of 392, by Dr. Saladin Karl Khoshnaw in Manchester, UK, in April 1982. The word he used was CAZIQUES, meaning "native chiefs of West Indian aborigines".

Other records are available for viewing at Total Scrabble, an unofficial record book which includes the above as sources and expands on other topics.

Works detailing tournament Scrabble

An entertaining and highly informed introduction to tournament Scrabble and its players can be found in the book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. In the process of writing, Fatsis himself progressed into a highly-rated tournament player.

There have been numerous documentaries made about the game, including:


  • Word Wars by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo, about the "tiles and tribulations on the Scrabble game circuit".
  • Scrabylon, by Scott Petersen which "gives an up-close look at why people get so obsessed with that seemingly benign game..."
  • Word Slingers by Eric Siblin and Stefan Vanderland which follows four expert Canadian players at the 2001 World Championship in Las Vegas.

References in literature, television, and film

Scrabble is referenced frequently in pop culture, most likely due to its popularity, accessibility, and universal familiarity. Due to the selection of random letters under an individual's limited control, the device is often used as a method for characters to receive supernatural or occult messages, much like a Ouija board.

  • In Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Scrabble is used as a pretext for the commander to have non-sexual interactions with the main character, Offred, though these interactions are forbidden by the laws and customs of their dystopian society.
  • In Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, the main character Arthur Dent creates a primitive set of Scrabble tiles while stranded on a prehistoric planet, though he has no viable opponents with whom to play. He later attempts to use these tiles as a method of divining the Ultimate Question that will yield The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, but has debatable success.
  • In Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, the main character Rosemary Woodhouse uses Scrabble tiles to create anagrams in an attempt to find a clue to her circumstances. After fruitlessly looking for anagram of a book title, "All Of Them Witches," she sees the name "Steven Marcato" underlined in it, and rearranges the tiles to discover it is an anagram of "Roman Castevet," her suspicious neighbor.
  • In Phil Alden Robinson's and Lawrence Lasker's Sneakers, the main character Martin Bishop, played by Robert Redford, uses Scrabble tiles to create anagrams from "Setec Astronomy", eventually coming across "Too Many Secrets", which refers to the hidden function of the black box he and his team acquired from a mathematical genius' laboratory.

See also

External links

de:Scrabble eo:Skrablo es:Scrabble fr:Scrabble ja:スクラブル nl:Scrabble pl:Scrabble ro:Scrabble sl:Scrabble sv:Scrabble sv:Alfapet