Scrabble

This is an update on my original post published on August 8. This is to clear up some of my mistakes, and also to answer some questions I've gotten from readers. The updates are in bold.

One of the little known facts about me is that I love games. Mostly word games, but I like other games too. And you may also not know that I learned all about competition in my Amish community. It was a way to stand out from the crowd, something we didn't get a chance to do in other aspects of our lives. So I competed for the best grades in my class, and I competed in games of jumping rope on the playground. I got to the point that I could jump rope without tripping for two hundred jumps before I got too tired to go on. I also was able to scale a rope at waist level with my Amish dress on. Later, when I was a teenager, I learned to play volleyball and I often played frisbee out in the field with my friends. I enjoyed volleyball, but I was never that good at it. I could fling a pretty mean frisbee, though.

I also learned to play word games. Boggle, Probe, Dictionary (also called Balderdash or Fictionary), and Scrabble. Dictionary is that game in which you make up definitions for words you don't know. Even after I learned that I could not make up convincing definitions, I still loved the game because people come up with some pretty funny and creative definitions. Long after I left my community, I continued to the play the game. When David and I lived in Vermont, we would have "game nights" to dispel cabin fever and most of the time we'd end up playing Dictionary. I would often come in dead last, but I still enjoyed it. I learned some new words over the years, too. Plinth, zarf, feiereisen, bora, tor, teleman, dourine, and hame are the ones I remember at the moment. In some cases I even remember who chose the words from the dictionary.

I became a fairly competitive Boggle player. My Amish friends and I would often get together on Sunday nights and play one game after the other. I continued to play, even after I left the community.

Then about fifteen years ago, I found the game I'm the most passionate about — Scrabble (now officially called Scrabble Brand Crossword Game). I started playing online, and I became hooked. Before long, David claimed he would catch me babbling in the night, sounding out words. Then one night I awoke, and I heard myself babbling. I saw the Scrabble "grid" in my dream. I was trying to find the best play.

Here is a screenshot of one of my recent games on Internet Scrabble Club (ISC). I happened to win this game. I chose to play the kind of game in which you cannot play an invalid word. So that allows you to try different words in a particular spot, and it will tell you if it's invalid. That's how I found the word "umbo." My plays are the blue tiles and my title is Swan33.

 

Screen shot 2014-08-07 at 9.29.36 PM

When I moved to the Pioneer Valley, I started going to Scrabble Club. That's when I learned how much I didn't know about Scrabble. Studying word lists. Looking for the "high probability" tiles. Balancing the rack. Thinking stratically whether to challenge a word I don't know. Opening or closing the board to my advantage. Pacing the game, so I don't go over my time on the clock and lose ten points for each minute or partial minute that I go over. I still struggle with certain aspects of the game. I am in the bottom half of the players who show up for Scrabble.

I've tried three tournaments, and I decided I don't like who I become. There is a great deal of pettiness that goes on at the lowest level at the tournaments. And I find myself right in there with the worst of them. So I decided to refrain from partaking in tournaments. At least not at this time in my life.

As I write this, several of my fellow players, both from the club in Northampton, Massachusetts, and the one on Brattleboro, Vermont, are traveling to Buffalo, New York for the 2014 National Scrabble Championship. I am wishing them all the best. I'm also happy I'm here and not there.

There is a huge change coming for Scrabble players nationwide. Merriam-Webster is putting out the fifth edition of "The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary." The championship games in Buffalo are using the fourth edition of the Scrabble Dictionary for their authority. From what I understand, tournaments nationwide are going to start using the new dictionary on December 1 of this year. Scratch that. It turns out that the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary is different from the authority used at the NASPA tournaments (NASPA is the administrator of competitive play in the United States and Canada). Here is what NASPA has to say to their members about the authority used at the tournaments:

When we play competitively at our official tournaments and clubs, though, we use the Official Tournament and Club Word List, which is also seeing the quieter release of a major new edition this week. Our new word reference is formally called the NASPA Official Tournament and Club Word List (2014 Edition), or for short, OTCWL2014, OWL2014 or TWL2014.

We are told that there are 5,000 new words in the fifth edition of the dictionary. I bought my paperback copy from my local Barnes and Noble bookstore the day before yesterday. It was hot off the press — they had just unpacked them that day. I'm having fun looking through it for the new two- and three-letter words. I'm familiar with the old list, so when a new word is added, it tends to pop out at me. I had already heard that the new two-letter words are da, gi, po, and te.

I'm not all the way through the dictionary yet, but I've found some surprises. It seems every utterance has made it into this new edition. This list seems a bit on the ludicrous side to me: eensy, doh, eew, eeew, foo, grr, grrr, hoo, jeesly, jeezly, jeeze, jeezely, grrrl. And these are just the utterances I've found so far. Then there are all the new "in" words that have found their way into our lexicon. You know the word "hottie" that young people use to describe an attractive person? That was already in the fourth edition. And now they've added "hotty." They've also added: dosh (money), eejit (an idiot), ixnay (no), emo (a style of rock music with emotional lyrics), bobo (a well-to-do person who holds bohemian values and leads a bourgeois life), jook (a tavern that has a jukebox), doob or doobie (a marijuana cigarette), griz (a grizzly), jobbie, juvie (a juvenile delinquent), jockdom (the world of athletes), jockish, jumpshot. In the debate between those who are appalled by these kinds of words becoming acceptable, and those who say language is ever-changing and alive, I think I'm somewhere in between. I think we have enough ways of making judgments about the intelligence of another person without adding eejit (and at the risk that we sound like one when we use it). I have no idea why  ixnay made it in there. I know people use the word, but doesn't "no" suffice?

There were also a few surprises of words that weren't in there before, such as the word jumprope. It's only a noun so far… who knows whether it will be added as a verb sometime down the line. I'm honestly surprised it's not been in there all along. They've also added some other words I thought should have been included before. The word "bing" always seemed valid to me, or at list as valid as the word "ping." And I like that they added "banc" (a bench). I grew up using that word.

There is an online resource that helps me to compare what was in the last edition. It's called Zyzzava. (It's named after the last word in the dictionary. Um, excuse me, it WAS the last word in the dictionary… now it's "zzz.") A zyzzava is a tropical weevil.

Regardless of the "validity" of these words making their way into the English dictionaries, it will change the game of Scrabble a lot. When the word "qi" made it on the official list, it  changed the game tremendously. Now there was a hook for the letter "q." No doubt the new two- and three-letter words will change the game again. I am up for the challenge. 

Several of you asked what dictionary is used for deciding which are words are acceptable. I knew that there were several, and I did some research and found this from NASPA:

The four college level source dictionaries used to create the OSPD4 and the OWL2 were:

  • Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, 11th edition
  • American Heritage College Dictionary, 4th edition
  • Webster's New World College Dictionary, 4th edition
  • Random-House Webster's College Dictionary, 2000 2nd revised and updated Random House edition

Also, for the original OSPD one other source dictionary (Funk & Wagnall's Standard College Dictionary, 1974) was one of five sources used, and some words from earlier editions of the OSPD have been grandfathered as explained in the Dictionary Committee page.

They are referring to the last edition. For this new word list, they also used the Oxford College Dictionary, second edition, and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, second edition. Hence the 9,000 new words in the 2014 NASPA Official Word List.

Do you enjoy Scrabble? If not, is there a game or an activity you are passionate about? Will you share?

I enjoyed hearing from those who shared your interest in the game. I hope you continue to play. Have fun!

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26 thoughts on “Scrabble”

  1. Elva Bontrager

    Wow. You must be very good. I like Scrabble but I’ve never been particularly good at it. My excuse is that words themselves become overly important to me. Words like bliss and career and epee, say, that don’t score well but look good rather than the boringly bland words my mother used just for the points. :) Mom was very good at it and I don’t recall ever winning against her.

    When I was an Amish kid we played lots of board games like Flinch, Rook, Authors and Old Maid- did you do those games? Of course we were not allowed ‘real’ cards; I’m not sure I even knew what they were.

    Nowadays I like chess, which my family did not play. My dad was very good at checkers but I never learned a strategy with checkers so I never beat him. I just realized that both my parents whupped me at games. :)

    1. Elva, good is a relative term. I’m not at the championship in Buffalo, now am I? It’s all about where we put our focus, I think. I tend to focus on Srabble, and especially when I’m stressed… it’s like I choose to solve the “puzzle” of Scrabble, rather than deal with the puzzles in my life. That is not always a good thing.

      I remember Rook and Old Maid. We didn’t play “real” cards either. And I certainly remember Checkers… my father whupped me in checkers, too. My mother didn’t really play games.

      Thank you, Elva, for reminding me of those days when we used to spend our “in-between-church-Sundays” playing games in my childhood. I hadn’t thought about them in a while.

  2. Kristine Lange

    Yes, I too am a BIG FAN of word games. My husband and I even play “word whomp” on Pogo.com together. It’s a nice feeling when we can “sync” together and win a game. Sometimes it’s fun and sometimes it’s frustrating!

    1. Kristine, I’ve never tried “word whomp.” I can just heard my husband say, “Oh, oh.” And he’d be right. I don’t need any more distractions from life, which is what Scrabble becomes for me sometimes. Yes, games can be frustrating. For me it has to do with knowing when to stop. 

  3. O yes , I like Scrabble too. We did it often in the Dutch. Now I like to do word games, just to train for better English words.
    Then it happened that I asked one of the kids : Is this or that a real word? Oh no, never heard about it.
    And then it is a word. And they like to say: whatever.
    Love,
    Wilma

    1. Wilma, that is funny. What is a “real” word is relative to who we take as our authority. In the Scrabble world, it’s this dictionary. Some people still claim some of these are not “real” words, and I tend to agree with them.

      Thanks for stopping by, Wilma. Enjoy Scrabble.

  4. Guess I’m not current on scrabble competition. I thought the point was to use words in the regular dictionary. Do you have any idea what the rules are for what is included in the scrabble dictionary? And if it is slang, but not in the dictionary, you can’t use it?

    I love the game you call Dictionary. I’ve called it Fictionary. There was a show on our local public radio station called Says You. They play uproarious games of Dictionary.

    1. Ruth, I would LOVE to hear that program, Says You. That sounds like a hoot.

      This is now the fifth edition of the authority on allowable Scrabble words. And yes, you can use it if it’s slang… it just has to be in this dictionary. And there seems to be quite a bit of that in this new version.

      One thing I’m noticing is that there are also words that came OUT of this edition of the dictionary. And I’m really happy to see some of those words go… especially the ones that are considered offensive to various cultures. Those came out, and a lot of new words went in that foster cultural understanding as opposed to being offensive.

      I think the committee looks at five different dictionaries, if I’m not mistaken. They decide on what goes in and what comes out.

      There is a lot of strategy involved in Scrabble… watching where you can pick up the double or triple letter scores, blocking your opponent when you’re ahead, that sort of thing. This is the part of the game I’m not so good at. It’s very little about the meaning of words… it’s much more about scoring points. In that regard, I like Fictionary (love that name) much better, because it’s all about the meaning of words. I wish there was a Fictionary club near here… I’d go to it.

  5. So all of the words in the Scrabble Dictionary are in some other dictionary somewhere?

    Says You is no longer on our local FM station, WFCR. It is on 640AM WNNZ,nepr.net, at noon on Sundays. If you can open a station’s web site, you can usually listen to what they are broadcasting (called ‘streaming live’). Here’s their website: http://www.saysyou.net/. Look under “Find a station” Most of the broadcasts are on Sat and Sun. What a hoot! I see a station in Sharon, CT, whose website is robinhoodradio.com.

    1. Johanna, thank you for the link. I can’t wait to listen to it… that sounds like at hoot!

      It is my understanding that all the words in the Scrabble Dictionary are in some other dictionary. But let me ask the Scrabble masters about that at one of the clubs. I will let you know for sure.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  6. Not a scrabble player at all! It is so serious. We do play a game called Upwords by the hour.It is kind of like three dimensional scrabble. As kids we played all kinds of board games and cards. When kids, who were not supposed to play cards wanted in,we just moved the game out of sight of the adults. I don’t think of myself as competitive…but I do like to win.

    1. Hello Sally. I’ve only seen the game Upwords. I should try it sometime. You crack me up… about not being competitive and still liking to win. Perhaps you are saying that tongue-in-cheek. I have a friend who said it in all seriousness. I couldn’t help laughting and I asked, “So what is the definition of competitive if it’s not that one likes to win?” She didn’t think it was the least bit funny. I have no problem admitting I’m competitive. But I’m not cutthroat. One also needs to know how to lose gracefully. After all, my loss is the opponent’s gain. Most of the people I play are like that too, but there are a few at the clubs who need to learn that part of the game. If I ever get to the point when I don’t like the person on the other side of the board, just because he or she won the game, then I will quit going. This is precisely why I don’t go to tournaments.

  7. About not being competive but liking to win- I really enjoy and pefer a good challenging game, even if I loose, over one that I win too easily. The journey is as important as the destination. Does that make more sense?. It also helps to bring a sense of humor to the game.

  8. So glad to have found you again. My computer crashed big time a year ago and I’m still trying to remember all the blogs I enjoyed reading. Now I can add you to my list again.

  9. I have a funny Scrabble story. I was visiting with Mom one rainy October afternoon at Sunbridge, where she lived. We were playing Scrabble in the library. I had a Q tile, worth 10 points, which I could NOT get rid of. Finally I stuck it on the beginning of a word, and explained “The ‘Q’ is silent.” I thought Mom was going to fall out of her wheelchair, she laughed so hard!

    When I lived in Tucson, I had a dear friend named Joan and we had a standing Sunday afternoon date for lunch and Yahtzee. Joan died in 2003 but I still have one of her Yahtzee score cards. Good times!

  10. I have never heard of a scrabble club before but it sounds like lots of fun. I have not played word games is years but since we are entering the fall season here already I am encouraged to get a scrabble club organized here soon :-)

  11. My Scrabble “version of choice” is Words with Friends. I play it on my Nook, but many play it on their Smart Phones or iPads, which I don’t have. The most fun games I had going is last winter when I was visiting my son’s family in Idaho, we each had a game going, with EACH OTHER! Me, my son, dau-in-law, and 2 grandsons (aged 8 and 10 at the time). That was a blast!

    1. I like in-person Scrabble a lot. In fact, today two friends stopped by and we played Scrabble on my front porch on this beautiful day. Otherwise I play Internet Scrabble Club (ISC) on my computer. I know a lot of people who play Words with Friends. If ever you want to play me on ISC, I am CharActer3.

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