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Scrabble – More Than Just Woodchips in a Bag

Oxyphenbutazone: an anti-inflammatory medicine used to treat arthritis.

Did we catch you off guard with that opening? No, we haven’t gone crazy or mixed up our articles. Oxyphenbutazone is potentially the most valuable word in the game of Scrabble.

Scrabble, the game of words, was invented in the United States back in 1933. It has been reproduced in 29 different languages and is available in 121 countries. But Americans and Brits remain the biggest devotees, with a third of US and a half of UK households having a Scrabble set on hand for an impromptu game.

Over the years, Scrabble has become much more than just a favored parlor game, though. There are more than 4,000 Scrabble clubs, weekly competitions, player associations, and an annual National Championship.

Avid players are focused on those triple word scores and high-value letters, like Q and Z. Whereas an average turn may earn a player 10 or 20 points, the perfect placement of Oxyphenbutazone would add a never-before-made word score of 1,778.

Note, we said, “never before.” The elusive 1,778 points have yet to be claimed as both the Scrabble tiles and the board need to be in perfect alignment.

In the meantime, you could play all seven tiles at a time (50 point bonus!) and settle for jukebox (77 points), quixotic (76 points), and Jezebel (75 points).

The History of Scrabble

Alfred Mosher Butts

In 1932, in the midst of the worst economic downturns in US history, 20% of Americans were out of work. So, people like Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed architect, sharpened their skills in other areas, hoping to catch a break.

Butts loved games of skill and all types of parlor games. He categorized them into dice and bingo, number games, games that require moves (like chess and checkers), and word games.

He evaluated each category and realized that word games, although self-challenging, weren’t competitive. They didn’t have the necessary scoring function (i.e., point system) to allow for multiple players and an overall winner.

He knew that a cross between an anagram-type challenge and a crossword puzzle design might just fit the bill.

Anagrams are games where you take one focus word and, using just the letters that comprise it, you try to form as many new, different words as you can.

Lexiko and Criss Cross Words

Butts studied crossword puzzles in the prominent publications like the New York Times to come up with the proper calculations on letter distribution, and his first game was called Lexiko. It was later evolved to Criss Cross Words but still didn’t have the appeal factor necessary for widespread distribution.

James Brunot

In 1948, Butts teamed up with James Brunot, an entrepreneur who also had an affinity for games. Brunot added the concept of the 50-point bonus for using all seven letters at a time as well as the color scheme on the game board indicating higher point value opportunities.

Brunot also precipitated a name change from the latest Criss Cross Words designation, and “Scrabble” was born. The word means to collect or hold onto something, so it refers to the players strategically assembling the best words and waiting for the proper positioning that equates to the highest score.

A New Name and a Trademark

Scrabble was trademarked in 1948, but the team had a relatively slow start. They began production on their own, with the help of some loyal and supportive friends, in a small abandoned schoolhouse in Connecticut.

The team hand-built each game set, including stamping each letter on the individual tiles, and cranked out 2,400 sets.

Macy’s and Selchow & Righter

Good fortune finally struck in the early ‘50s when the president of Macy’s discovered Scrabble while on vacation. He placed an initial order, and Scrabble became a hit within the year.

In 1952, Selchow & Righter, a prominent game manufacturer, entered the picture and became licensed to market and distribute Scrabble throughout the US and Canada.

Now, here’s the part of the story that may frustrate you. Keep in mind that Butts was the original creator, painstakingly creating sets, and involved in grassroots efforts to create a Scrabble phenomenon.

But in 1972, Selchow & Righter ended up purchasing the trademark and all exclusive rights to the game of Scrabble. Brunot received a pretty hefty paycheck amounting to $1.5 million in royalties. Butts, on the other hand, ended up a digit short with a $265,000 royalty check.

Hasbro Takes Over

Coleco Industries, the company responsible for the Cabbage Patch doll craze, purchased Selchow & Righter in 1986. Just three years later, though, Coleco declared bankruptcy and had to liquidate its assets. So, Hasbro (formerly Parker Brothers) stepped in and acquired both Scrabble and Parcheesi.

Hasbro made a wise move with its new property, as Scrabble is still going strong and has spun off into different home and travel versions, as well as for online play. Scrabble tiles are featured in all kinds of trademarked goods ranging from jewelry to artwork.

An estimated 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold since the iconic word game competition was first embraced by game players around the world.

The Basics of Scrabble

The Scrabble Set

Scrabble is played with anywhere from two to four players, and the entire Scrabble set is needed. So, if your dog ate some of the tiles, your child hid some in places you’ll never discover, or you’re using them to hold up a wobbly table, it’s time to get a new set.

You’ll need the following equipment.

  • 100 letter tiles
  • Four racks – for displaying your tiles while hiding them from your opponents
  • The game board
  • Paper and pen for scoring

The Set-Up

Setting up a game requires that the tiles be kept in the game pouch so that players can blindly reach in and pull out selections at random. Or you can use the top of the box. Just add the tiles and turn them all over so that nothing is revealed. Then players will need to mix up those tiles carefully, so no one has the advantage of remembering where particular letters are located.

The 15 x 15 grid game board goes in the middle, and each player receives a rack. Before any tiles fill the racks, though, the first player needs to be determined. Everyone draws one tile at random, and the one who pulled a letter closest to “A” goes first. Gameplay then continues clockwise around the table.

Those first tiles are returned to the bag or box and shuffled around. Then, each player draws seven tiles and places them on the rack. The racks should be positioned so that players can see their own seven tiles, but no one else can catch a glimpse.

The Rules of Scrabble

The Object of the Game

The purpose of the game of Scrabble is to get a higher score than your opponents. You accomplish that by forming words, attempting to use greater value tiles (like Q and Z) when possible.

Your score is enhanced by proper placement of tiles on the board as some options will provide instant boosts. They’re called “Premium Squares.”

Words can’t just be placed randomly on the board, though. After the first word is set across the center square, subsequent ones have to connect in some manner. We’ll get into the legal moves and word placements next.

In any case, the play will continue until the letters are depleted or no additional words can be added to the board.

Taking Your Turn – Word Placements

The first player to act must place a word across the center tile on the board. But as a reward, they’re entitled to a double word score right out of the gate.

Once the first word is played, every subsequent one needs to use at least one existing word or letter that’s already on the board.

There are three options to accomplish that.

1. Change an existing word by adding at least one new letter.

For example, if the word “board” is played, B-I-L-L could be placed in front of it (if space permits) to form billboard.

Adding letters before an existing word in Scrabble

Or the letter “s” could be added at the end to create “boards.”

Adding letters afters an existing word in Scrabble

2. Using one of the letters of an existing horizontally-placed word to create a word that’s positioned vertically or vice versa.

For example, if the word “book” was the first word horizontally played on the board, a player could then use one of the letters to place a new word vertically. One of the “o’s” could be used to complete the word “mother” using the “m, t, h, e, and r” letters from the player’s tiles and the “o” that was already on the board.

Adding a vertical word to a horizonal word in Scrabble

3. Placing a brand new word parallel to the one already on the board. Keep in mind, though, if a new word is set horizontally under another horizontal word, any vertical connections must form words as well.

For example, if the word “cat” was placed on the board horizontally, and you wanted to place the word “told,” you could start the new word directly under the “a” in “cat.”

Now, you get points for “told,” but you also get points for “at” and for “to” as those are the words formed vertically with your addition. You couldn’t start the word “told” directly under the “c” in “cat” as everything horizontally and vertically that connects must form actual words.

Adding a parallel word to an existing word in Scrabble

Scrabble Scoring

Premium Scores

  • Premium Letter Squares
  • Premium Word Squares
  • Premium Bonus

There are three types of premiums.

Premium Letter Squares provide a multiplier just for the one particular letter that rests on that spot. That’s why playing the highest-value letters on a premium letter square is a wise move. The light blue letter multiplier doubles the point value. The dark blue triples the normal point value of that lettered tile.

Premium Word Squares multiply the entire word being placed as long as one of the new letters being played is positioned on that premium spot. The pink square doubles the word value, and the red square triples it.

Premium Bonus is a 50-point bump in your total given to you when you use all seven tiles at one time during your turn. You get the regular point value, including any multipliers that may apply, as well as a 50-point bonus added on to your score.

A Few Rules Regarding the Premium Squares:

The Premium Letter Square Is Calculated First

If you are putting a new word down that will cover both a premium letter square and a premium word square, you’ll calculate the value of the individual letter first. Then, you’ll add in the rest of the points from the remainder of the word. After you determine the word value, you’ll then apply the double or triple multiplier.

Double or Triple Two Premium Word Squares Twice

Playing a word that covers two different word multipliers should give you a comfortable lead if you’ve played your tiles correctly. If you have two premium word squares, you’ll calculate the initial point value, factoring in any letter enhancements. Then, let’s say you landed on two double word scores. You’ll double the value of the word, and then, you’ll double it again.

Premiums Only Count Once

A player can just use a premium multiplier at the time that the word is initially placed. If that word is added to in another turn, the original premium doesn’t apply. You have to be setting a tile on a premium square during that particular turn to get the enhanced point total. From then on, that square is covered and is scored at face value only.

Blanks Are Hit and Miss

When you’re placing a blank tile directly on top of a premium “letter” square, you won’t receive any benefit because the value of a blank is zero. However, when you place it on a premium “word” square, the point total for your entire word is then multiplied.

Determining Your Points

Every time you take a turn and add a word to the board, you figure out your score that needs to be added to your tally.

There’s a point value noted on every letter, so you don’t need to memorize anything. You’ll just add up the points for the word (or words). There are other things to consider, though. You don’t want to miss anything, or you lose those points.

So, for each turn, you’ll do the following.

  • Check for any single letter premiums and factor those in first
  • Add up the points in the new word using the single letter multiplier if it applies
  • Then, if you have any word premiums, you’ll multiply the entire word accordingly
  • After you’ve determined the word you just added, you’ll then look for any other new words that you may have added in the opposite direction. Using our “cat” and “told” example, that means you’ll add the word value of “at” and “to” in addition to “told”
  • If the “t” or “o” you just placed rest on a premium, it will apply to the subsequent words formed in your current turn. The premiums can only be played when they’re put down, but they will play for every word that’s formed as a direct result of the same play
  • If you used all seven letters, it’s called a “bingo,” and you get a 50-point bonus
  • Add up everything from the above list and then call it out to be added to the scoreboard

Miscellaneous Scrabble Rules

  • Blank tiles: The two blank tiles included in the game can take the place of any letter, but their point value is zero. If a blank tile is resting on a premium letter space, it retains its zero value. If the blank tile is resting on a premium word space, its points are zero, but the total word score is multiplied accordingly.
  • No word possibilities: As an option, you can turn in and replace some or all of your tiles. But you don’t get to take a turn placing a word. You forfeit for that go-round.
  • Not all words count: While you can use words that appear in the dictionary that players have agreed to defer to for the game, not everything is playable. You can’t use abbreviations, prefixes, or suffixes standing alone. You also can’t place any term that’s hyphenated or needs an apostrophe.
  • The challenge: During gameplay, if one player challenges another’s word, the dictionary is consulted. If the word is not playable, the one who was challenged takes the tiles back and loses a turn. If it is playable, the challenger loses his or her next turn.
  • And the winner is…  A Scrabble winner is determined by the player who has the most points accumulated at the end of the game. However, at the end of the game, the point value of any tiles left on a player’s rack needs to be deducted from the score first before a final tally is announced.

Scrabble Strategy and Tips

Players are striving to accrue as many points as they can, so strategy revolves around getting those words on the board and off the rack. A constant flow of tiles is needed. You don’t want to get stagnant and play one tile at a time.

Here’s a a few helpful tips.

Playing the High-Value Tiles as Quickly as Possible

Keeping them on the rack, especially toward the end of the game, could potentially convert you from the first position to losing. Remember, anything left on the rack is deducted from your overall score.

It’s Not Always Beneficial to Wait for a Bigger Word Opportunity

You’ll have to add up the points and make your comparison. But sometimes you’re better off playing small words and getting those points that will add up to something more substantial than waiting for a high-value word to come along and missing out on the little point drips that can make a difference.

Don’t Shy Away from Exchanges

If you’re looking at a lousy letter grouping, losing out on one play by exchanging your tiles may be the best course of action. It can be better than missing a turn anyway because you have no moves to make.

Parallels Can Pay Off Well

When you play a parallel correctly, you’re going to be getting the value of multiple words all at once. This is especially helpful when you are also using a premium space that overlaps with more than one word. New players may miss out on parallels by not noticing the possibilities, but if you keep a close watch, they can give you a big point bump.

One Letter – An Entirely New Word

One single letter can result in a high-value word for you. Always watch the board and look for those types of opportunities. There are many more options than just adding an “s” and making a word plural. Don’t neglect the prefix area. You can turn the word “rook” into “crook” or “rush” into “brush” just by adding one single tile.

Premiums Deserve Notice

Those multipliers can make all the difference, especially in a close game. Keep your eye on those prime real estate spots and claim them whenever you’ve got a word that works. More than one premium in one play is even better. So, stay a few steps ahead and claim those squares as fast as you can.

More Scrabble Games

When it comes to the game of Scrabble, the many variations can be placed in any of a few different categories:

  • Twists on Scrabble using a standard game set
  • Unique and custom Scrabble sets
  • Online Scrabble
  • Scrabble Apps

It’s not unusual for players to get creative and take an original game and switch it up to make it more challenging, exciting, or just different for whatever reason.

Scrabble is no different. The standard set of 100 letters can take on new rules to speed up the game or provide a unique playing experience. The following are a few favorite twists on the original game of Scrabble.

Solitaire Scrabble

Is there no one around to play against when you’re ready to compete? Or have you frightened off your competitors with your creative use of the letters Q, Z, and X? No worries, as you can play a version on your own. You race against time to rack up as many points as you can. You can even challenge yourself and try to beat your previous score. Keep your rack at seven letters and play the board as quickly and efficiently as possible, and maybe you’ll be ready for next year’s National Scrabble Championship.

Take-Two

This is a fast-paced and competitive game of Scrabble using the tiles, but the board is set aside. Players start with a specified number of tiles, depending on how many people are playing at once, and those are revealed on the table. The rest of the batch is kept face-down in a reserve area.

Players need to use all of these tiles in their own mini Scrabble game right on the table, laying down the word and intersecting new ones.

Each player plays individually on his or her own mini Scrabble board that’s self-created. Once a player uses all of the tiles in his hand, he calls out “take two,” and every player takes two more tiles. The game continues until all of the tiles are gone from the reserve.

There are two ways to score Take-Two. The first is just by a winner, whereas the first player out is declared the winner.

The other is through points, and different rules can be used for evaluating final scores. For example, two-letter words can be exempt. The player with the longest word gets a bonus. Scoring can even be simplified by adding up the points on each tile without any multipliers or bonuses.

Clabbers

Clabbers is perhaps the most challenging version of Scrabble, which is why it’s a favorite of tournament players. If you thought your creative muscles were stretched coming up with words using limited letters, how about the allowed use of anagrams?

In this interpretation, the anagrams played don’t need to be actual words. They just need to be comprised of letters in a real word.

Note that the name “clabbers” is an anagram of “scrabble.”

This makes things more complicated and requires a lot more thought as you’re now looking at every entry in the dictionary plus every combination of letters that accompanies each word.

In a variation of clabbers, players can claim a point multiplier based on how many “real word” anagrams result from those letters.

Anagrams or Snatch-Words

We were just talking about anagrams, and here’s an entire variation devoted to them as well. In this game, only valid words can be used.

Anagrams is competitive, but players don’t take turns. Instead, they race to see who can make a word out of community tiles on the table first.

All Scrabble tiles are placed face-down on the table, and players take turns flipping them over one at a time. When someone makes a word from the exposed tiles, they call it out and claim the tiles and the points. Anagrams can be expanded to allow for new variations of the words already made. So, if someone placed the word “pools” on the table, another can steal it by adding an “s” to the front and claiming “spools.”

Bingograms

In this version, only seven-letter words are used. Players take turns trying to use all of their rack to make a valid seven-letter word. If they can’t, they exchange a tile, and it’s the next person’s turn. When a player can make a play, he or she gets one point. The player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner.

Pick Me

Pick Me is a bit like Bingograms, but only three-letter words are used. All of the tiles are community tiles and are placed in the middle of the table face-down. Three tiles are turned up at random, and the first player to make a valid word using all three takes the tiles. The gameplay continues until all of the tiles are off of the table and then points are added to determine a winner.

Unique and Custom Scrabble Sets

Although Monopoly offers a more extensive list of unique variations, Scrabble has also been converted into some custom sets.

Scrabble Junior

The age of five is not too early to get your kids in on the famous game of words. Scrabble Junior integrates pictures with smaller-sized words to create a challenging yet easier to play game for all ages. In fact, it has a two-sided game board with one side as a more advanced version so the game will grow along with your children.

Scrabble Slam!

Scrabble Slam is Scrabble in a card version. Players use overlaying cards to switch up words. For example, the word “slam” with a “c” played on it becomes “clam.” It’s a bit easier for younger players as well.

Super Scrabble

Super Scrabble is like Scrabble on steroids. The tile count is doubled from 100 to 200. You can get quadruple letter and word scores, and the board doubles in the number of spaces as well. If Scrabble is your game, but you want a little more action, then Super Scrabble is the answer.

Custom Set – Scrabble Deluxe

If you’ve played before and had the unfortunate upside-down seat, you’ll appreciate Scrabble Deluxe. Similar to a Lazy Susan, the Scrabble Deluxe game board is on wheels and rotates to accommodate each player.

It also has a non-slip surface to keep the tiles in place as it travels around the table. You could call this the upscale Scrabble version except for the fact that it’s only $34.99, while there are custom sets that retail at hundreds of dollars.

Custom Set – Retro-Style Scrabble

Cassette tapes, record albums, and diners are back. So, original Scrabble fits right in these days. This custom version is a replica of the original 1949 set from the tile and racks to the packaging. If you lost your sibling’s set many years ago, try to sneak this one in as a replacement.

Online Scrabble

You may know the game Words with Friends, as it was famously brought into the spotlight in 2011 when Alec Baldwin refused to put the game away before take-off on an American Airlines flight.

Words with Friends is a social networking version of Scrabble. It allows players to compete with their network of contacts in a near identical word-based game.

But EA, in conjunction with Hasbro, developed an official Scrabble Facebook game for US and Canadian players. If you live in other areas, there’s a Scrabble Worldwide edition on Facebook that’s available for you to use. This online version has a few added features like a dictionary included and a “teacher” option to help out your opponents.

Pogo is another viable online option, but it’ll cost you $40 for an annual Club Pogo membership. The benefit of Pogo, though, is that you can play against other members or the computer. Your progress is tracked, and you will get an NSA (National Scrabble Association) ranking so you can see how your skills match up to the pros.

There are numerous other online Scrabble variations like Spiderman Web of Words and Scrabble Sprint. Some, like the EA Facebook option, are owned by Hasbro, and others are independent creators who have taken the well-known game and given it a theme or a tweak.

Scrabble Apps

Scrabble apps are also provided by Hasbro as well as other developers. The original game is available on Android and iOS formatting, and you can play for free.

Other popular and similar games include Word Feud and Classic Words Solo.

Scrabble Novelty

Eat them, wear them, decorate with them… Scrabble tiles make clever novelty gifts for someone else or yourself.

Those recognizable tiles have been made into cufflinks, refrigerator magnets, and pillows. A conversion to sugar makes them ideal cupcake and cake decorations. Scrabble tiles have been framed, made into coasters, Christmas ornaments, key chains, and jewelry.

If you have a special someone who is a fan of the game, your gift-giving possibilities are nearly endless.

Scrabble Competition Play

Scrabbleplayers.org

If you’re an avid Scrabble player and you reside in North America, you may already be familiar with scrabbleplayers.org, the official site of the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA).

NASPA is a members-only organization, and membership is necessary to play in the sanctioned tournaments. NASPA provides a list of local Scrabble clubs and links to EA gameplay online. It also hosts the annual North American Scrabble Championship.

The ABSP

The Association of British Players is the official site for UK players. If you visit www.absp.org.uk/, you’ll find a list of upcoming tournaments being held throughout the country — and there are quite a few!

National School Scrabble Tournament

Scrabble is a great learning tool for students, and some youth players rise through the ranks courtesy of their school’s Scrabble Club. Hasbro hosts both pairs and solo championship matches for student players each year. The 2018 event will be held in Philadelphia for an entry fee of $50 for the solo matches and $100 for team Scrabble.

Scrabblicious Trivia

April 13th – National Scrabble Day

National Scrabble Day is an homage to Alfred Mosher Butts on his April 13th birthday. Many cities celebrate with local tournaments. The hashtag #nationalscrabbleday is used for social media posts, and players are encouraged to grab a board or set up an online game and revisit an oldie but a goodie.

The National Toy Hall of Fame

In 2004, the game of Scrabble was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in the United States. It joined other childhood favorites like Etch a Sketch and Game Boy.

It’s Bigger, and It’s Televised

An oversized game board was used in the 1984 television show modeled after the popular board game. “Scrabble” aired from 1984 to 1990 and was hosted by Chuck Woolery. Contestants were given a clue but then needed to choose letters to fill in the blanks and help them solve the mystery word (Wheel of Fortune, anyone?). Winners move on to a speed round and have chances to claim bonuses and face off against the previous winner for a Grand Prize.

A Social Media No-No

“Scrabulous,” created in 2006, may have attracted a half a million players each day, creating one of the most popular applications in Facebook, but it also garnered unwanted attention from Hasbro and Mattel for copyright infringement. Scrabulous was switched up a bit and rebranded as WordScraper.

Four Letter Words

In 1994, Hasbro published not one, but two officially sanctioned Scrabble dictionaries. One was for official use and the other for recreational and school play. The official version includes things like “fart,” “turd,” and more colorful four-letter words that seemed to be too offensive for recreational players who may be younger as well.

New Words Were Added in 2014

You’d have to figure that our evolution in technology and verbiage would instigate some changes in the game. Otherwise, there would be too many player challenges within the game. In 2014, words including chillax, frenemy, hashtag, selfie, and vlog were some of the latest additions.

Number Two Spot

In the United States, Scrabble is ranked as the second best of all board games available. Can you guess which game claims the top spot? It’s Monopoly.

A Custom Dictionary

The first edition of Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was published in 1978. The fourth edition published in 2005 added 2,000 more words. The fifth edition, with 5,000 more words, was released in 2014.

Scrabble – All Fun and Games Until Someone Loses an I

While you could say that the game of Scrabble has an element of luck involved because you need to draw the tiles, it is primarily a strategy match, and that’s what makes it so much fun.

Every game is different, and you can hone your skills by paying attention to those premium spots and how you can best use your higher-value letters. The more you play, the better you become. Of course, having a wide vocabulary doesn’t hurt matters, either.