Friday, February 8, 2008

Scrabble for Dummies

Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works (e.g. The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, now in its 4th edition) provide a list of permissible words, many of which are rarely found in standard English writing.
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 Spear. The game is also known as Alfapet, Funworder, Skip-A-Cross, Spelofun and Palabras Cruzadas ("crossed words").
The game is sold in 121 countries in 29 different language versions. One hundred million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in one out of every three American homes.

In 1938, architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the game 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 various sources including The New York Times. 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.[3]
In 1948, James Brunot,[4], a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, (and one of the few owners of the original Criss-Crosswords game) 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," a real word which means "to scratch frantically." In 1949, Brunot and his family made sets in a converted former schoolhouse in Dodgington, a section of Newtown. They made 2,400 sets that year, but lost money. [5] According to legend Scrabble's big break came in the 1952 when Jack Strauss, president of Macy's, played the game on vacation. Upon returning from vacation, he was surprised to find that his store did not carry the game. He placed a large order and within a year, "everyone had to have one." [6] In 1952, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to Long Island-based Selchow and Righter (one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game). Selchow & Righter bought the trademark to the game in 1972 [7] 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.[3] In 1986, Selchow and Righter sold the game to Coleco, who soon after went bankrupt. The company's assets, inlcuding Scrabble and Parchesi were purchased by Hasbro.[8]
In 1984, Scrabble was turned into a daytime game show on NBC. Scrabble ran from July 1984 to March 1990, with a second run from January to June 1993. The show was hosted by Chuck Woolery.

How to Play?

The game is played by two to four players on a square (or nearly square) board with a 15-by-15 grid of cells (individually known as "squares"), 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).
The game contains 100 tiles: 98 are each marked with a letter and the point value of that letter. Point values range from 1 to 10 depending on the letter's general frequency of use. The game also has two blank tiles that are unmarked and carry no point value. The blank tiles can be used as substitutes for any letter; once laid on the board, however, the choice is fixed. The number of points of each lettered tile depend on the letter's frequency in standard English writing; commonly used letters such as E or O are worth one point, while less common letters score higher, with Q and Z each worth 10 points. The board is marked with "premium" squares, which multiply the number of points awarded: dark red "triple-word" squares, pink "double-word" squares, dark blue "triple-letter" squares, and light blue "double-letter" squares. The center square (H8) is often marked with a star or logo, and counts as a double-word square.
Further information: 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 (also yx word format), 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 1:
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 and customized tiles are staples of clubs and tournaments, where games are rarely played without both.
Next, players decide the order in which they play. According to National Scrabble Association (NSA) tournament rules, players who have gone first in the fewest number of games in the tournament have priority, or failing that, those who have gone second the most. In the case of a tie (reverting to the Scrabble "box" rules), players instead draw tiles, then reveal them. The player who picks the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first (with blank tiles ranked higher than A's), and redraw in the case of a tie.
At the beginning of the game, and after each turn until the bag is empty (or until 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 turn, a player will have seven or fewer letter tiles in their rack from which to choose a play. On each turn, a player has 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; or (3) form a play on the board, adding its value to the player's cumulative score.
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.
When the board is blank, the first word played must cover H8, the center square. The word must consist of at least two letters, extending horizontally or vertically. H8 is a premium square, so the first player to play a word 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 square 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 challenged is 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. In tournament play, a challenge is to the entire play rather than any one word, so a judge (human or computer) is used, and players are not entitled to know which word or words caused the challenge to succeed. 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 the score is not zero-zero.
When the game ends, each player's score is reduced by the sum of his/her unplayed letters. In addition, if a player has used all of his or her letters, the sum of the other player's unplayed letters is added to that player's score; in tournament play, a player who "goes out" adds double this sum, and the opponent is not penalized.
Scoreless turns can occur when an illegal 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.

Each word formed in the play is scored this way:
Any tile played from the player's rack onto a previously vacant square that is a "double-letter" or "triple-letter" premium square has its point value doubled or tripled as indicated.
Add the normal point value of all other letters (excluding blanks) in the word (whether newly played or existing).
For each newly played tile placed on a "double-word" premium square, the total is doubled (or redoubled).
For each newly placed tile placed on a "triple-word" premium square, the total is tripled (or re-tripled).
Premium squares affect the score of each word made in the same play by constituent tiles played upon those squares. Premium squares, once played upon, are not counted again in subsequent plays.
If a player uses all seven of the tiles in the 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 squares.
When the letters to be drawn have run out, the final play can often determine the winner. This is particularly the case in close games with more than two players. The player who goes out first gets the point values of all remaining unplayed tiles added to their score. Players with tiles remaining on their rack have their equivalent point values removed from their score.

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), or apostrophized are not allowed, unless they also appear as acceptable entries: "Jack" is a proper noun, but the word JACK is acceptable because it has other usages (automotive, vexillological, etc.) that are acceptable. Acronyms or abbreviations, other than those that have been regularized (such as AWOL, RADAR, and SCUBA), are not allowed. Variant spellings, slang or offensive terms, archaic or obsolete terms, and specialized jargon words are allowed if they meet all other criteria for acceptability.
There are two popular competition word lists used in various parts of the world: TWL and SOWPODS. The North American 2006 Official Tournament and Club Word List, Second Edition (OWL2), which became official for use in American, Canadian, Israeli and Thai club and tournament play on March 1, 2006 (or, for school use, the bowdlerized Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Fourth Edition (OSPD4)). Early printings of OWL2 and OSPD4 must be amended according to corrigenda posted at the National Scrabble Association web site. North American competitions use the Long Words List for longer words.
The OWL2 and the OSPD4 are compiled using four (originally five) major college-level dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster (10th and 11th editions, respectively). If a word appears (or historically appeared) in at least one of the dictionaries, it is included in the OWL2 and the OSPD4, unless the word has only an offensive meaning or is used only as a trademark, in which case it is only included in the OWL2. The key difference between the OSPD4 and the OWL2 is that the OSPD4 is marketed for "home and school" use, and has been expurgated of many words which their source dictionaries judged offensive, rendering the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary less fit for official Scrabble play. The OSPD4 is available in bookstores, whereas the OWL2 is only available from the National Scrabble Association to current members.
In all other countries the competition word list is the Tournament and Club Word List (Collins) published in May 2007 (see SOWPODS), which lists all words from 2 to 15 letters and is thus a complete reference. This list contains every word in the OWL2 mentioned above plus words sourced from Chambers and Collins English Dictionaries. This book is used to adjudicate at the World Scrabble Championship and all other major international competitions outside of North America.
As C. S. Lewis and Joy Gresham played Scrabble, words from any known language, real or fictional could be used. See description in Variations.

Main article: Challenge (Scrabble)
The penalty for a successfully challenged play is nearly universal: the offending player removes the tiles played and forfeits the turn. (However, in some online games, an option known as "void" may be used, wherein unacceptable words are automatically rejected by the program. The player is then required to make another play, with no penalty applied.)
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 the next turn. This penalty governs North American (NSA-sanctioned) tournaments, and is the standard for North American, Israeli and Thai clubs. Because loss of a turn generally constitutes the greatest risk for an unsuccessful challenge, it provides the greatest incentive for a player to "bluff," or play a "phony" – a plausible word that they know or suspect to be unacceptable, hoping their opponent will not call them up on it. Players have divergent opinions on this aspect of the double-challenge game and the ethics involved, but officially it is considered a valid part of the 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 default rule in the United Kingdom and Ireland, as well as for many tournaments in Australia, although these countries do sanction occasional tournaments using other challenge rules.
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 five points. The rule has been adopted in Singapore (since 2000), Malaysia (since 2002), South Africa (since 2003), New Zealand (since 2004), and Kenya, as well as in contemporary World Scrabble Championships (since 2001). Some countries and tournaments (including Sweden) 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
Main article: English language Scrabble
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. All tournament (and most club) games are played with a game clock and a set time control. Typically each player has 25 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 10 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 30 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:
The World Scrabble Championship: held in odd years, the last was in Mumbai, India in 2007.
The National Scrabble Championship: an open event attracting several hundred players, held in the summer every year or two, most recently in Phoenix on August 4-9, 2006. The 2008 event is scheduled to be held in Orlando, Florida.
The Canadian Scrabble Championship: by invitation only to the top fifty Canadian players, held every two to three years.
The Thailand International: the largest tournament in the East.
Clubs in North America typically meet one day a week for three or four hours and some 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. Detailed stats on tournaments and players in North America can be found at A list of internationally rated SOWPODS tournaments can be found here.
During off hours at tournaments, many players socialize by playing consultation (team) Scrabble, Clabbers, Anagrams, Boggle and other games.

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