- The verb "to scrabble" also means to scratch, scramble or scrape about: see .
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.
The name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada and of Mattel elsewhere. Scrabble was a trademark of Murfett Regency in Australia, until 1993 when it was acquired by J. W. Spear & Sons (now a Mattel subsidiary). The game is also known as Literati, Alfapet, Funworder, Skip-A-Cross, Scramble, Spelofun, Palabras Cruzadas ("crossed words") and Word for Word.
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 performing a frequency analysis
of letters 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.
In 1948, James Brunot, 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. According to legend, Scrabble's big break came in 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.
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 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 went bankrupt. The company's assets, including Scrabble and Parchesi were purchased by Hasbro.
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.
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 of which are marked with a letter and a point value ranging from 1 to 10. The number of points of each lettered tile is based 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 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 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.
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.
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. The normal approach is for players to draw tiles: the player who picks the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first (with blank tiles ranked higher than As). In North American tournaments, the rules of the US-based National Scrabble Association (NSA) stipulate instead that 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, tiles are drawn as in the standard rules.
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" (light blue) or "triple-letter" (dark blue) 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" (light red) premium square, the total is doubled (or redoubled).
- For each newly placed tile placed on a "triple-word" (dark red) 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 subtracted from their score.
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
, 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, 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.
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 the Republic of 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.
Historic evolution of the rules
The so-called North American "box rules" (that are included in each game box, as contrasted with tournament rules) were edited three times, in 1953, 1976 and 1989.
The major changes in 1953 were as follows:
- It was made clear that words could be played through single letters already on the board.
- It was made clear that you could play a word parallel and immediately adjacent to an existing word provided all crosswords formed were valid.
- It was made clear that the effect of two word premium squares were to be compounded.
- The previously unspecified penalty for having one's play successfully challenged was stated: withdrawal of tiles and loss of turn.
The major changes in 1976 were as follows:
- The game was renamed from "SCRABBLE" to alternately "SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game" or just "Scrabble Crossword Game".
- It was made clear that the blank tile beats an A when drawing to see who goes first.
- A player may now pass his/her turn, doing nothing.
- A loss of turn penalty was added for challenging an acceptable play.
- If final scores are tied, the player whose score was highest before adjusting for unplayed tiles is the winner.
The editorial changes made in 1989 did not affect game play.
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. 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 around July/August every year or two, most recently in Orlando, Florida on July 25-29, 2008.
- The Thailand International: the largest tournament in the World. Held annually around the end of June or beginning of July.
Other important tournaments include:
- The World Youth Scrabble Championships: entry by country qualification, restricted to under 18 years old. Held annually since 2006.
- The National School Scrabble Championship: entry open to North American school students. Held annually since 2003.
- The Canadian Scrabble Championship: entry by invitation only to the top fifty Canadian players. Held every two to three years.
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 statistics on tournaments and players in North America can be found at
www.cross-tables.com 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.
Strategy and tactics
The object of the game is to score more points than one's opponents. 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. Almost all serious tournament players study word lists extensively and practice solving words from alphagrams
or randomly jumbled letters. Only a few players know all the 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 ZYZZYVA
, as this would require an extremely improbable
rack containing both Ys, both blanks, one of the two V's, and the only Z (or their unlikely correct positioning on the board). By contrast, there is great value in learning and reliably finding the word ATRESIA
, which uses a very common group of letters.
For a beginning club player, the most important list to memorize is the 101 (TWL) or 124 (SOWPODS) 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. More serious players can take this a step further, and try to also memorize the 1015 or 1292 acceptable three letter words. After mastering the two-letter words, a beginner can greatly benefit by studying the shorter words containing high scoring tiles (e.g. JEUX, QAT, QUA, ZAX, ZEK), 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. Until March 2006 and the release of the OWL2, which for the first time included QI as an acceptable word, an important strategy was to memorize the words which have a Q but no U, in case they had a Q on their rack without a U. The addition of QI has made the U-less Q words less important, since the probability that a player will have an unplayable Q has been significantly reduced. Another important tip for beginners is to strategically utilize Ss and 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 to 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, may score 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 the rack with vowels. Experienced players often choose to forgo points on an individual turn in favor of practising good rack management.
Letters that 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. A good strategy for intermediate players is to memorize all the words that involve the "power" tiles (K, J, Q, Z, and X) that are five letters long or shorter. Knowledge of these words can increase a player's scoring by 10 to 20 points per game when applied correctly.
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 or a D.
Defense is another important part of strategy. Experienced players consider how opponents could exploit their tiles and avoid creating easy setups. For instance, the word QUIT provides a 14-point hook to any opponent who has the letter E (thus making QUITE). A seasoned player would rather put a consonant next to a bonus square than a vowel. Experienced players take care to place the letter U in inconvenient locations if the letter Q has not yet been played.
Because of the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles in one turn, 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 TISANE, followed by SATIRE and RETINA. With TISANE on the rack, any seventh letter except for Q or Y (or, in North America, J) will create a seven letter word (TISANE + A = TAENIAS or ENTASIA; TISANE + B = BASINET or BANTIES; TISANE + 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. Players may also learn seven-letter bingo stems, which can combine with an eighth letter already on the board. 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).
Another strategy that players use to increase bingos is to keep together three-to-four-letter combinations that form many bingos. Common examples of these combinations include "ING," "ERS," "IES" and "IED." An intermediate player is likely to hold on to "ING" to build a bingo later at the expense of points on the current play. "ING" bingos in particular tend to be easy for players to find because they only have to rearrange four letters rather than seven to try to find a play.
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. Given that a bingo conveys a 50-point bonus, at the tournament level the number of bingos is often the determining factor in a game. At the highest level of competitive Scrabble, knowledge of the words that are acceptable for gameplay – along with their "hooks" – is by far the most important factor. Scrabble experts tend to play games that provide ample openings for their opponents to utilize premium squares, unlike intermediate players, who tend to be more concerned about blocking their opponents. The need for defensive strategy decreases as word knowledge increases.
As in many games, when a player is behind he or she should gamble and take more risks to try to make up the difference, as losing by 20 points is the same as losing by 40. The converse is also true; players who are ahead should play more defensively.
It is a good idea to manually "shuffle" one's tiles while searching for playable words, as a study has proven that players who physically manipulate tiles using their hands generate more possible words than those who do not.
Scrabble has been an object of interest for many artificial intelligence
researchers and enthusiasts. Even though a computer player can freely consult a database of all legal words, playing the word with the highest score is not always the best strategy, and programming a computer to play well requires knowledge of a number of much more subtle methods.
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 a version of Maven as its artificial intelligence and is released by Atari. The official downloadable version which uses Maven was created by Funkitron. An open-source challenger to Maven has been created, called Quackle Outside of North America, the official Scrabble computer game is released by Ubisoft.
and video game
versions of Scrabble
have been released for various platforms, including PC
, Commodore 64
, Game Boy
, Game Boy Color
, Game Boy Advance
, Nintendo DS
, PlayStation 2
, Palm OS
, Amstrad CPC
, and mobile phones
Scrabble on the Internet
A number of sites offer the possibility to play Scrabble online against other users. The game is available to play for free at www.pogo.com, part of Electronic Arts. The International Scrabble Club (ISC) is frequented continuously by thousands of players, including many of the game's most renowned experts. It is free.
The social networking site Facebook
offered an online variation of Scrabble
as a third-party application add-on. On January 15, 2008, it was reported that Hasbro and Mattel were in the process of suing the creators of Scrabulous for copyright infringement
. According to an interview with one of the developers on January 15, "The lawyers are working on it. On July 24, 2008, Hasbro filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the creators of Scrabulous. On July 28, 2008 the Scrabulous Facebook application was disabled for users in North America.
Mattel launched its official version of online Scrabble, Scrabble by Mattel on Facebook in late March 2008. The application was developed by Gamehouse, a division of RealNetworks who has been licensed by Mattel. However since Hasbro controls the copyright for North America with the copyright for the rest of the world belonging Mattel, the Facebook application is available only to players outside the United States and Canada. Ownership of the rights to Scrabble by multiple companies is limiting the introduction of the game to Facebook and, between its launch date and April 6, 2008, fewer than 2000 users had registered, compared with 600,000 registered Scrabulous users.
The new "official" application has been heavily criticised in Facebook reviews, particularly by former users of the Scrabulous application which allowed American and Canadian users to play opponents in other countries, which is no longer possible: the Scrabble Beta application is only available in the USA and Canada, whereas Scrabble Worldwide is only available to other countries. Some have complained that they have been unable to use the new application due to technical bugs and glitches, and many have criticised Hasbro for failing to reach an agreement with Scrabulous developers.
RealNetworks has stated that the application is currently in its beta stage and there have been reports of a number of bugs and limitations.
The Original Scrabble now exists on Facebook, and was developed by Electronic Arts.
Scrabble "TV game show" board game version (1987)
In 1987, a board game was released by Selchow & Righter, based on the Scrabble game show
which aired on NBC
from 1984 to 1990 (and for six months in 1993). Billed as the "Official Home Version" of the game show (or officially as the "TV Scrabble Home Game"), game play bears more resemblance to the game show than it does to a traditional Scrabble game, although it does utilize a traditional Scrabble game board in play.
A new licensed product, Super Scrabble
, was launched in North America by Winning Moves Games in 2004 under license from Hasbro, with the deluxe version (with turntable and lock-in grid) released in February 2007. A Mattel-licensed product for the rest of the world was released by Tinderbox Games in 2006. This set comprises 200 tiles in slightly modified distribution to the standard set and a 21x21 playing board.
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) – 830 by Michael Cresta (MA), October 12 2006. Cresta defeated Wayne Yorra 830-490.
- High game (OSW) – 793 by Peter Preston (UK), 1999.
- High game (SOWPODS) – Nicholas Mbugua set a new Kenya record with 789 on June 3 2007 at the 2nd WSC Qualifier in Machakos. Russell Honeybun set a new Australian record with 764 in August 2007. The previously recognised record for Australian SOWPODS play was 698 by Chris May, 2006. In a noncompetitive club game, Peter Kougi scored 736 in August 2007.
- High combined score (OSPD) – 1320 (830-490) by Michael Cresta and Wayne Yorra, in a Lexington, MA, club, 2006.
- High combined score (SOWPODS) – 1110 by Mikki Nicholson and Olatunde Oduwole, 2008.
- Highest losing score (OSPD) – 552 by Stefan Rau (CT) to Keith Smith's (TX) 582, Round 12 of the 2008 Dallas Open.
- Highest tie game (OSPD) – 502-502 by John Chew and Zev Kaufman at a 1997 Toronto Club tournament.
- Highest tie game (SOWPODS) – 510-510 by Michael Gongolo (Kenya) and Patrick Mpundu (Zambia) at the East and Central Africa Scrabble Championships 2007 in Kampala, Uganda
- Highest opening move score (OSPD) – MuZJIKS 126 by Jesse Inman (SC) at the National Scrabble Championship, 2008. The highest possible legal score on a first turn is MUZJIKS 128, using an actual U rather than a blank.
- Highest opening move score (SOWPODS) – BEZIQUE 124 by Joan Rosenthal. BEZIQUE 124 by Sally Martin.
- Highest single play (OSPD) – QUIXOTRY 365 by Michael Cresta (MA), 2006.
- Highest single play (SOWPODS) – CAZIQUES 392 Karl Khoshnaw.
- Highest average score, two-day tournament (OSPD) – 471 by Chris Cree (TX) over 18 rounds at the Houston, TX Tournament, 2007.
In the absence of 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 the player's own scores, and not by the differentials between that player's scores and the opponents'. As a result, play in this system "encourages elaborate setups often independently mined by the two players", and is profoundly different from the standard 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 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".
Hypothetical scores in possible and legal but highly unlikely plays and games are far higher, primarily through the use of words that cover three triple-word-score squares. The highest reported score for a single play is 1780 (OSPD) and 1785 (SOWPODS) using oxyphenbutazone. When only adding the word sesquioxidizing to these official lists, one could theoretically score 2015 (OSPD) and 2044 (SOWPODS) points in a single move. The highest reported combined score for a theoretical game is 3,986 points using OSPD words only.
Other records are available for viewing at , an unofficial record book which includes the above as sources and expands on other topics.
Versions of the game have been released in several other languages. For more information, see Scrabble letter distributions
The game was called Alfapet when it was introduced in Sweden in 1954. However, since the mid-90s the game is also known as Scrabble in Sweden. Alfapet is now another crossword game, created by the owners of the name Alfapet.
For languages with digraphs, such as Welsh and Hungarian, the game features separate tiles for those digraphs.
Duplicate Scrabble is a popular variant in French speaking countries. Every player has the same letters on the same board and the players must submit a paper slip at the end of the allotted time (usually 3 minutes) with the highest scoring word they have found. This is the format used for the French World Scrabble Championships but it's also used in Romanian and Dutch. There's no limit to the number of players that can be involved in one game, and at Vichy in 1998 there were 1485 players, a record for French Scrabble tournaments.
In Speed-Scrabble, the tiles are laid face down. Four players each draw seven tiles and work their own grids; there is no central board. When one player reaches a valid position - that is, all of the player's tiles are in contact and form acceptable words - that player calls "pick." All players then draw another tile and continue. The twist in Speed-Scrabble is that a player can rearrange their grid at any time, even to the point of demolishing it and starting over.
Players receive a point for calling a pick. At the end (when no tiles remain to be drawn), scoring is done by totaling the point values of the letters played, minus the point values of any unplayed tiles.
In another variation of "Speed-Scrabble," players take 2 tiles instead of 1 every time a player calls "pick," but in this version, the player calls "take 2." This variation is fittingly named "Take 2."
Game board formats
The game has been released in numerous game board formats appealing to various user groups. The original boards included wood tiles and many "deluxe" sets still do.
Editions are available for travellers who may wish to play in a conveyance such as a train or plane, or who may wish to pause a game in progress and resume later. Many versions thus include methods to keep letters from moving, such as pegboards, recessed tile holders and magnetic tiles. Players' trays are also designed with stay-fast holders. Such boards are also typically designed to be folded and stowed with the game in progress.
- Production and Marketing Company, 1954 – metal hinged box, bakelite tiles inlaid with round magnets, chrome tile racks, silver colored plastic bag and cardboard box covered with decorative paper. The box, when opened flat, measures 8 1/2" x 7 3/4" and the tiles measure 1/2" x 1/2" each.
- Spear's Games, 1980s – boxed edition with pegboard, plastic tiles with small feet to fit snugly in the pegboard. Racks are clear plastic, allowing some sorting while holding tiles fairly snugly. Set comes with a drawstring plastic bag to draw tiles and a cardboard box. It is possible to save a game in progress by returning the board to the box. There is risk of players' trays being mixed and upset, and the box lid, held on by friction, is subject to upset.
- Selchow & Righter, 1980s – pocket edition with plastic "magnetic" board and tiles. Tile racks are also plastic with asymmetrical shape to provide handhold. All elements fit in a plastic envelope for travel and to permit a pause in the game. Plastic letters are very small and tend to lose their grip if not placed with slight lateral movement and if they are not perfectly clean. Game format is extremely small, allowing Scrabble games for backpackers and others concerned about weight and size.
- Hasbro Games, 2001 – hinged plastic board with clear tile-shaped depressions to hold tiles in play. Board is in a black, zippered folio such that board and tiles may be folded for travel, even with game in play. Reverse side of board contains numbered mounts for racks, holding tiles face down, allowing secure and confidential storage of tiles while game is paused. Some versions have tile racks with individual tile slots, thus not permitting easy sorting of tiles in rack.
At the opposite end, some "deluxe" editions offer superior materials and features. These include editions on a rotating turntable so players can always face the board with the letters upright. More serious players often favor custom Scrabble boards, often made of Lucite or hardwood, that have superior rotating mechanisms and personalized graphics.
Large Print edition
An edition has been released (in association with the RNIB
) with larger board and letters for players with impaired vision. The colours on the board are more contrasting and the font size is increased from 16 to 24 point. The tiles are in bold 48 point.
Works detailing tournament Scrabble
An 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 high-rated tournament player.
There have been numerous documentaries made about the game, including:
- Word Wars (2004) by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo, about the "tiles and tribulations on the Scrabble game circuit".
- Scrabylon (2003), 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 (produced for CBC, 2002), which follows four expert Canadian players at the 2001 World Championship in Las Vegas.
References in literature, television, music and film
Due to its popularity and universal familiarity, Scrabble is referenced frequently in pop culture. In particular, the plotline of characters challenging a dubious word played by an opponent is a common occurrence.
- Scrabble: On July 2, 1984, Scrabble premiered as an American TV game show on NBC, hosted by Chuck Woolery. The show ran for 1,230 episodes ending on March 23, 1990. NBC revived the show in January 1993, but because of the decline in daytime viewers by then, it was cancelled six months later after 105 further episodes.
- In the UK, Channel 4 ran a version of Television Scrabble, presented by Alan Coren. It featured two teams - a celebrity and a member of the public on each team - both teams playing with the same set of tiles. They could challenge on score. It was revived in a different format by Challenge TV, some editions of which were shown on the channel FTN.
- The Critic: An episode shows Jay Sherman playing Scrabble with his boss Duke, trying to ease Duke's depression over an imminent death by a rare incurable disease. Duke puts down the phony word KWIZABUK, which Jay naturally challenges, leading Duke to phone the offices of Webster's Dictionary and pay to make it a real word that means "a really big problem". A doctor shortly after in the episode is seen using the word.
- CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Episode 88, "Bad Words", first aired April 15, 2004): A player at Scrabble-like word-game tournament is found asphyxiated in a men's room. It was concluded that he was murdered for playing the phony EXVIN, and forced to choke on those very tiles.
- Dilbert (TV Series): While Dilbert, Dilbert's Mom and Dogbert are playing Scrabble, Dogbert lays down QUIZZES without using any blank tiles (which is impossible). It is later revealed that he is making his own tiles under the table with a pyrograph. In the episode "The Return", Dilbert plays against a giant, sentient computer that plays the word WIPQOZN, and proves the validity by having the power to order a dictionary printed with this word.
- Frasier (final episode): There is a discussion between Frasier Crane and girlfriend Charlotte over the Scrabble-worthiness of the word QUILTY.
- Friends (first season): The gang plays Scrabble. Monica tries to put down the word TUSHIE. Ross uses GARGE (which he claims is a nautical term), and Chandler uses Ross's argument for GARGE for a word he invented, FLIGAMENT. Later, Ross's pet monkey Marcel chokes on Scrabble tiles.
- I Love Lucy (episode "Sentimental Anniversary"): One of the first times the game was mentioned on television was in the 1954 episode when Ethel notices a small table in Lucy's living room and says that the Ricardos must have been playing Scrabble.
- King of the Hill (episode "Unfortunate Son"): Cotton Hill puts down the word ANZIO in a game of Scrabble at the Arlen VFW.
- Little Britain: the character Kenny Craig hypnotises his mother to believe that CUPBOARDY (meaning: cupboard-like) is a real word.
- Red Dwarf ("Bodyswap": series 3 episode 4): Cat plays the word JOZXYQK, claiming it to be a cat word meaning "the sound you get when you get your sexual organs trapped in something."
- Saturday Night Live: In a skit prior to the 2000 elections, George W. Bush (played by Will Ferrell) plays DIGNITUDE. Challenged by Al Gore to use it in a sentence, Bush replies, "As President, George W. Bush carried himself with great dignitude." In another skit, Bush remarks that if Osama bin Laden were smart, he "would've challenged me to a game of Scrabble."
- The Secret World Of Alex Mack: Alex and her sister playing a game of Scrabble. Alex plays the word MAJORLY - her sister says "'Majorly' is not a word!", to which Alex replies "Well, you use it!".
- Seinfeld (episode "The Stakeout"): Jerry's mother Helen plays QUONE upon the advice of Kramer. Jerry challenges it. When he doesn't find it in the dictionary, Kramer claims it is a medical term: "If a patient becomes difficult, you quone him."
- The Simpsons (episode "Bart the Genius"): Homer plays DO from his rack of "OXIDIZE" and Bart follows with the phony word KWYJIBO. Homer challenges the word and Bart defines it as "A big, dumb, balding North American ape... with no chin". (In the Mattel game "Simpsons Scrabble", Kwyjibo is a valid game word.)
- The Sopranos (episode "Pine Barrens"): Meadow Soprano and Jackie Aprile Jr. play a game of Scrabble in Meadow's dorm room. The none-too-bright Jackie objects to Meadow's playing the word OBLIQUE, thinking it a Spanish word and pronouncing it "ob-LEE-kay."
- Spaced ("Epiphanies": series 1, episode 6): Daisy and Tim substitute a game of Scrabble for sex in order to maintain the platonic nature of their relationship. Daisy defends PROV as being the thing that makes Pantene Pro V shampoo work.
- Steptoe & Son: Due to Albert's vocabulary, the board is covered in obscene and mis-spelled words. He played CRUM - his spelling of the word "crumb" - "what you get in bed", he described it. Later, he puts PET on the end (CRUMPET - "what you ALSO get in bed!"). Harold tries to clean the board up by adding "PS" to Albert's word BUM. Later, Harold finds that the only letters he has are "alright... if you're playing in Polish!"
- Sanford and Son: In the episode Fred Sanford has a Baby, Bubba and Fred are playing Scrabble, and Bubba claims to have won the game with the word GOZINTA (also claiming it's a 50 point word, which it isn't). bubba then explains the drfinition of the word.
- Will & Grace (episode 117): Jack invents the word SPRAMP during a game of Scrabble and rigorously defends it against Will's challenge.
- The Vicar of Dibley: Whilst playing Scrabble, Geraldine Granger asks how the Geordie exclamation, "why aye!" is spelt. After being informed it is not spelled YI, she quickly discards the tiles in her hand.
- Cold Feet Adam and Rachel play a version of Scrabble in which Rachel has to undress, causing her to proclaim: "I am never playing Scrabble with you again!"
- Sneakers (film): the characters use Scrabble tiles to figure out that SETEC ASTRONOMY is an anagram of TOO MANY SECRETS.
- Dress to Kill: a stand-up concert film by British comedian Eddie Izzard. Izzard references Scrabble several times during his performance. Speaking of a back ailment, he discusses the difference between chiropractors and osteopaths, then remarks: "Of course, they're both very powerful figures on the Scrabble board, though." In another joke, he imitates a kid who is beating him with a stick, while another kid asks why he is doing it: "He said a word we didn't understand. And he won at Scrabble with it." Finally, he discusses differences between English dialects, as spoken in Britain and America. "But you spell through T-H-R-U, and I'm with you on that, because we spell it 'thruff'. And that's trying to cheat at Scrabble." (Izzard pronounces through as 'thruff', so as to rhyme with the word rough.) He then goes on to point out the uselessness of the letters O, G and H in the word through, and figures if we are adding all of these silent letters, we can also add Q, P and Z, until we get "a word in Scrabble that's 480 points!"
- Black Hawk Down: Helicopter pilots Michael Durant and Cliff Wolcott argue over the Scrabble-worthiness of the word LIMO.
- Rosemary's Baby: 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 mysterious neighbor.
- The Shaggy Dog: Dave Douglas, who at that point was a dog, used Scrabble pieces to spell I AM DAD, to tell the kids that he was their father.
- Sneakers: Main characters Martin and Liz use Scrabble tiles to create anagrams from "Setec Astronomy", eventually coming across "Too Many Secrets", which refers to the hidden function of the black box acquired from a mathematical genius' laboratory.
- Two Hands: The character Pando plays the word EXQUISITE down the right-hand side of the board, showing he is more than just your average gangster.
- Word Wars: Documentary which features Scrabble and the tournament scene revolving around it. It tracks the rise to top contending status of G.I. Joel, as well as the paths of former champ Joe Edley, black militant Marlon Hill, and all-around obsessive competitor Matt Graham.
- Foul Play: Two old ladies, Ethel and Elsie, play a game of Scrabble in which Ethel plays the word FUCKER. Elsie tries to turn this into MUTHERFUCKER; Ethel objects, saying she thinks the word is hyphenated.
- The Wedding Planner: The main character, played by Jennifer Lopez, is a Scrabble tournament player.
- Charlie's Angels: The character played by Drew Barrymore spells out ENEMY on the scrabble board.
- The Kingdom: The main characters debate over whether or not WHELP is a word.
- Ada: In this Vladimir Nabokov novel, the title character scores 383 points on a single turn. She plays a 37 point word across two triple word scores, to which is added a 50 point bonus for playing all of her tiles.
- 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.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Arthur Dent creates a primitive set of Scrabble tiles which he later uses as a method of divining the Ultimate Question to The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. He spells out WHAT DO YOU GET IF YOU MULTIPLY SIX BY NINE. Note that in a regulation Scrabble set, this sentence would be impossible to create, as it contains 4 Y's.
- jPod: A character hands out a list of 3-letter words acceptable in Scrabble - with a phony word inserted. The prize for the first to find it is a Toblerone.
- Watchers: In Dean Koontz's novel, a genetically enhanced dog learns to communicate with Scrabble tiles.
- "Jason and Marceline": In this novel by "Jerry Spinelli", Jason and Marceline frequently challenge each other to Scrabble tournaments, with brutal punishments for the loser.
- In the song Conventioneers from the album Maroon by Barenaked Ladies, the protagonist goes "Right up to your room for a drink and travel Scrabble."
- In the song Hiccups from the album Hello Stranger, Darren Hanlon sings, "Someday, without trying you'll find something that's rare; like an eight letter word on a triple word square."
- In the song Seven Days from the album Ten Summoner's Tales, Sting sings, "I.Q. is no problem here; we won't be playing Scrabble for her hand, I fear."
- In the song Your Disco Needs You from the album Light Years, Kylie Minogue sings, "Desperately seeking someone willing to travel; You’re lost in conversation and useless at Scrabble."
- In the song U.R.A.Q.T from the album Kala, M.I.A. sings, "This ain't not board of Scrabble, you don't get points for double."
- In the song Squints on a Triple, Jonathan Ochshorn sings, "How could I let myself relinquish control, let my constructions collapse into rubble; on the very last play, on the very last roll, she put squints on a triple with q on the double."
- In the song Cry Baby's (Oh No) from the album Word of Mouf by Ludacris, he sings "You punks pucker and pout, bicker and babble, Now they all lost for words like I beat 'em in Scrabble."
- In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin scores 957 points for playing ZQFMGB on a double-word score. When Hobbes threatens to challenge him, Calvin claims that it is a worm found in New Guinea, and then threatens to challenge Hobbes' "12-letter word" with "all the X's and J's!"
- In the December 14th, 1986 strip of Calvin and Hobbes, Hobbes scores 150 points for playing ZYGOMORPHIC on a triple-word score. He follows that by playing NUCLEOPLASM for 40 points during his next turn.
- In the online webcomic The Order of the Stick, a Mind Flayer plays the word ZYQXUWY in a game against Elan, claiming it to be "a type of fish". Much to Elan's dismay, the Flayer also played it on a triple-word score.