From Academic Kids

Missing image
Scrabble board in play.

Scrabble is a word board game in which players use 100 tiles with printed letters to form words on a 15 x 15 grid with certain "premium" squares to accumulate points. The words are formed across and down in a crossword fashion. The name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the US and Canada and of J. W. Spear & Sons PLC elsewhere.



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

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

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

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

The game is commonly known as Alfapet in Sweden.

Game details

An empty Scrabble board. Colored squares represent bonus scoring.
An empty Scrabble board. Colored squares represent bonus scoring.

The game is played with two to four players on a square (or nearly square) board with a 15-by-15 grid of cells, each of which is just large enough to accommodate a single letter tile. The game is always played with two players in tournaments. In the notation system common in tournament play, the vertical columns of the board are labeled A through O, and the horizontal rows from 1 to 15. Certain cells of the board are "premium" cells that affect scoring. Specifically, "triple word" cells are colored dark red, "double word" cells are colored pink, "triple letter" cells are colored dark blue, and "double letter" cells are colored light blue. The distribution of premium cells is shown at right. The center cell H8 is often marked with a star or logo.

For information on tiles, see Scrabble letter distributions.

During play, the letter tiles are kept in an opaque cloth bag or face down on a flat surface. Players draw tiles to fill their "racks" of seven tiles from which they will make plays.

At the beginning of each player's turn in the game, each player will have seven letter tiles in his rack from which to choose a play. The tiles in each player's rack are concealed from the other players. At each player's turn, he has the option to (1) pass, forfeiting his turn and scoring nothing; (2) exchange one or more of the tiles in his rack for an equal number from the bag, providing there are at least seven tiles remaining in the bag, scoring nothing; or (3) play a word, adding its value to his score. To play a word, the player must use from one to seven of his tiles to form a single continuous word on the board, either left-to-right or top-to-bottom (possibly using tiles already played). The word played must touch or cross one or more already-played words on the board, and any other words formed by the play must be legal words and are scored as well. The first player, who has no previously played words to touch or cross, must form a legal word of two to seven letters from the tiles in his rack, and place it on the board in contiguous cells either left-to-right or top-to-bottom, and including center cell H8.

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

 Scrabble tiles.
Wooden Scrabble tiles.

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

A blank tile may be designated by the player as any letter; it remains as that letter thereafter for the rest of the game. As a letter, it scores no points (even doubled or tripled) regardless of what letter it is designated, but its placement on a double-word or triple-word cell does cause the appropriate premium to be scored for the word in which it is used. While not part of official or tournament play, a common "house rule" allows players to "recycle" blank tiles by later substituting the tile for the letter it designates.

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

After a player plays a word, his opponent may choose to challenge any or all the words formed by the play. If any of the words formed are found to be unacceptable, the play is removed from the board, the player returns the newly-played tiles to his rack, and his turn is forfeited. If all words are acceptable, then the challenger forfeits his turn (this rule varies in informal and international play).

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

Acceptable words

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

In formal competition, pre-compiled official word lists are used (usually compiled from combinations of several college dictionaries), along with an official dictionary for backup. The pre-compiled word lists generally contain only words of two to eight letters – those most frequently used in the game. (One letter words are impossible to play, and you only get 7 tiles on the rack at one time, so it is very difficult to build a word that is longer than 8 letters.) The dictionary is consulted for longer words. There are two popular competition word lists: the North American 1998 Official Club and Tournament Word List (or for school use the bowdlerized Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Third Edition (OSPD3)) and the British Official Scrabble Words. North American competitions use the Long List ( for longer words, while the British use the Chambers Dictionary but may soon change to the Collins Dictionary. The OWL and the OSPD3 are compiled using 7 major dictionaries, including M. Webster 10th Edition. If a word appears in 5 of the 7 dictionaries, it is included in the OWL. If the word has an offensive meaning, it is omitted from the OSPD3. The OSPD3 available in bookstores differs from the official competition word list in that it is marketed for "home and school" use, and has been expurgated of many words judged offensive. These are still legal in competition. Many international competitions use both the British and American word lists. The union of the two lists is commonly referred to as SOWPODS, derived from an anagram of OSPD+OSW. Many countries in the English Scrabble-playing world now use SOWPODS (published in the UK as Official Scrabble Words International, or OSWI) for their own tournaments year round, with the United States, Canada, Israel, and Thailand being notable exceptions.

Tournament play

Tens of thousands play club and tournament Scrabble worldwide. A good introduction to the tournament scene can be found in the book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. The intensity of play, obscurity of words, and stratospheric scores in tournament games may come as a shock to many parlor players. There is an Example Scrabble tournament game between two top-notch players in which the combined score was over 1000.

There are also two documentaries that have been made about the game: Word Wars by Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo about the "tiles and tribulations on the Scrabble game circuit"; and Scrabylon, by Scott Petersen which "gives an up-close look at why people get so obsessed with that seemingly benign game..."

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

There are two primary forms of tournament Scrabble. American tournaments have one set of rules and legal word list, and international games have a separate set of rules and legal words. The international word list is a superset of the American word list. The primary rules variation is that in international play, a player may "challenge" an opponent's play if he suspects it is not a legal word without risking a penalty if the word is acceptable. In American play, a failed challenge results in a loss of turn, making it possible to "bluff" with an illegal word in the hope your opponent will be afraid to risk a challenge. A new rule was introduced in the 2001 World Championship: a failed challenge costs a player a five point penalty (added to the score of the challenged player) but not their turn.

The most prestigious North American tournaments are the (U.S.) National Championship ( (an open event attracting several hundred players, held in the summer every year or two), the Canadian National Championship ( (invitational to the top fifty players, held every two to three years), and the World Championship ( (held in odd years, the next one to be in London in 2005).

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

Strategy and tactics

The object of the game is to score more points than your opponent, and as Scrabble is not a game that lends itself to defense, it follows that the player who is able to generate the most points from his or her rack over the duration of the game will win. Knowing which words are acceptable and which are not (according to the official tournament reference) — and then being able to find them from a jumbled set of letters — is key. All serious tournament players study word lists extensively, and realize some lists are more valuable than others. It is doubtful that any player - even those among the top echelon - knows all 108,225 acceptable words for international play. But it is almost certain that the premier players know almost all, if not all, of the words they are likely to come across in their lifetime. For instance, there is no practical advantage in knowing a word like zyzzyvas.

For a beginning club player, the most important list to memorize is acceptable two-letter words. These words allow one to play in parallel to existing words, rather than merely extending or crossing. After mastering the two-letter words, a beginner can benefit by studying the shorter words containing high scoring tiles e.g. QAT, ZEK, JEUX, along with shorter hook lists. A hook list shows what letters can be added to the front and back of words.

It can be great fun to play esoteric words, but being unusual does not necessarily score more points. For example FAERIE, depending on board placement, generally scores fewer points than FAIRY. Likewise it is silly to play CWM ( just to prove that you know a word with no vowels if MACAW scores more points and leaves you with a better rack.

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

Rack management is the strategic element most overlooked by beginners. It is disadvantageous to keep duplicates of most letters or to have a large imbalance between vowels and consonants. Beginners will often lament "Why do I get all the I's?", not realizing that they have caused their own suffering by not unloading duplicates. For example, if you hold AADIIKR, the highest scoring word among your letters is DARK, but that leaves you with AII, which is no consonants with three vowels including a double I. If at all possible, you should play a word containing both an A and an I, which leaves an equal number of vowels and consonants. RADII scores fewer points than DARK, but leaves AK in your rack, for a much more promising future next turn. Experts who know all the four-letter words will also look to play KADI or RAKI to good effect, but you don't have to have a huge vocabulary to think about rack balance: even RAID and ARID deserve consideration instead of DARK.

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

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

Experts at the highest level average just over two bingos a game, and four bingos in a game is not uncommon.

Computer players

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

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

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


North American records according to the book Everything Scrabble by Joe Edley and John D. Williams, Jr. revised edition, published by Pocket Books in Nov. 2001

High game - 770 by Mark Landsberg (Calif.) 1993. Landsberg defeated Alan Stern 770-308, making the total 1,108 points the highest combined score ever recorded.

Highest losing score - 539 by Joel Sherman (NY) to David Peder's (Calif.) 541, 2001.

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

Highest single play Braziers, 311 points by T. A. Sanders (Texas) 1997.

Highest Average Score (two-day tourney) 467, by Joel Sherman (NY) in 11 rounds; Wisconsin Dells, WI 1997.

The highest competitive game score is 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.

The highest competitive single-turn score recorded is 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".

See also

External links

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


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