Friday, April 11, 2008

Twelve is Twelve; Or Why the 8-Point X Must Go

I know more about Scrabble than most people. I don't just mean that I play Scrabble. I mean that for about 35 years I have been unable to kick the habit of compulsively adding up whatever I hear in Scrabble scores. Then I take the number of the score of the section of text (word, sentence, name, whatever) and work out the Scrabble score of the number if you spelled it out. Then the Scrabble score of that number, and so on. Everything devolves to one of two possibilities: either the dreaded 4-7-8-9 loop (four is worth 7; seven is worth 8, etc) or the Golden Mean: twelve. Twelve is twelve.

I mention this only to prove my credentials. I really do know something about Scrabble scores. And the thing is that Scrabble scores need to be updated. Now that we have valid words like xi, xis and xu to go along with ex, ax and ox, the X must be devalued. Whoever gets the X in a game gets an unfair advantage: if you have any smarts at all, you should be able to use it on a two-way triple-letter score for a minimum of 48 points.

The Q is also an overvalued tile these days. There are too many Q-with-no-U words: qat, qoph, and so on. (I have a list at home but I'm not at home right now.) At one point we even heard that the next edition of the Official Scrabble Dictionary was going to include qi, but that has not yet transpired. (It will only happen when Qi can be written in lower case.)

The reason for the increased ease of playing Xs and Qs is, in part, internationalization. When Alfred Mosher Butts invented the game in 1938, he based the scores on usage in the New York Times and other sources, and those sources didn't spend a lot of time writing about units of Vietnamese currency or the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet.

The X and the Q are no-brainers. Once we open up the revaluation process, however, we should consider some more controversial tiles. This may be too subjective on my part, but I have more trouble with C and V than their values represent. I'd need some input, but I think they should each go up a point or two. And how about removing the point from the S?

Just a thought.

So if Matel and Hasbro (the two copyright owners of Scrabble) would get off their butts and see that the free Facebook game Scrabulous is greatly increasing the popularity of Scrabble, and if Matel and Hasbro could take advantage of that popularity instead of fighting Scrabulous in the courts, then perhaps they could also see that this classic game, celebrating its 70th or 60th anniversary this year (depending on whether you are considering the game or the name), is badly in need of some tweaks.

1 comment:

Zabin said...

I'd go about this another way, if Scrabble saw that people were enjoying the game... I'd expect them to think hey someone is giving us free advertisement on facebook. If they had an online scrabble application (especially for facebook) then i could see them being saddened. Even still, people are enjoying the game? Someone has made this online version with out being asked? why not offer them a small sum of money and continue owning everything scrabble like [rather than trying to shut down the operation and possibly take their money].

I think we see too much of this attitude... celebrate the expansion of your trademark or product and your hard work.

ps. I was drawn here by a poem you wrote about a Pliocene clam...