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The Boggle page

Boggle is an outstanding little word game. It seems to grab most everybody, regardless of age or "braininess". I haven't played in a long time - and at this point in my life would always choose the grand, old, lord of the word games, Scrabble - but have spent many braw hours playing Boggle with family, friends, coworkers, and young students.

You know what's coming. Here are the little fixes we made to the game rules almost right from the beginning.

1. A four-letter minimum for the words. It only takes a few games to get fed up with scribbling down the same little three-letter words over and over, game after game.

2. A two-minute limit instead of the three-minute limit.

3. Simplified scoring: one point per word, plus one point per letter over the fourth letter. Thus,

  LETTERS IN WORD:  4  5  6  7  8  . . . 
  POINTS FOR WORD:  1  2  3  4  5  . . .

4. A penalty for writing an invalid word. That may be a misspelling or otherwise made-up word not in the chosen dictionary, or a real word which cannot be formed by connecting the letters in the rack. The penalty is simply the points that would have been scored if the word were acceptable. Thus, it can easily happen that a player can "go negative".

5. Play to some number of points. It's been so long that, until taking another look at the rules, I had forgotten that the game makers viewed each round as a complete game. That's like calling a potato chip a dinner. But it's also been so long that I forget what our standard game was - maybe to 50? That's something you can adjust to your own liking.

Note how Rule 4 puts a stop to a player just scribbling down any- and everything in the hopes of stumbling on a word. But it's even better than that. It was a great touch by the game designers that a player only scores points for words that no one else finds. So you might be the boss at finding all the normal, common, boring words, but still not be a consistent winner since the other players combined will find the same ones. To be a winner you have to "step out", as we say. Rule 4 cranks up the excitement as you take a chance on a riskier word that the others might not see or take a chance on themselves.

Although I suppose it's a bit demeaning, we usually read off our lists in more or less the order of weakest to strongest players. It seemed to make sense to get the common words out of the way first, and more fun to hear the headbangers last.

As a person reads down his list, a simple, emphatic "Got it!" is all it takes for everyone with that word to cross it from his own list.

When a word is read and there is no "Got it!", a player with a bent for such a thing quickly taps out the letters of that word in the rack (with the eraser end of his pencil) to confirm that the word is actually in there. As per Rule 4, if it's not, the person who listed the word takes a minus score for it.

You might want to stick some foam up inside the plastic Boggle shaker-tray top to reduce the racket. The piece of foam I have stuck up there may have come with the game, if I remember rightly.

For me, the main thing that makes Boggle inferior to Scrabble is that there's no luck element. Among a given group of players, the same person will usually win and everyone will end up in more or less the same position, game after game. Still, there's no denying Boggle gave a lot of pleasure over the course of years - high praise, indeed. As an easy-to-get-going, any-number-can-play, ever-so-slightly-rowdy-for-the-brainy-set game that you might pull out in a party-type situation, I'd say Boggle wins out over Scrabble. If that seems like an obvious assessment, keep in mind that Scrabble can be plenty rowdy, in spite of its staid, chess-like reputation.

Forget Big Boggle. You could spend a week on that 5 x 5 grid and hardly scratch the surface. What sort of satisfaction is there in five or six players coming up with almost completely different word lists, all of which combined is a drop in the bucket of all the words hidden in there?

In our family, we recorded "great moments" of various games in the box top. For Boggle this is kind of hard because the box top is so narrow and deep. Still, here are some of our records, dating from January 1977 to January 1979. I see now that we must have even gotten a bit tired of four-letter words and often imposed a 5-letter minimum if it was just us die-hards playing.

First 6-letter word scored: DESIST (Donna, Jan 2 1977)

Total points scored in round: 40 (Pop, Hilda, Donald)

Total points scored in round: 59 (Pop, Donald, Tom, Diane)

(Four-letter minimum from here on, unless otherwise noted.)

Total points scored in round: 35 (Pop, Donald, Tom, Diane)

First 7-letter word scored: LIQUIDS (Diane)

Low score for round: -10 (Joe, Donald vs. Gail, Karen. We were playing teams???)

No words found in rack: (Pop, Donald, Hilda, Oct 26 1977. Feat repeated a month later.)

Points scored in round, five-letter minimum: 27 (for one player or all?)

7-letter words scored in one round: SWEATER BEATERS BLEATER (Donald. Apparently ran out of time getting BLEATERS down.)

Points scored in round, five-letter minimum: 28 (Donald. Not above round; one week later.)


First 8-letter word: CHISELED (Donald, Jan 24 1979)

And so end the box top records. I guess eight letters is kind of hard to match or beat, being half the available letters in the 4 x 4 rack.


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Helpful keywords not in the main text: Boggle Parker Brothers Hidden Word Game.

Definitions: braw = fine; splendid (got that from Mother Goose).

Parents, if you're considering tutoring or supplemental education for your child, you may be interested in my observations on Kumon.