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Scrabble I

What Scrabble should have been from the beginning!

 
If you've played Scrabble long enough to find yourself a wee bit tired of playing the same little words over and over, many of which are never seen in real life, and wishing that Scrabble were more of a word game, exercising more of your vocabulary and word search skills, consider Scrabble I.

The claim is made here that Scrabble I is what Scrabble should have been from the very start; Scrabble I is classic Scrabble with the flaws and imbalances carefully removed.

If I'm wrong about that, or you simply don't buy it, please try it anyway; you may find it to be the most satisfying Scrabble "variant" so far (assuming you haven't already played Scrabble II or Scrabble III, ha!)

Scrabble I uses a regular dictionary (box top rule) and allows good words only on the board (original box top rule). It has a three letter minimum requirement and incorporates "swap for the blank", both of which were suggested by Scrabble itself in the earliest years.

Instead of a single, all-or-nothing bonus for the rare 7-tile play, Scrabble I offers the Big Play Bonus, which rewards you for unloading 5, 6, or 7 tiles at a shot. And, at long last, there is a Stretch Bonus for s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g words on the board into even bigger words, something hardly worth considering in conventional Scrabble.

Everyone will have fun making bigger words than ever before in Scrabble, and advanced players should appreciate the boost to Scrabble's intelligence bar. Instead of the routine dump-dump-dump-dump-dump-dump-BINGO! strategy (a consequence of the 50-point bingo bonus being badly out of balance with the rest of Scrabble scoring), now there is something to shoot for, and options to consider, on almost every play.

Furthermore, Scrabble I will be played in rollicking on-line, everybody-plays-everybody tournaments which will be fun and exciting -- and lucrative! -- almost beyond bearing.

Read on for more details and whys and wherefores.

 
RULE 1 (Scrabble I) - Good words only

"Good words only" simply means, if you you play a valid word you score points. If you play an invalid word you score no points, your word comes off the board, and play passes to the next player.

Every word that's the least bit questionable is checked. There is nothing personal about checking a word. No one loses a turn for having a good word checked. Think of it as the Good Scrabble Fairy making sure nothing contaminates your beautiful Scrabble board.

In fact, "good words only" was the Scrabble rule in the beginning, going back to 1948. The challenge rule was changed in 1976, introducing poker-style bluffing to the game. Good riddance!

"Good words only" brings Scrabble in line with virtually all other games and sports; you are rewarded for success and not rewarded for failure. If you need any more discussion or justification than that, please visit my original Scrabble II page.

 
RULE 2 (Scrabble I) - Three letter minimum

"Three letter minimum" simply means the main word of a play must be at least 3 letters long.

The main word of a play is the word that contains all of the tiles played. It is not necessarily the longest new word formed.

Understand that "three letter minimum" is about word length and says nothing about the number of tiles played.

Here is a sequence of example plays:

   Play 1      Play 2       Play 3           Play 4a      Play 4b      Play 4c 
  (valid)     (valid)      (valid)           (valid)    (NOT valid)    (valid)  
                                                                    
 FISH         FISH         FISH             FISH         FISH         FISH        
                 ACTION       ACTION           ACTIONS      ACTIONS      ACTIONS  
                              M                M            M     O      M     O  
                                                                               W  

Play 2 is valid because the main word, ACTION, is at least 3 letters. It matters not that the connector word, HA, is only two letters.

Play 3 is valid because HAM satisfies the minimum length requirement, even though only one tile, M, was played.

I give three alternatives for the fourth play. Play 4a is valid because ACTIONS satisfies the minimum length requirement, even though only one tile was played.

Play 4c is valid because SOW, the main word of the play, satisfies the minimum length requirement.

But Play 4b is not valid because the main word, SO, is less than three letters. The "three letter minimum" rule is meant to raise the intelligence bar of Scrabble; to rescue the game from the clutches of the almost mindless two-letter mini-plays. Hooking across the end of an existing word does not open up a back door to these mini-plays in Scrabble I!

The three letter minimum rule applies to the bitter end; there's no relaxation when the bag is empty, for instance.

In fact, a Scrabble brochure dated 1950 (three years before Scrabble exploded in 1953), suggested a "brain-testing variation: Play a minimum of three letter words . . . then watch your score soar!" It's a crying shame it wasn't made a box top rule, even if they had no way of foreseeing all the future 2-letter J, Q, X, and Z cheapies back then. To say nothing of F, H, K, W, Y . . .

 
RULE 4 (Scrabble I) - Big Play bonus

Instead of the single, all or nothing 50-point bonus for playing all 7 tiles in classic Scrabble, Scrabble I offers stepped bonuses for "big plays" of 5, 6, and 7 tiles.

                 BIG PLAY BONUSES
    
    Tiles Played   Bonus Points      Name  
    ------------   ------------     -------
      5 tiles         10 pts        5-tiler
      6 tiles         30 pts        6-tiler
      7 tiles         50 pts        7-tiler, or "bingo"

Understand that here the requirement is on tiles played, not word length as in the "three letter minimum" rule. Take a glance at your rack; if you see 1 or 2 tiles left on it, you made a "big play" and earned a bonus! (If you played all 7 tiles, you probably don't need to look back at your empty rack, ha!)

Now, with the Big Play bonuses, finding nice, long words ("playing your rack") will generally beat out the familiar strategy of tying in short words on premium squares ("playing the board"). While the "three letter minimum" rule gives a little push into the realm of longer words, here the "Big Play" bonuses give a big pull. If you need more discussion see the relevant section in my original Scrabble II page. (Scrabble II was perfected first, and then Scrabble I and its bonuses were back-engineered, so to speak, from Scrabble II.)

 
RULE 5 (Scrabble I) - Stretch bonus

Generally speaking, there's little incentive in "regular" Scrabble to stretch a word on the board into a bigger word. You might have just the right stuff to turn a "six" into a once-in-a-life-time "ten", but, all for what? 12 lousy points? When you could've made 28 for HO/HA on triple letter score?

Scrabble I finally hangs out a reward for stretching a "decent" word on the board into an even bigger one by adding tiles to either end, or both.

NOTE: In Scrabble I, a "decent" word is a word of at least four letters. Think of 2- and 3-letter words as "riff-raff".

        STRETCH BONUS
     (on "fours" and up)

  Tiles Added  Bonus Points
  -----------  ------------
       1             0   
       2            20   
       3            40   
       4            60   
       5            90 * 
       6           110 * 
       7           130 * 

  *Bonus incorporates BIG PLAY bonus.  

There is no bonus for stretching a word by one letter, such as adding an S, as this has been part of Scrabble forever and is not considered a big deal.

As the table indicates, for stretches of 5, 6, and 7 tiles, the stretch bonus incorporates the "big play" bonuses of 10, 30, and 50 points. You can view it as an 80-point cap on the stretch itself, at which point the "big play" bonus is added on.

So, for example, adding UN- or RE- or -ED or -LY will net a 20 point bonus. Having an -ING or -EST at the right moment will net you a 40 point bonus. But, stop and think, might you do better making your own "big play" with those tiles? Hmmm...

 
RULE 6 (Scrabble I) - Swap for the blank

"Swap for the blank" was suggested by Scrabble itself as a variation back in 1953. Like the "three letter minimum" rule, it's extremely unfortunate that it wasn't made a standard, box top rule.

They got the particulars exactly right (almost*) in the 1953 Deluxe Scrabble rules booklet:

An interesting variation provides that when a player has a letter represented on the board by a blank, he may, when his turn comes, substitute the letter and pick up the blank. Both blanks may be picked up at the same time if the player has both required letters. This substitution is not a turn nor does the player score the value of the letter substituted. The player proceeds with his regular turn, using the blanks then or later as he chooses. In this way the blanks are kept in circulation, thereby adding to the interest of the game.

"Swap for the blank" is very logical, and familiar to anyone who has played rummy games, say, where you can swap a card in your hand for a joker on the table standing for that same card.

Don't think for a minute that "swap for the blank" is "kids' stuff" or "cheap." Besides adding fun and excitement and a lot more big words to the game, it adds an extra layer of complexity. Simple math tells us that a blank needs 26 times as much thinking as a specified letter.

With "swap for the blank" you will find yourself thinking beyond your rack. As an example, suppose you have the hopelessly vowel heavy rack, AAEEIIT. What do you see in that mess??? With "swap for the blank", you might think, "Hey, if my opponent plays a blank for an I, and doesn't mess up that open M, I can play EMACIATE!" Experts will see many more 8-letter words in there. Potential 5- and 6-tile plays, for bonus points, abound.

* The small oversight in the 1953 rule is that, in the case where you swap for a blank in a word that you then stretch into a longer word on that play, you certainly will "score the value of the letter" you swapped.

 
RULE 7 (Scrabble I) - Hitting multiple premium word squares

Double and triple word score squares are interpreted literally; they act individually on the score of the word, not piled one on top of the other. Neither square says, "Triple the score calculated so far."

Thus, hitting two triple word score squares yields six (3+3=6) times the value of the word. This applies to hitting two double word score squares as well, but still yields the same quadruple word score since 2+2 equals 2x2.

The 9x multiplier, besides being inconsistent with the labeling of the squares, is dreadfully out of balance with the rest of Scrabble scoring. And you have to admit, a sextuple word score isn't bad!

When the day comes when someone hits three triple word score squares (outside of a Scrabble puzzle book), that will be a nonuple (9x) word score. Sorry about that, but congratulations, anyway!

 
RULE 9 (Scrabble I) - The letter distribution

Scrabble I is played with 100 tiles, specifically, the classic tile set with one "I" removed and one blank added. Or, think of it as converting one "I" into a blank. (You can do it with wood filler and sandpaper.)

Removing one "I" gives blessed relief from the oppressive "I" overload--perhaps the most identifiable flaw in the original game. But even with the removal of an "I", the Scrabble letter distribution remains somewhat vowel-heavy. And with just 56 tiles allocated to 20 different consonants, the consonant distribution has always been quite coarse, and understandably so.

So think of the extra blank as a general fixer-upper for any remaining deviation from the "perfect" letter distribution, however that might be determined.

In any case, you will be flabbergasted at how dead Scrabble was all those decades with two static blanks.

 
RULE 10.1 (Scrabble I) - Regular dictionary word set

Scrabble I is conceived as a vocabulary-based game for word fans. It uses a word set in tune with a regular, American English collegiate dictionary since such dictionaries already go way beyond any individual's working vocabulary. The official Scrabble word set, which is perhaps 20% larger yet, simply brings in too many even more obscure words. (Scrabble I will not be forced on anyone. If you enjoy playing with obscure words, all the familiar modern Scrabble options will still be out there.)

How one can employ a regular dictionary in home play would seem to present a problem since they don't generally show all the formatives, such as the UN- and RE- words, or even the -S plurals. You probably can't find APPLES in your favorite, trusty, printed dictionary. Regular dictionaries are not put together with word gamers in mind.

But there is a way. Use a combination of your favorite dictionary and the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD).

First of all, the base word must be in your regular dictionary. Then, if it is, any formative shown in the OSPD is acceptable. So, for example, if someone plays BASHINGS, and your regular dictionary doesn't show it, but includes the base word BASH (which, of course, it will) you may go to the OSPD to check BASHINGS.

Understand that you are not authorized to play Scrabble I with the official Scrabble dictionary as the primary authority. That would be oxymoronic, like hiring a graffiti vandal to redecorate your house. It's the OSPD funny business we word fans are trying to get off our boards! For more discussion on this topic, see the "Using a real dictionary" section of my original Scrabble II page.

The simplest solution would be for Merriam-Webster, who publish the OSPD, to flag each word in the OSPD that they would not see fit to include in their own collegiate dictionary (including the plurals of non-count nouns, such as PEACES, yuck!) There, one Scrabble dictionary for both the "word lover" and the "word list" gangs.

But who listens to me?

 
RULE 10.2 (Scrabble I) - The two-letter words

The two-letter words are of fundamental importance in Scrabble I (as they are in classic Scrabble.) They are the connectors that allow you to place fully formed words from your rack on the board. Think of them as equipment. No game or sport makes sense if the opponents are unequally equipped.

For that reason, and because most of the two-letter words in a dictionary would look pretty strange even to English scholars, the two-letter word list is made available to any player who wants to refer to it during play.

You would find it a big hassle to mine your dictionary for the two-letter words. More easily, you could simply check anything suspicious on the familiar list of 101 two-letter words in the OSPD (4th edition).

Best of all, you could simply adopt a two-letter word list that has worked beautifully for many years. I've moved further discussion of this issue from the rules to Appendix 1 below.

 
RULE 10.3a (Scrabble I) - "Check the OSPD" (official rule)

You will only need this rule if you are playing with someone who has familiarized himself with the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD). The concern is that, with a "regular dictionary" word set, the poor soul who has spent years memorizing obscure words from the Scrabble dictionary certainly won't know which ones are valid in the regular dictionary. With the "check the OSPD" rule, he'll never get burnt for playing an OSPD-only word.

If your dictionary rejects a played word, the player may ask to "check the OSPD". If his word is there, his play comes off the board, but he gets to make another play.

However, if he asks to check the OSPD and his word is not found there, his play comes off the board, the full value of the would-be play is deducted from his score prior to that play, and his turn is ended. That's perfectly fair for someone who wants to steamroller Scrabble friends with far-fetched words, right?

That's the official Scrabble I rule. But there is a better rule which I leave as a recommendation only, since I doubt many serious Scrabble players would go for it. Read on.

 
RULE 10.3b (Scrabble I) - "You're on your own" (recommended option)

The reality is, we all have more or less the same working vocabularies, and we have all grown up with more or less the same conventional dictionaries. And even the most conservative dictionaries include far more words than any person could possibly know or memorize. This is true even for Scrabble experts and their official Scrabble dictionaries. For them, as for us, the essence of the game boils down to matching wits with the dictionary maker.

So, understanding that, the good and proper rule should be, no concession to the experts regarding the obscure words they've memorized. No matter which regular dictionary is chosen, we'd all be in the same boat. Everyone would have to make educated guesses and develop a feel for how far "out there" the dictionary maker went. The Scrabble expert would be feeling it out from above, so to speak; the word fan from below.

So, while the word fan is wondering whether the dictionary maker was hip enough to include VEXT ("Mother, vext, did whip him next"), the Scrabble expert, knowing VEXT is in the Scrabble dictionary, will wonder if he was too square to include it. Words on the borderline, like KOLO and KETO, won't even enter the word fan's mind, while the expert will have to grapple with hard decisions. (According to the Merriam-Webster, yea; the American Heritage, nay.) We'll all sweat mightily over formatives like UNTARGETED and RETARGETED, etc., etc. And all of this is exactly as it should be.

Take a look at the list of all the bum words played in the Dover Scrabble Club in 2013-2014. Matching wits with the dictionary makers is a blast!

So there you have it, a regular dictionary along with the "good words only" rule, provides a philosophically sound, perfectly level playing field for word fans and Scrabble experts.

 
RULE 11 (Scrabble I) - Small Word Point Cap rule (recommended option)

The Small Word Point Cap rule simply states that, in words of 4 letters or less, the value of a letter is capped by the length of the word.

Spelled out, it says, in a 2-letter word the most a letter can be worth is 2 points; in a 3-letter word the most a letter can be worth is 3 points; and in a 4-letter word the most a letter can be worth is 4 points. In 5-letter words and longer, all letters, including the J, K, Q, X and Z, are full-valued. The premium letter and word squares act in their usual way on the adjusted values of the letters.

Thus, the Small Word Point Cap rule provides a fourth powerful force, joining the three-letter minimum and the Big Play and Stretch bonuses, pulling Scrabble out of the mud puddle of the language's smallest and oddest words and into the big, wide ocean of our vocabularies. Consider: there are only about 5000 two-, three-, and four-letter words in the official Scrabble dictionary; you might know about three quarters of them; and these words make up the great majority of the words played in Scrabble. Is it any wonder you see the same words over and over?

The Small Word Point Cap rule originally occurred to me as the pill that might make playing Scrabble I with an official Scrabble dictionary almost palatable. Now the power of the little cheapies (JO, QI, XU, ZA, etc., etc.) is greatly neutralized. But even a conservative dictionary abounds with cheapies. Witness: ZIG, ZAG, ZIP, ZAP, ZIT, ZED, ZIN, ZEP, ZEE, AZO, ZOA, COZ, BIZ, WIZ, blechh, blechh, blechh, blechh. Blechh. (Actually, I'm sort of fond of "coz".)

So if it were up to me, the Small Word Point Cap rule would apply to all Scrabble, including Scrabble I, no matter how conservative or far-out the chosen word set. But since I can't claim it to be a natural fix to the classic rules, and also because I'm afraid it would be too strong a shock to the modern Scrabble player's system, I leave it as a strongly recommended option.

Here are some point cap examples involving the Q.

  
    Word            Q worth     (Ever played in the Dover Scrabble Club?)
    ----            -------     -----------------------------------------
    QI                2 pts                  No way. 
    QAT               3 pts                  No way. 
    QAID              4 pts                  No way. 
    QUACK            10 pts                  Sure.
    OPAQUE           10 pts                  Sure.
    LIQUEFY          10 pts                  For sure!
    COQUETRY         10 pts                  For sure!
    EQUIPMENT        10 pts                  For sure!!  
    FOURSQUARE       10 pts                  For sure!!!
    AQUATICALLY      10 pts                  FOR SURE!!!!
    INEQUALITIES     10 pts                  FOR SURE!!!!!
    UNQUESTIONING    10 pts                  FOR SURE!!!!!!

Of course, if a letter tile appears in two new words on a given play, it may be valued differently in the two words, depending on their lengths. Consider this expertly crafted Scrabble board (don't try it at home!):

      QOPH
    GLIME

Suppose QOPH was just played. The point values are Q4O1P3H4   Q2I1   O1M2   P2E1 .

Now Suppose GLIME was just played. The point values are G2L1I1M3E1   Q2I1   O1M2   P2E1 .

With the Small Word Point Cap rule, instead of a killer 64 points for your "clever" little ZA/ZA on triple letter score, it will be worth 16 points. And you should be grateful for that!

 
RULE 14 (Scrabble I) - The "Unplayed Tiles Challenge Round"

The "Unplayed Tiles Challenge Round" rule says that when regular play comes to an end, if your opponent is stuck with tiles he couldn't play in his final turn(s), you will be rewarded if you can find a play with his tiles.

The rule will play a very small part in Scrabble I, and that in tournament play only. It is definitely not recommended for recreational play. It was conceived for Scrabble III, in which it plays a much bigger role. So, for further discussion, refer to the corresponding section in the Scrabble III page.

By the way, in Scrabble I (and Scrabble II and Scrabble III), the regular game is over when play has gone around a full cycle plus one player with nothing added to the board while the bag is below the point for trading (usually empty.) In a two-person game, that means three consecutive turns with no new tiles surviving on the board.

 

*** THE SCRABBLE I TOURNAMENT ***

 
RULE 15.1 (Scrabble I) - Basic tournament operation

Scrabble I tournaments will be open, everybody-plays-everybody affairs with no divisions.

Since there is no real defense component to Scrabble (especially with the elimination of bluffing), everyone can play "his game" against any other player, from the weakest to the strongest. There is no way in Scrabble to "shut down" your opponent, regardless of the gulf in skill levels. Scrabble is akin to sports like bowling and golf in this respect; each player does "his thing" on the same "playing field".

The tournament standings will be based on winning percentage first, with average Points Per Turn (PPT) scored separating out identical winning percentages. No esoteric bridge ranking system will ever be sicced on a Scrabble I (or Scrabble II or Scrabble III) tournament. If the PPT statistic is a new idea to you, please visit my Points Per Turn page.

Here are the final standings of a hypothetical Scrabble tournament. Winning takes precedence, of course, then PPT.

    Position  Player   Win Pct    PPT
    --------  ------   -------    ---
        1        A      .800     35.7
        2        B      .800     35.6
        3        C      .800     34.9
        4        D      .750     35.1
        5        E      .750     34.9
      etc.

After each round of the tournament, matchups for the next round will be determined based on an examination of current PPTs of each player in the tournament. The goal is to make matches so that after the final round, all players will have played the "average player". In other words, the combined PPT for all of your opponents in the tournament will be as close as possible to the combined PPT of all the players in the tournament.

Here's how that would work. Suppose in the first round of play, the overall PPT for all the players was 28.0 ppt. Suppose your opponent averaged just 24.0 ppt. The matchup algorithm will find you an opponent who averaged about 32.0 ppt so that the combined PPT of your opponents so far will be about equal to the overall tournament PPT.

But the PPT for each player is dynamic. As the tournament progresses, your first opponent may show himself to be a much stronger player, averaging 29.0 ppt at some point, say. Thus, when the matchup algorithm looks for a match for you at that point, it will use the 29.0 ppt figure for your first opponent.

Got it? At the end of a Scrabble I tournament, everyone will have, effectively, played the "average player."

Assuming there are more players than rounds in a tournament, the matchup algorithm will never have you face the same opponent twice.

 
RULE 15.2 (Scrabble I) - On-line Scrabble I tournament

If you were paying attention above, your mind should be reeling at the potentials of a universal, everybody-plays-everybody, on-line Scrabble I tournament. Imagine quarterly tournaments with millions of players. Suppose the entry fee is a few modest bucks, and suppose some fraction of that is put aside as prize money. Good Scrabble players could start making very nice livelihoods at Scrabble, while the best would join the rich and the famous!

On-line games will be played beginning to end without interruption. Each player will have a given amount of time for all of his moves. There will be no means of communication between the players during the game. If a player uses up all of his time, his game is over and his opponent will continue until he goes out, runs out of time, or passes the first player in score.

Everyone who joins the tournament will take an oath of no cheating. He will swear that he will consult no outside sources, animal, vegetable, mineral, or digital, during the course of the game. He will promise not to quit before the game is completed. When the game is over, he will once again attest that he did not consult any external sources during the game.

All possible artificial intelligence will be built into the Scrabble I program to detect cheaters and quitters. The program will play along with everyone, checking all the known "Scrabble cheat" programs. To join the tournament in the first place, a player will agree to having his name added to an eternal Hall of Shame list when a pattern of cheating or quitting has been established beyond a reasonable doubt.

In spite of these safeguards, the prize money will no doubt be too alluring for some to resist a peek at a dictionary during play. ("Hmmm, can I spell DUELING with two L's?") So the prize money will be awarded at in-person, championship finals.

 
RULE 15.3 (Scrabble I) - The in-person tournament finals

Participation at the in-person, championship finals will be by invitation to the top finishers in the on-line tournaments. I can imagine a preliminary round in which all of the players' moves are scrutinized for consistency with their on-line playing.

I envision a final for each of the four quarterly on-line tournaments. But, in order to "spread the wealth", a player may participate in only one final per year. The finals will be held in four widely separated locations in the U.S. each year, to make it as convenient as possible for everyone who participated in the on-line tournaments. (Sorry for the U.S. chauvinism, but Scrabble is our game, and world Scrabble players will have to resign themselves to traveling, as they already do for world Scrabble championships.)

The rules for the finals, including how matchups are made, are the same as for the on-line tournament. Everyone in the finals will end up having played the "average player" in the tournament. While there will be a physical board and bag of tiles for each game, there will also be a computer station at each table. Each player will enter his play into the computer, which will check the validity of the words, keep score, and keep time. Nothing will stop the clock. Ok, maybe physical mayhem.

And that's about it. As I see it, the millions will be divided up so that, for everyone who passed the preliminary round, even the player in last place goes home with a few thousand. He did good!

 
RULE 15.4 (Scrabble I) - The Official Regular Dictionary Word Set (ORDWS)

We've discussed how to use your regular dictionary in conjunction with the OSPD for home play. Of course, there must be a standardized word set for tournament and on-line play.

The "Official Regular Dictionary Word Set" (ORDWS) for Scrabble I (and Scrabble II and Scrabble III) will be constructed along the following lines. Two of the most highly respected collegiate dictionaries will be used. All of the words common to both dictionaries will be included. For each word that appears in only one of the two dictionaries, non-Scrabble playing, word-loving outsiders, such as professional crossword puzzle makers, will decide whether or not it deserves inclusion in the ORDWS. I propose the American Heritage and the Merriam-Webster as the two dictionaries.

An alternative method might be to select the three most highly respected collegiate dictionaries, and require that a word be in at least two of the three for inclusion in the ORDWS. But even in that case, I would plead for giving the crossword puzzle makers final say regarding the obscure words on the borderline.

The ORDWS word set will be protected from mining for word lists, and will never be published in any form. Moreover, The ORDWS can be corrected, modified, or updated at any time by the disinterested keepers without any sort of notice to anyone. The "Check the OSPD" rule will safeguard you from ever being burnt on a word you know used to be acceptable.

But the bigger point is that Scrabble I is a vocabulary based game for regular people who like words and Scrabble, and adjustments to the word set will surely take place "out there" somewhere beyond the horizon of your working vocabulary. You will place the same trust in the ORDWS that you have in any other dictionary you ever bought or used. If you can't relinquish word list style Scrabble (just yet!), those options will still be there.

Teaser: You probably think, based on what I've written here, that the ORDWS has to be a proper subset of the OSPD. In fact, there is a substantial set of common words missing from the OSPD that will certainly be added to the ORDWS. (My lips are sealed.)

Finally, notice how ORDWS starts off like "ordinary", and is an anagram of "words". It was meant to be!

 

*** SUMMARY: Scrabble I compared to "regular" Scrabble ***

Scrabble, like most games, is played at least a little differently almost everywhere it's played. At the very least, the word set and the manner of handling iffy words vary in almost every household.

When I say "regular" Scrabble, I am using American tournament-style Scrabble as laid out by NASPA (North American Scrabble Players Association) as the model. There are perhaps a few thousand players who adhere to the NASPA rules.

Here, at a glance, is how Scrabble I differs from "regular" Scrabble.

        "Regular" Scrabble                    Scrabble I

    Word list memorization                Vocabulary-based

    Jam-packed OSPD                       Regular dictionary

    Rampant twos                          Refined 2-letter word list

    Invalid words allowed                 Points for good words only

    Bluffing                              No bluffing

    2-letter minimum                      3-letter minimum

    Single bonus for playing              Stepped bonuses for Big Plays
      all 7 tiles                           of 5, 6, or 7 tiles

    No reason to stretch words            Stretch bonus

    I overload (9 I's)                    One I removed (8 I's)

    2 blanks                              3 blanks

    Single use blanks                     Reusable blanks

    Continue to play after time's up      Time's up when time's up

    Tournaments split into divisions      Everybody plays everybody!

    Inscrutable bridge ranking system     Players ranked by average
                                            Points Per Turn (PPT)

    A few thousand players                Tens of millions of players?

 

*** SUMMARY: Scrabble I on a slip ***

After the thousands of words of explanation and justification above, it really boils down to this, suitable for printing in a fixed-width font, and keeping by your rack at the Scrabble I table:

       SCRABBLE I       Two-Letter Words    

        MAIN WORD      AB  DO  ID  OF  TA   
    3-letter minimum   AD      IF  OH  TI   
                       AG  ED  IN  ON  TO   
     BIG PLAY Bonus    AH  EF  IS  OR       
       Tiles  Pts      AI  EH  IT  OS  UH   
         5     10      AM  EL      OW  UM   
         6     30      AN  EM  LA  OX  UP   
         7     50      AR  EN  LI      US   
                       AS  ER  LO  PA  UT   
      STRETCH Bonus    AT  EX      PI       
    (on fours and up)  AW      MA      WE   
       Ltrs   Pts      AX  FA  ME  RE  WO   
         1      0      AY      MI           
         2     20          GO  MU  SH  XI   
         3     40      BE      MY  SI       
         4     60      BI  HA      SO  YE   
         5     90 *    BY  HE  NO      YO   
         6    110 *        HI  NU           
         7    130 *        HO               

    *Bonus incorporates BIG PLAY bonus.     

    100 tile set with 8 I, 3 blank.         
    SWAP for the blank.                     
    Small word point cap?

 

*** VISION ***

I would like to see Scrabble I officially sanctioned by Scrabble's North American owner, Hasbro. It is certainly far more classy and justifiable than the variants using chips and dice, etc., now included in the physical Scrabble set. Of course, Scrabble I can be given a warmer, friendlier name, such as Scrabble For Word Lovers or People's Scrabble, etc.

Scrabble I need never be physically manufactured; after all, it can be played with any conventional Scrabble set, and the internet is where almost all Scrabble playing takes place now, anyhow.

The on-line Scrabble I program will be top-notch in every way, attracting players of the on-line Scrabble knockoffs back to "real Scrabble." Hasbro may promote Scrabble I, although word of the exciting, everybody-plays-everybody tournaments should burn quickly through the Scrabble-playing community of tens of millions on its own.

Scrabble I will rescue the masses from the philosophically broke form of Scrabble they have settled into. It is not the experts' "strategy" game involving the study of word lists, but neither is it wholly vocabulary based. A number of the experts' handy little "game pieces", which are never met in real life - or even a Merriam-Webster dictionary - have worked their way into the game by osmosis and pop up on every board.

Scrabble I will rescue the masses from the absurd "typing chimps" style currently played on-line. Internet Scrabble, and its ripoffs, won't even let you to enter an unacceptable word(!) That's not a game, folks!

Since the internet melts borders, Scrabble I will attract world Scrabble players in huge numbers. They will come not only for the irresistible fun and potential prize money, but for blessed relief from the staggeringly bizarre official word set for world Scrabble.

Thus, almost all worldwide English Scrabble playing will be brought back home to America, where it started and where it belongs, under the rightful ownership of Hasbro (and to its great financial benefit.)

The North American Scrabble Association (NASPA) will take charge of the Scrabble I tournaments, on-line and in-person. NASPA is well experienced in the operation of regular Scrabble tournaments. Scrabble players will have one-stop shopping for both "word list" Scrabble and "word lover" Scrabble; choose the one you like best (or both!)

Top players of modern, "regular" Scrabble who are willing to relinquish the outer 20% or so of their memorized words for the sake of playing Scrabble I can become rich and famous.

Scrabble I will be the first-ever sport or game in which all players, from the bottom to the top, will play together in the same "league", so to speak. Gone are the notions of "fan" and "spectator" and "professional vs. amateur" - you will actually be in competition with the greatest stars of your sport!

As fine as Scrabble I is, once it gets rolling, there's no reason not to step right up to Scrabble II, which is the same game with an 8th tile on the rack, an extended board and a much improved letter distribution. Bingo! Scrabble words are a letter bigger!

And now, at long last, we get around to, "What's in it for me?"

After the world has been playing Scrabble II for a while, and everyone's developed more of a taste for big words, and less of a taste for the worn-out shorties, it will be time for Scrabble III, with its six-letter minimum and words as big as you can speak and spell, to make its grand and glorious entrance.

Finally, I can join in. Hooray!

 

*** APPENDIX 1 - Further Discussion of the Two-letter Words ***

Consider this two-letter word list which has worked beautifully for years.

       The 72 Respectable  
        Two-Letter Words   
                           
    AB   DO   ID   OF   TA 
    AD        IF   OH   TI 
    AG   ED   IN   ON   TO 
    AH   EF   IS   OR      
    AI   EH   IT   OS   UH 
    AM   EL        OW   UM 
    AN   EM   LA   OX   UP 
    AR   EN   LI        US 
    AS   ER   LO   PA   UT 
    AT   EX        PI      
    AW        MA        WE 
    AX   FA   ME   RE   WO 
    AY        MI           
         GO   MU   SH   XI 
    BE        MY   SI      
    BI   HA        SO   YE 
    BY   HE   NO        YO 
         HI   NU           
         HO                

I arrived at this list by examining the 101 two-letter words in the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD, 4th edition, 2006). Seventy-eight (78) of them were found in a regular dictionary (American Heritage, 4th edition). And then I rejected 6 of those 78 for being too foreign (AA AE JO PE QI) or too stupid (ZA).

Although there is some pretty cheap junk in the list of 72 keepers -- who ever counted grunts and groans as real words growing up??? -- there is a good dose of order to it. The list consists of 34 very familiar words known to one and all (AM BY IF NO OX UP WE, etc.), and 38 cheapies that can be categorized as follows:

  English letters: EF EL EM EN AR EX (no ES).
  Greek letters: MU NU PI XI.
  Notes of the scale: DO/UT RE MI FA SO LA SI/TI DO.
  Interjections: AH AW EH ER HA HO OH OW SH UH UM YO.
  Lazy-mouth clips: AB AG BI ED.
  Uncommon: AI (sloth); LI (Chinese 500m); OS (mouth, or bone); 
            TA (thanks); WO (woe); UT and SI (musical notes).

And the "uncommon" two-letter words really aren't so bad. Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne both used "wo"; Paul McCartney acknowledged Beatles' audiences bilingually, "Ta, thanks!"; singers know si; musicologists know ut; think of bony OS-sify and OS-teoporosis. Never met an ai in readings or the wild, but I believe they've been hanging around since before Scrabble.

On the other hand, here are the 29 rejects.

AA AE AL BA BO DE ES ET FE HM JO KA KI MM MO NA NE OD OE OI OM OP OY PE QI UN XU YA ZA

Now that should look like a pretty bizarre list of words to any thinking English speaker! For the most part, Scrabble players play these things mindlessly, without any thought of meaning. Still, a small handful might look somewhat justifiable. Here are the very best of the rejects, and why a regular dictionary might reject them.

  ES: properly spelled "ess". 
  ET: past tense of "eat" properly spelled "eat", as in read/read, 
      hear/heard, mean/meant, etc.  
  HM and MM: recently added grunts.  Think: SH is the only vowel-less 
      two, and was scandalous itself in the first Scrabble dictionary!  
  JO: Scots.  If "jo" is so English, how come we sing, "For auld lang 
      syne, my dear"?  
  OM: proper noun, Om; the most sacred sound.  
  OP: only seen as part of the unit "op art". 
  OI and OY.  Think: if we reject Hebrew letters, what hope is there for 
      Yiddish grunts???
  QI and ZA: recently added Scrabble wreckers.  Qi is a wee bit furrin' 
      and generally proper; ZA is an embarrassment to anyone with a brain. 

And it's only downhill from there.

Looking at the details like this, please don't lose sight of the main point and the big picture; which is... What you're giving up is what's been holding you down! If the funny little Scrabble words aren't there, you can't play funny little Scrabble words ad infinitum!

If you feel you have to retain any of them in your Scrabbling, I can't stop you. But I can assure you that the list of 72 "respectable" two-letter words has worked wonderfully in our Scrabble club for years. We play more distinct words than anybody, anywhere. Take a look at all the words played in the Dover Scrabble club, and hold on to your hats!

Feel free to ignore one final thought on the acceptable grunts and groans:

  Interjections: AH AW EH ER HA HO OH OW SH UH UM YO.

You can bet that if I had my way, the only survivors would be AH, HA, and OH, which are in a time-honored class by themselves. And this would make Scrabble a much more thoughtful crossword game! But, fighting for this one, I might just as well haul myself up on a crossbeam and bash the spikes in, myself.

 

*** APPENDIX 2 - Play Scrabble I On-line with a Friend! ***

Scrabble I can (almost) be played now on-line between two players who agree to the additional Scrabble I rules while playing Scrabble or Scrabble rip-offs such as Words With Friends.

You won't be able to do anything about the letter distribution, or swap for the blank, but you can agree to the "three letter minimum" rule and keep track of the bonus points for Big Plays and Stretches manually. (If you're daring enough to try the Small Word Point Cap rule, you can keep track of the downward adjustments manually.)

The computer's word set is not under your control, but you could handle that by simply agreeing on a "respectable" Two-Letter Word List (as recommended above), and an additional short list of taboo words.

I've shown the 29 rejected two-letter words from among the 101 given in the official Scrabble dictionary (OSPD, 2006). The OSPD has about 1000 three-letter words, and I could also list the 200 or so that you wouldn't find in your regular dictionary. But they would almost all look unfamiliar to you, anyway. You probably only know about 600 of the 800 or so three-letter words in your regular dictionary, never mind the ones which fall outside of it. The same would hold for the list of 140 or so four-letter OSPD words with a J, K, Q, X, or Z that you probably wouldn't find in a regular dictionary. And for words longer than that, most Scrabble players work almost completely from their own vocabularies, anyway.

The point is, it takes just a surprisingly short list of disallowed Scrabble "goodies" to bring the play in line with a regular dictionary for the masses of Scrabble players. Here is a suggested list for playing Scrabble I on-line.

  Disallowed Word List for Scrabble I:

  AA AE AL BA BO DE ES ET FE HM JO KA KI MM MO NA NE OD OE OI OM OP OY PE QI UN XU YA ZA 
  All Q-without-a-U words: QI QAT SUQ QADI QAID TRANQ QINTAR QIVIUT etc. 
  All Hebrew letters: FE PE QOPH TAV VAV VAW WAW etc.
  Trashy threes: AZO DEX FIZ GOX JEE JEU JIN JOW JUN JUS OKA REX SUK VOX ZAG ZIG ZEP ZIN ZOA 
  Trashy fours: AJEE AZON EAUX FRIZ OXID OXIM QUIN RITZ 

Everything else in the computer's Scrabble dictionary is fair game.

If you're still scratching your head and wondering how a more limited (i.e., refined) word set can lead to a greater variety of words played, and much longer words, try a thought experiment. Think: if you can't play your QI and QAT (for the 3,000th time!), you will have to play an honest Q word. And if you get your play up to 5 or more tiles, you will snag a bonus, probably beating that simpleminded QI play, anyway! Please take a look at all the Q-words played in the Dover Scrabble Club using a regular dictionary to see what you're in for.

 

*** APPENDIX 3 - Sample Scrabble I Board ***

Here is one of the first Scrabble I games played with all of the rules laid out above (except for the Small Word Point Cap rule.) I chose it for the nice long words - every length represented up to ten. You can see the striking impact of the stretch bonus.

Scrabble I board.
Sample Scrabble I Board

    10: ETHEREALLY
     9: REPAYMENT
     8: OUTDOING OPERATED
     7: APTERYX SERVICE
     6: BABOON GARAGE JOINED CANVAS
     5: QUILT THIEF
     4: JUNK ZINC LOFT YORE WINE
     3: FAD
     2: DO BE AR EF BY OX

On the other hand, the JQZ words are rather dull. (Hey, you can't have everything in every game.) But even with the higher than normal 6 twos, there are only 24 words on the final board, and an average word length of 4.92 letters. Compare that with what you take for granted in a "regular" Scrabble game, over 40 words averaging a little over 3 letters apiece.

Also note the nice lagoon closed off by FAD. I like Scrabble lagoons. :-)

 

*** Legal Statement ***

I retain the rights to these additions, adjustments, and modifications giving rise to Scrabble I, singly or in combination, insofar as I may be allowed.

 


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