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(Attention, games programmers! If you can give me a "Scrabulous", and wouldn't mind becoming a billionaire, please get in touch. Thanks.)

Scrabble O For Word Lovers

What Scrabble OUGHT to have been from the beginning!

The Rules

Here are the rules for Scrabble O For Word Lovers. As discussed in the Scrabble O introduction page, Scrabble O makes these fixes to "regular", modern Scrabble:

1. Three letter minimum requirement.

2. Swap for the blank.

3. Big Play Bonus for plays of 5, 6, or 7 tiles.

4. Stretch Bonus for stretching a word by 2 or more letters.

5. Tile distribution: remove one "I"; add one blank.


RULE 1 (Scrabble O) - The word set

The word set will be based on a regular American college dictionary.

For more discussion, refer to the corresponding section in the Scrabble For Word Lovers common rules page.

RULE 2 (Scrabble O) - Good words only (the "challenge rule")

"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.

For more discussion, refer to the corresponding section in the Scrabble For Word Lovers common rules page.

RULE 3 (Scrabble O) - 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  

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 invoked as a push towards bigger, healthier words in Scrabble; hooking across the end of an existing word does not open up a back door to the "terrible twos" and their cheap points!

The three letter minimum rule applies to the bitter end; there is no relaxation when the bag is empty.

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 O) - Classic 7-tile rack

Scrabble O uses a 7-tile rack, as in Scrabble's original box top rules. I mention this because Scrabbles II and III use an 8-tile rack.

RULE 5 (Scrabble O) - Big Play bonus

Instead of the single, all or nothing 50-point bonus for playing all 7 tiles in classic Scrabble, Scrabble O 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!)

Now, with the Big Play bonuses, finding nice, long words ("playing your rack") will generally win out over the familiar Scrabble strategy of tying in short words on premium squares ("playing the board"). While the "three letter minimum" rule gives a little push towards bigger, healthier words, here the Big Play bonus gives a big pull.

RULE 6 (Scrabble O) - 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 crummy points? When you could've made 28 for HO/HA on triple letter score?

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

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

     (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.

A memory trick for the small stretches is, "number of tiles added; subtract 1; double it; slap a zero on." So, for example, the stretch bonus for adding 3 tiles is: 3-1=2; 2x2=4; 4->40. Got it? - "minus one, then double."

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. Notice the extra boost in the stretch bonus pattern going from 4 to 5 tiles. As with the "big play" bonus itself, using 5 of your 7 tiles in a play is considered meritorious.

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... now Scrabble has options to weigh!

RULE 7 (Scrabble O) - 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 says that a blank needs 26 times as much thinking as a specified letter. You might say, blanks are where the thinking starts in Scrabble!

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 8 (Scrabble O) - 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 ain't bad!

RULE 9 (Scrabble O) - Classic 15x15 board

Scrabble O is played on the classic 15x15 board. I mention this because Scrabbles I, II and III use the extended board.

RULE 10 (Scrabble O) - The letter distribution

Scrabble O 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, or sticking a bit of post-it note over an "I".)

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 two blanks as standard equipment, and 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 single-use blanks.

RULE 10.1 (Scrabble O) - Expose final rack

In a Scrabble game with a fixed, known set of tiles, you can know what's on your opponent's rack when the bag is empty by reckoning all the tiles visible to you. This is known as tile tracking.

"Expose final rack" says that, in a two-person game, when the bag is empty, both players complete the game with their tiles in full view of the other player.

So now you get the benefit of tile tracking without having to perform the drudge work. Imagine the millions upon millions of hours of Scrabble brain power sunk in tile tracking that would have been saved if this had been a box top rule! (Never mind the dubious value of tile tracking. I mean, exactly what percentage of your games do you win by playing your opponent's rack at the very end? Shouldn't you be thinking about your own play?)

That's the rule, although, of course, if you disregard it in friendly home play, no one will come kicking down your door. And notice it only applies to Scrabble O in the Scrabble For Word Lovers suite since the other three games use a random scoop of tiles for each game.


*** Summary of differences with "regular" Scrabble ***

Here, at a glance, are the differences between modern, "regular" Scrabble and Scrabble O For Word Lovers.

  "Regular" Scrabble                    Scrabble O
  ------------------                    ----------

  Word list memorization                Vocabulary-based

  Overloaded OSPD                       Regular dictionary

  Weird two-letter words                Refined 2-letter word list

  Invalid words allowed                 Points for good words only

  Bluffing                              No bluff element

  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

  Tile tracking                         Expose final rack

  A few thousand players                Tens of millions of players?

  Top players wallow in obscurity       Top players rich $uper$tars!


*** Scrabble O on a slip ***

Here is Scrabble O on a Slip, suitable for printing in a fixed-width font, and keeping by your rack at the Scrabble O table:

     SCRABBLE O       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               
  Regular dictionary; all words checked.  
  Classic 15x15 board and 7-tile rack.    
  Classic 100 tile set with 8I, 3 blank.  
  SWAP for the blank.                     
  * Bonus incorporates BIG PLAY bonus.    


*** Legal statement and a plea ***

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

Having said that, I would be happy to give Scrabble O to Hasbro for free if that's what it takes to make the Scrabble world safe again for word lovers. Anyone out there with the connections to talk to them?


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