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Scrabble -
Changes to the Box Top Rules,
1948 - 1999

Here's a detailed look at how the Scrabble box top rules have changed over the years. In the pursuit of old Scrabble games (mainly for extra tiles for creating 300-tile sets for Scrabble II For Word Lovers, which see elsewhere on my site) I had acquired sets showing latest copyright dates of 1949, 1953, 1976, 1989, and 1999. At each of those year boundaries, the rules were changed to some extent or another, or at least reworded slightly.

It was my first "1949" set, which I lucked onto at Spence's Auction, in Dover, Delaware, in January 2008, which prompted me to create this web page. After all, how many people do I know personally who I can run up to and gush, "Oo, ooh! Look! Here it says 'light red' - and then, and then . . . they changed it to pink!!!"

Then, five years later, Scrabble's holy grail, a "1948" set, materialized! Up to that time, I and other Scrabble historians I was in contact with could find no hint of an existing "1948" set. But in January 2013, Katie found a "1948" set, complete and in excellent, hardly-used shape, in a Salvation Army thrift store in Connecticut. (For its first few years, Scrabble was produced in Newtown, Connecticut.) Katie graciously supplied photos, including a shot of the inner lid with the complete rules. Three cheers for Katie!

Here is that thumbnail history of Scrabble, extracted from Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis.

       1937-1947:  Alfred Butts finalizes Criss-Cross Words. He sells about 100 sets.
            1947:  Butts turns the game over to James Brunot. Brunot weeds out a few 
                   premium squares around the middle of the board; adds 50-point 
                   bingo bonus; renames it Scrabble!
     Summer 1948:  Brunot makes a few hundred(?) Scrabble sets, mainly for promotional use.
        Dec 1948:  1948 SCRABBLE RULES.
        Jul 1949:  1949 SCRABBLE RULES.
            1949:  2413 games sold.
            1950:  1632 games sold.
            1951:  4859 games sold.
     Summer 1952:  200 games/week. Brunot returns from vacation to find 2500 orders! 
3rd Quarter 1952:  500+ games/week. 
4th Quarter 1952:  2000 games/week.
      Early 1953:  6000 games/week; but orders arriving by tens of thousands! 
      March 1953:  Brunot licenses production and marketing to Selchow & Righter.  
      later 1953:  1953 SCRABBLE RULES. 
            1953:  800,000 games sold, regular and cardboard.
            1954:  3,798,555 games sold.
      Jan 1 1971:  Brunot sells Scrabble outright to Selchow & Righter.
            1976:  1976 SCRABBLE RULES.
            1986:  Coleco buys Selchow & Righter.
            1989:  Hasbro acquires assets of bankrupt Coleco.  
            1989:  1989 SCRABBLE RULES. Milton Bradley division of Hasbro makes Scrabble. 
            1999:  1999 SCRABBLE RULES. Parker Brothers division of Hasbro makes Scrabble. 

If you stew over that chronology a while, you'll see that changes to the Scrabble box top rules generally did not happen simultaneously with business shakeups. For instance, the "1949" rules continued for some time after Selchow & Righter took over production and marketing (but not ownership) in March 1953. And the "1953" rules remained unchanged when Selchow & Righter bought Scrabble outright in 1971. The "1976" rules remained unchanged when Coleco bought Selchow & Righter in 1986.

In the "Author's Note" at the beginning of his book, Fatsis claims to present rules "from the first version manufactured in 1948." But these are really the 1953 rules, except for four or five alternate or dropped words. So here, finally, to provide the essential foundation for our study, are the very earliest Scrabble rules, copyrighted December 1, 1948. (Thanks again, Katie!)


In the beginning . . .   the 1948 Scrabble rules, complete!

 

S C R A B B L E

SCRABBLE is a word game for 2, 3 or 4 players. The play consists of forming interlocking words, cross-word fashion, on the SCRABBLE playing board using letter tiles with various score values. Each player competes for high score by using his letters in combinations and locations that take best advantage of letter values and premium spaces on the board. The combined total score for a single game (with 2, 3 or 4 players) may range from about 500 points to 700 or more depending on the skill of the players.

TO BEGIN:

Turn all tiles face down at the side of the board and shuffle. Draw for first play. The player drawing the letter nearest the beginning of the alphabet plays first. Put the exposed letters back and re-shuffle. Each player then draws seven new tiles and places them on his rack.

THE PLAY:

1. The first player combines two or more of his letters to form a word and places them on the board to read either across or down with one letter on the center * space. Diagonal words are not permitted.

2. He completes his turn by counting and announcing his score for the turn and then drawing as many new letters as he has played, thus always keeping a rack of seven letters.

3. Play passes to the left. The second player, and then each in turn, adds one or more letters to those already played so as to form new words. He may add to the beginning, the end or both of a word already played. Or he may form a word at right angles to a previous word but joining with it or incorporating one of its letters.

4. All letters played in any one turn must be placed in one row across or down the board. They must form a single complete word in that row and, at the same time, form complete words, cross-word fashion, with all touching letters in rows at right angles.

5. No letter may be shifted after it has been played.

6. Each of the two blank tiles may be played as any letter desired. After a blank has been declared it cannot be changed during the game. Blanks have no score value at any time.

7. Any player may use his turn to replace any or all of the letters in his rack by discarding them face down and drawing the same number of new letters. No letters may be played until the next turn.

8. Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except proper nouns, foreign words, abbreviations and words requiring apostrophies or hyphens. Consult a dictionary only to check spelling or usage. Any word may be challenged until the player has completed his turn.

9. Play continues until all tiles have been drawn and one of the players has used all of the letters in his rack or until all possible plays have been made.

SCORING:

10. The score for each turn is the sum of the score values of all letters in each word formed in the play plus the premium values resulting from placing letters on premium spaces.

11. Blue spaces double or triple the normal score value of a letter but only in the turn in which the letter is played on the space. In subsequent plays the letters count at normal value.

12. Red spaces double or triple the total score (including double or triple letter values) for each word formed by placing the letter on the space. Their premium value does not apply in subsequent plays. A blank tile placed on a red space doubles or triples the total score for other letters in the word even though the blank itself has no score value.

13. When two or more words are formed in the same play each is scored. The common letter is counted (with full premium value, if any) in the score for each word.

14. Any player who plays all seven of his letters in a single turn scores a premium of 50 points in addition to his regular score for the play.

15. At the end of the game each player's score is reduced by the total value of any unplayed letters. If one player has used all of his letters his score is increased by the total amount deducted from the scores of all other players.

 

EXAMPLE OF WORD FORMATION AND SCORING

In the following example of four successive plays the scores shown are the correct scores if the letter R is placed on the center * space. In turn 1 count HORN; in turn 2, FARM; in turn 3, PASTE and FARMS; in turn 4, MOB, NOT and BE.

Turn 1: Turn 2: Turn 3: Turn 4: F F F A A A H O R N H O R N H O R N H O R N M M M O B P A S T E P A S T E (Score 14) (Score 9) (Score 25) (Score 16)

THE PRODUCTION AND MARKETING CORPORATION

Newtown, Connecticut

Copyright 1948 - P. & M. Corp.

 

Scrabble rules 1948.
The proof.

 
[From now on, my own commentary will be confined to brackets.

[At a glance, the above rules would hardly look any different to you from those in later Scrabble inner lids, the content, wording, and layout in two columns being so similar. Maybe it would jump out at you that there are no boxes around the example plays at the bottom. But on this first go-round, there are only 15 numbered rules. That will jump up to 20 in the very next period, the 1949 rules. Note that there are no references to the example plays within the body of the 1948 rules, and the newly played letters in the examples are not bold-faced yet. And, in case you were wondering, "apostrophies" was spelled just like that in rule 8.

[From here on you will get just the changes from one period to the next, not complete rule sets. In the side-by-side comparisons, I use italics where I think they might help you see a specific difference. If the italics don't seem to denote a change, then figure they appeared in the printed rule.]

 


Changes from the 1948 Scrabble rules to the 1949 Scrabble rules

***

1948:

S C R A B B L E

1949:

RULES FOR PLAYING

S C R A B B L E

[Later sets with 1949 rules will show "Reg. U.S. Pat. Off." in small type under "SCRABBLE". Research indicates that Brunot filed for a trademark for "SCRABBLE" on December 16 1948, and that it was registered by the Patent Office on April 25 1950.]

***

1948: [intro paragraph] ...using letter tiles with various score values.

1949: [intro paragraph] ...using letter-tiles with various score values.

[Yes! even the appearance of a hyphen fascinates us Scrabble historians!]

***

1948: ...and locations that take best advantage of letter values and premium spaces on the board.

1949: ...and locations that take best advantage of letter values and premium squares on the board.

[All 1948 "spaces" will become "squares" in 1949.]

***

1948: The combined total score for a single game (with 2, 3 or 4 players) may range...

1949: The combined total score for a single game may range...

[I like the parenthetical. It hammers home the fact that total points scored in a Scrabble game are more or less limited. I find that almost all Scrabble players insist they do "better" in two-person games. No, you will grab up your points at the same average rate no matter how many people are playing. And, if you let your hair down, you might find multi-person games to be much more social and lively. I wonder if the parenthetical was stricken to get the intro paragraph down from six lines to five to help make space for the beefed-up 1949 rules.]

***

1948: Turn all tiles face down...
1949: Turn all letters face down...

1948: Each player then draws seven new tiles...
1949: Each player then draws seven new letters...

[Hmmm, in both cases, "tiles" sounds more appropriate to me.]

***

1948: 1. ... with one letter on the center * space.

1949: 1. ... with one letter on the center * square.

***

1948: 2. He completes his turn by...
1949: 2. A player completes his turn by...

1948: ... thus always keeping a rack of seven letters.
1949: ... thus always keeping seven letters in his rack.

***

1948: 4. ... They must form a single complete word in that row and...
1949: 4. ... They must form one complete word in that row and...

1948: ... form complete words, cross-word fashion, with all touching letters in rows at right angles.
1949: ... form complete words, cross-word fashion, with all letters they touch in rows at right angles.

[This is the rule that a well-meaning editor at Hasbro will totally bungle 50 years later. So far, no one's ever noticed...]

***

1948: [no counterpart]

1949: [Rule 4 add-on] Only one new word is added to the playing board at a turn although it may be so placed as to form other words in adjoining rows, for which the player also gets credit. (See examples, Turn 4 MOB.)

[I wonder if it would have helped early on to define the "main word" of a play as the one which includes all the newly played letters. In Turn 4, NOT and BE are just as "new" as MOB. By the way, I really feel for Brunot. For as simple a concept as the legitimate Scrabble play is, it's confoundedly difficult to put into words. I'll bet that not a single person reading this learned to play Scrabble by reading and wrestling with the rules, but picked it up in minutes just by being shown. I've wondered if something like the following one-size-fits-all rule would have been much easier to grasp than the wrestling match with a bunch of individual cases of extension, alongside and crosswise plays. "All the tiles played in a turn must be played in a single row so that there are no gaps between the first and last, and so that all newly formed horizontal and vertical letter sequences are valid words." Would that do it?]

***

1948: 6. Each of the two blank tiles may be played as any letter desired.

1949: 6. The two blank tiles may be used as any letter desired.

***

1948: After a blank has been declared it cannot be changed...

1949: When playing a blank the player must state what letter it represents, after which it cannot be changed...

***

1948: 6. ... Blanks have no score value at any time.

1949: 11. ... The score value of a blank is zero.

***

1948: 7. [about trading tiles] No letters may be played until the next turn.

1949: 7. He then waits his next turn to play.

***

1948: 8. ... Any word may be challenged until the player has completed his turn.

1949: 8. ... Any word may be challenged before the player has drawn his new letters.

[No, "apostrophies" in Rule 8 did not get corrected in the 1949 rules.]

***

1948: [no counterpart]

1949: 10. Keep a tally of each player's score, entering it after each turn.

***

1948: [no counterpart]

1949: 11. The score value of each letter is indicated by a number at the bottom of the letter.

***

1948: 11. Blue spaces double or triple the normal score value of a letter...

1949: 13. Premium Letter Squares: A light blue square doubles the score of a letter played on it; a dark blue square triples the letter score.

***

1948: 12. Red spaces double or triple the total score (including double or triple letter values) for each word formed by placing the letter on the space.

1949: 14. Premium Word Squares: The score for the entire word is doubled when one of its letters falls on a light red square; it is tripled when a letter falls on a dark red square. ... Include premiums for double or triple letter values, if any, before doubling or tripling the word score.

***

1948: [no counterpart]

1949: 15. Note that the center * square is a light red square and therefore doubles the score for the first word.

***

1948: 11. [Blue spaces] ...but only in the turn in which the letter is played on the space. In subsequent plays the letters count at normal value.

1948: 12. [Red spaces] ... Their premium value does not apply in subsequent plays.

1949: 16. The above letter and word premiums apply only in the turn in which they are first played. In subsequent turns letters count at face value.

[So this one rule replaces similar material given separately in the 1948 rules for the "blue" and "red spaces".]

***

1948: 12. [Red spaces] ... A blank tile placed on a red space doubles or triples the total score for other letters in the word...

1949: 17. When a blank tile falls on a premium word square, the sum of the letters in the word is doubled or tripled...

[No net change here; just a slight restatement broken out as a separate rule.]

***

1948: 13. When two or more words are formed...

1949: 18. When two or more words are formed... (See examples, Turn 3 and 4 below.)

***

1948: 15. At the end of the game each player's score is reduced by the total value of any unplayed letters.
1949: 20. At the end of the game each player's score is reduced by the sum of his unplayed letters.

1948: If one player has used all of his letters his score is increased...
1949: If one player has used all of his letters his score is increased...

1948: by the total amount deducted from the scores of all other players.
1949: by the sum of the unplayed letters of all the other players.

[This nicely stated 1949 rule will be clumsily rewritten in 1976, and then restored just about back again 1989.]

 


Changes from the 1949 Scrabble rules to the 1953 Scrabble rules

The 20 numbered rules of the 1949 set were reduced to 18 here in 1953 by lumping the former rules 10 and 11 into one, and lumping the former rules 14 and 15 into one. The biggest shakeup is in rules 3 and 4, which explain how to form new words.

***

1949: 4. All letters played in any one turn must be placed in a row across or down the board.

1953: 3. All letters played in any one turn must be placed in one row across or down the board.

[The 1953 rule goes a little further in clarifying that all the tiles played in one turn are confined to the same row. If you were inclined to scatter your tiles around the board, you could argue, "Hey, each one is in a row!" If you were a pest...]

***

1949: 4. They [the tiles] must form one complete word in that row and, at the same time, form complete words, cross-word fashion, with all letters they touch in rows at right angles.

1953: 3. They [the tiles] must form one complete word and if, at the same time, they touch other letters in adjacent rows, they must form complete words, cross-word fashion, with all such letters.

[The confusion caused by this "touching at right angles" business in the earlier rules is hopefully eliminated. It seems to me the 1948 and 1949 rule would have been just fine if they had stopped cold at, "with all letters they touch." Period.]

***

1949: 3. He may add to the beginning, the end or both of a word already played.

1953: 4. New words may be formed by: a. Adding one or more letters to a word or letters already on the board.

[I don't know what they are driving at by adding "or letters" here. If you "add letters" to one side or the other, or both, of a single letter, you are forming a word at right angles to the existing word. And that case is addressed in the next sentence, whether 1948, 1949, or 1953 rules.]

***

1949: 3. Or he may form a word at right angles to a previous word but joining with it or incorporating one of its letters.

1953: 4. New words may be formed by: b. Placing a word at right angles to a word already on the board. The new word must use one of the letters of the word already on the board or must add a letter to it. (Turns 2, 3, and 4 below.)

[I think these say the exact same thing, assuming "joining with it" (1949) and "must add a letter to it" (1953), are both trying to say you may place a fully formed word across one end or the other of an existing word.]

***

1949: 4. Only one new word is added to the playing board at a time although it may be so placed as to form other words in adjoining rows, for which the player also gets credit.

1953: 3. The player gets full credit for all the words formed or modified by his play.

[I think the 1953 statement is a step up, but why not simply, "The player gets full credit for all the new words formed by his play"? A modified word is a new word on the board, darn it.]

***

1949: [No counterpart.]

1953: 4. New words may be formed by: c. Placing a complete word parallel to a word already played so that adjoining letters also form complete words. (Turn 5 below.)

[This is the biggest addition to the 1953 rules. The 1949 rules had just the first four Examples of Word Formation and Scoring you are familiar with pictured at the bottom of the rules. The 1953 rules added the BIT play:

      Turn 5: Score 16

               F   
               A   
           H O R N 
               M O B
           P A S T E
         B I T   
 

[Since none of the 1949 rules explicitly said you could place a fully-formed word from your rack alongside an existing word on the board, and none of the examples quite showed it, there must have been Scrabble players uncertain about it.]

***

Regarding exchanging tiles:

1949: 7. He does so by discarding them face down and drawing the same number of new letters. He then waits his next turn to play.

1953: 7. He does so by discarding them face down and drawing the same number of new letters, then mixing the discarded letters with those remaining in the pool. He then awaits his next turn to play.

[Of course, we know how to exchange tiles, but if the early rules didn't say what to do with the discards, how were the players to know for sure?]

***

1949: 8. Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except proper nouns,
1953: 8. Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except those capitalized,

1949: foreign words, abbreviations
1953: those designated as foreign words, abbreviations

1949: and words requiring apostrophies or hyphens.
1953: and words requiring apostrophes or hyphens.

[Bye bye, apostrophies!]

***

1949: Any word may be challenged before the player has drawn his new letters.
1953: Any word may be challenged before the next player starts his turn.

[I'm not sure what "starting a turn" is in Scrabble.]

1949: [No counterpart.]
1953: If the word challenged is unacceptable, the player takes back his tiles and loses his turn.

[The 1949 rules didn't say what happened in the case of a successfully challenged word. I suppose the most reasonable thing people wondered was, could he try again? As I write this (2012), virtually all online and electronic Scrabble is played with the "try, try again" challenge rule, or, as I call it, the "typing chimp" rule. The Scrabble and Scrabble knockoff programs won't let you go wrong! That's not a game, folks! ("Hey, ump, gimme another swing, will ya? I didn't mean to strike out!")]

***

1949: [No counterpart.]

1953: 13. If a word is formed that covers two premium word squares, the score is doubled and then re-doubled (4 times letter count), or tripled and then re-tripled (9 times letter count) as the case may be.

[This needed to be stated for at least two reasons. The first question is, if you're told twice to do something, should you do it twice? For instance, when you drive up to an intersection with a stop sign and a blinking red light, are you expected to stop twice? Then, supposing two multi-word score rewards really are intended, the question is, are the rewards additive or multiplicative? This won't make a numerical difference for the two double-word scores since 2+2=2x2, so let's think about the two triple-word scores. Do the premiums add or multiply? That is, do you score 3+3=6 times the value of the word, or 3x3=9 times the value of the word? We're all used to the latter, but I claim that a sextuple-word score is what you'd arrive at from the most literal interpretation of the instructions on the board. Each square says to triple the score of the word; neither square says "Triple the score calculated so far." If you argue for piggy-backed multiplication based on an analogy with scoring a play that covers both a premium letter and premium word square simultaneously, note the difference. In that case, the instructions on the board are unambiguous; the sequence of calculation is fixed. The letter value has to be multiplied by its premium in order to determine the score of the word, which has to happen before the score of the word can be multiplied by its premium. Me, I would vote for a rule change respecting the literal interpretation of the triple-word scores. A six-timer should be killer enough for anyone; a nine-timer is simply too far out of balance with the game's normal scoring.]

***

1949: 19. Any player who plays all seven of his letters in a single turn ...

1953: 17. Any player who plays all seven of his tiles in a single turn ...

[Maybe the word "tile" was considered safer, since a blank does not show a letter.]

 


Changes from the 1953 Scrabble rules to the 1976 Scrabble rules

***

1953: RULES FOR PLAYING SCRABBLE

1976: RULES FOR PLAYING SCRABBLE(R) BRAND CROSSWORD GAME

***

1953: SCRABBLE is a word game for 2, 3, or 4 players.

1976: Scrabble Crossword Game is a word game for 2, 3, or 4 players.

[Don't ask me who benefits from this confused mess of Scrabble vs. Scrabble Crossword Game vs. Scrabble(R) Brand Crossword Game. Lawyers?]

***

1953: The play consists of forming interlocking words ... using letter tiles with various score values.

1976: The play consists of forming interlocking words ... using letter tiles of different values.

***

1953: The combined total score for a game may range from about 500 points to 700 or more depending on the skill of the players.

1976: In a two-handed game, a good player scores in the 300-400 point range.

[Me, I like the points per game benchmark better. I suppose I'm a little funny in that I view the finished game as a team effort of all the players.]

***

1953: Turn all letters face down at the side of the board and shuffle.

1976: Turn all letters face down at the side of the board or pour them into a bag or other container, and shuffle.

[Good idea!]

***

1953: Draw for the first play.

1976: Draw for the first play. ... A blank supercedes all other tiles.

[I can't count the times in my life when I've heard Scrabble players exclaim, "I hate to go first!" Now, I never believe them when they say it, and my standard comeback is, "If that's so, you can always draw your seven tiles, place them face down without looking at them, and say, 'Pass!'" Strange how no one ever does that... But the point here is that no harm would be done if the player were allowed to use the blank as a blank and choose whichever letter he wants. For instance, he might choose a letter so that he follows a certain person in a multi-person game.]

***

1953: Any player may use his turn to replace any or all of the letters in his rack.

1976: A player may use his turn to exchange all, some, or none of the letters in his rack.

***

1953: [No counterpart.]

1976: Before the game begins, the players should agree upon the dictionary they will use.

***

1953: Any words found in a standard dictionary are permitted except those capitalized, those designated as foreign words, abbreviations and words requiring apostrophes or hyphens.

1976: All words labeled as a part of speech (including those listed of foreign origin, and as archaic, colloquial, slang, etc.) are permitted with the exception of the following: words always capitalized, abbreviations, prefixes and suffixes standing alone, words requiring a hyphen or an apostrophe.

***

1953: Consult a dictionary only to check spelling or usage.

1976: A dictionary should be consulted for challenges only.

[That 1953 rule harks back to 1948, verbatim. I'm still not sure what they were driving at. It sounds more like it sanctions open dictionary use than the opposite. Good riddance. I still frequently hear people ask, "Can you use a dictionary?" As I said above, that wouldn't be a game, folks!]

***

1953: [No counterpart.]

1976: If the word challenged is acceptable, the challenger loses his turn.

[There's the rule that turned Scrabble into a bluff game. Grrrr... Does anyone know who was responsible?]

***

1953: The score for each turn is the sum of the score values of all the letters in each word formed ...

1976: The score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word formed ...

***

1953: The score for the entire word is doubled when one of its letters is placed on a light red square ...

1976: The score for the entire word is doubled when one of its letters is placed on a pink square ...

***

1953: In subsequent turns letters count at face value.

1976: In subsequent turns, letters previously played on premium squares count at face value.

***

1953: When a blank tile falls on a light red or a dark red square, the sum of the letters in the word is doubled or tripled ...

1976: When a blank tile falls on a pink or red square, the value of the word is doubled or tripled ...

***

1953: At the end of the game each player's score is reduced ...

1976: At the end of the game when there are no tiles to draw, each player's score is reduced ...

[I'm not sure that the added condition about "no tiles to draw" is helpful. It almost makes it sound like the game is over when the bag is empty.]

***

1953: If one player has used all of his letters, his score is increased by the sum of the unplayed letters of all the other players.

1976: If one player has used all of his letters, the above procedure applies to the other players; in addition, the player who used all his letters receives the sum of the unplayed letters of all the other players.

[Is that clearer???]

***

1953: [No counterpart.]

1976: The player with the highest score wins the game.

[Definitely worth saying in the body of the rules . . . ]

***

1953: [No counterpart.]

1976: In the event of a tie, the player with the highest score before tallying the value of unplayed letters is the winner.

[Booo... If Player B battled back using shrewd rack management and keeping the leftover tile adjustment in sight to catch up with Player A, why should that be yanked away from him? As far as I can tell, most people do not like ties in any sort of competition. I think ties are great; both sides go away a winner.]

***

1953: [No counterpart.]

1976: SCRABBLE(R) is a registered trademark of Selchow & Righter Company.

 


Changes from the 1976 Scrabble rules to the 1989 Scrabble rules

My set with the 1989 rules is by Milton Bradley. There were no changes of any substance to the 1989 rules. The 18 rules of 1976 were retained, with the same numbering, even. They did break the rules into sections: Contents (of the game set), Setup, Game Play, Scoring, and How To Win.

The changes in the wording of the 1989 rules were numerous but, I repeat, of virtually no significance. Wherever masculine pronouns had been used, they were worked around or simply deleted. "He" became "the player" or "you". "His" became "his or her" or "a" or "that". The comparisons below show a few of those. You'll agree that, if the following are the biggest changes, which they are, we can safely ignore the small ones.

***

1976: In a two-handed game, a good player scores ...

1989: In a 2-player game, a good player scores ...

***

1976: The two blank tiles may be used as any letter desired.

1989: The two blank tiles may be used as any letters.

[Hmmm, I do see how the 1976 statement could be misinterpreted if you really tried.]

***

1976: ... the player must state what letter it represents, after which it cannot be changed during the game.

1989: ... the player must state which letter it represents. It remains that letter for the rest of the game.

***

1976: A player may use his turn to exchange all, some, or none of the letters in his rack.
1989: A player may use a turn to exchange all, some, or none of the letters in his or her rack.

1976: He does so by discarding them face down ...
1989: To do this, place your discarded letter(s) facedown [sic] ...

1976: He then awaits his next turn to play.
1989: This ends your turn.

***

1976: Before the game begins, the players should agree upon the dictionary they will use.

1989: Before the game begins, the players should agree upon the dictionary they will use, in case of a challenge.

***

1976: The letter and word premiums apply only in the turn in which they are first played. In subsequent turns, letters previously played on premium squares ...

1989: Letter and word premiums count only on the turn in which they are played. On later turns, letters already played on premium squares ...

***

1976: When a blank tile falls on a pink or red square ...

1989: When a blank tile is played on a pink or red square ...

[Note that the "falls on" wording had already been upgraded to "placed on" in the main rule for Premium Word Squares back in 1953. Now the separate rule for the blank tile is brought in line 36 years later.]

***

1976: Any player who plays all seven of his tiles in a single turn ...
1989: Any player who plays seven tiles on a turn ...

1976: ... scores a premium of 50 points in addition to his regular score for the play.
1989: ... scores a premium of 50 points after totaling his or her score for the turn.

[I like "in addition to".]

***

[For the Unplayed Letters rule, the clumsy verbiage added to the 1976 version was yanked, bringing it back to just about what it was in 1949.]

1949: At the end of the game each player's score is reduced by the sum of his unplayed letters.
1989: When the game ends, each player's score is reduced by the sum of his or her unplayed letters.

1949: If one player has used all of his letters his score is increased by the sum of the unplayed letters of all the other players.
1989: In addition, if one player used all letters, the sum of the other players' unplayed letters is added to that player's score.

 


Changes from the 1989 Scrabble rules to the 1999 Scrabble rules

My set with the 1999 rules has Parker Brothers and Hasbro logos. Here, the previous copyright dates are no longer listed, so it's a bit of an assumption that there were no intermediates between 1989 and 1999. I doubt the world will topple off its axis if I'm wrong about that.

All the 1989 subsections - Contents, Setup, Gameplay, Scoring, and How To Win - were retained. (Parker Brothers has turned "game play" into a compound word. Don't try it in Scrabble!) The game rules are still divided into the same 18 separate rules, although here the numbering starts over at 1 in the "Scoring" section. There's a new section at the end, "Rules for Shorter Gameplay" which gives rules for two Scrabble variants.

As before, many of the differences are inconsequential changes to the wording, such as changing "the player" to "you". But there's an attempt or two to straighten out lingering confusion in the rules. One of the "corrections" I can only interpret as a major blunder. See "Whew!" below.

***

1989: FOR 2 TO 4 PLAYERS

1999: FOR 2 TO 4 PLAYERS / AGES 8 TO ADULT

***

1989: In Scrabble, players form interlocking words...

1999: OBJECT

In the Scrabble(R) game, players form interlocking words...

[This previously-orphaned paragraph finally gets a subsection all its own with a title. And I'm still waiting for someone to get it through my thick skull who suffers if we just call Scrabble "Scrabble".]

***

1989: Each player competes for high score by taking advantage of the letter values, as well as the premium squares...

1999: Each player competes for high score by taking advantage of the letter tiles, as well as the premium squares...

["Letter values" makes more sense to me. I think the 1999 editor figured that someone coming to Scrabble with no experience whatsoever, and reading the rules for the first time, wouldn't even know yet that the letters have numeric values assigned. Allow me a short sermon here. I say that Scrabble provides clear support for my firm belief that nothing on earth can be learned more quickly, easily, and securely than with the guidance of a master, in spite of the wonders ascribed to self-learning. All that trial and error, and the dead ends, and the hair pulling, and the wheel spinning... make you even stronger in the end! Go read the manual, hahaha! Once again, I'll bet that of the millions of Scrabble players out there, nary a one actually learned how to play the game from the printed rules. Ok, maybe a few surviving veterans who first bought the game back in 1953 or earlier...]

***

1989: Turn all letters face down at the side of the board or pour them into a bag or other container, and shuffle.

1999: Place all the letters in the pouch, or facedown [sic] beside the board, and mix them up.

[The bag finally takes precedence! The rules finally catch up to what players have been doing for decades. Now, if the manufacturer would only supply a sturdy cloth bag big enough to hold 100 tiles and a human hand... As it is, the profit margin for Crown Royal whiskey probably comes from Scrabble players desperately seeking a good bag.]

***

1989: The player drawing the letter nearest the beginning of the alphabet plays first.
1999: The player with the letter closest to "A" plays first.

1989: A blank supersedes all other tiles.
1999: A blank tile beats any letter.

***

1989: Diagonal words are not permitted.

1999: Diagonal words are not allowed.

[Swapping in "allowed" for "permitted" is no big deal, but this gives me the opportunity to comment on a Scrabble rule that's always tickled my funny bone. It's been in the rules since 1948. My best guess is that Brunot was just being expansive (redundant) there. He had just told us that words have to go across or down. What would make anyone think he could place tiles diagonally on a play? Or is the issue expecting points for little diagonal words that are formed incidentally? In either case, closing your eyes and poking your finger almost anywhere in the rules would dissuade you of such nonsense. But there it is: "Diagonal words are not permitted - or even allowed!" Imagine all the plays that would have to come off the board if this rule were interpreted literally. For instance, in the example plays shown at the bottom of the rules themselves, Turns 2 and 4 would be disallowed. Turn 2 (FARM) forms the diagonal word AN (also, MO and OM if you don't mind modern Scrabble's loony word list.) And Turn 4 (MOB/NOT/BE) forms the diagonal words ROE and SO.]

      Turn 2         Turn 4
                  
         F             F   
         A             A   
     H O R N       H O R N 
         M             M O B
                   P A S T E

***

1989: The player then draws as many new letters as played, thus always keeping seven letters in his or her rack.

1999: Then draw as many new letters as you played, always keeping seven letters on your rack, as long as there are enough left in the bag.

[That's more rigorously correct, of course, although I doubt that the former, short and sweet statement of the rule caused any problems.]

***

1989: All letters played in a turn must be placed in one row across or down the board, to form one complete word. If, at the same time, they touch other letters in adjacent rows...

1999: All letters played in a turn must be placed in one row across or down the board, to form at least one complete word. If, at the same time, they touch other letters in adjacent rows...

[Whew! How else can you interpret that but to mean that you can make multiple, unconnected words in the same row in one play? The follow-up sentence addresses the secondary words formed perpendicular to the row you play in, and the wording makes clear the secondary words were not under discussion in the first sentence. I'd be surprised if anyone on earth has implemented this "multiple, unconnected words in one row" rule in Scrabble - further evidence of my claim that people learn mostly by being shown how, rather than by reading instructions.]

***

1989: No letter may be shifted after it has been played.

1999: No tile may be shifted or replaced after it has been played and scored.

[Much better, says me. Prior to 1999, someone could have been a complete pest about a tile that first touches the board somewhere other than the square the player intended for it.]

***

1989: Any word may be challenged before the next player starts a turn.
1999: Any play may be challenged before the next player starts a turn.

1989: If the word challenged is unacceptable...
1999: If the play challenged is unacceptable...

1989: If the word challenged is acceptable...
1999: If the play challenged is acceptable...

1989: [no counterpart]
1999: All words (not just one) made in one play are challenged simultaneously. If any word is unacceptable, the entire play is unacceptable. Only one turn is lost on any challenge.

[If it seems odd that it took this long to clarify the uncertainty about challenging a word versus words in a play, remember that it only became a concern after Scrabble was turned into a bluff game in 1976. Before that, there was no reason a player couldn't challenge all the words in a play one after another.]

***

1989: Keep a tally of each player's score...

1999: The scorekeeper tallies each player's score...

[Let me take this opportunity to comment on what I see as a very dismal state of affairs in manual scorekeeping in Scrabble. There are probably hundreds of additions and multiplications performed in the course of a Scrabble game, each one of which is "very easy." But to do hundreds of easy things without a mistake becomes quite a difficult thing. Based on what I've seen, I'm guessing that less than 1 in 100 Scrabble games played in the home are scored totally correctly. In casual Scrabble clubs that figure may rise to about 2 or 3 in 10. In more serious clubs, I'm guessing it's still less than 7 in 10. In the one official tournament I entered, the director expressed mild exasperation with the "numerous corrections" he had to make to the score cards. I remember a very intelligent player arguing once, "What does it matter if the scores aren't correct? We'll play from that point as if they were correct." Sure, I know it's "only a game", and that "what you don't know can't hurt you", and that there will be just as much celebrating and sorrowing over false scores as true, but wouldn't it all be much more "worthwhile" if we knew the final score really did represent what happened in the game? Please, everybody, double-check everything!]

***

1989: The score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word formed...

1999: The score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word(s) formed...

[The former, without the "(s)", is perfectly clear, right?]

***

1989: Any player who plays seven tiles on a turn, scores a premium of 50 points...

1999: BINGO! If you play seven tiles on a turn, it's a Bingo. You score a premium of 50 points...

[Here's another example of the Scrabble owners catching up with what the players have been doing for decades. Me, I've always hated the word "bingo" in Scrabble, but I guess it's too late now.]

***

1989: [no counterpart]

1999: RULES FOR SHORTER GAMEPLAY

New Scrabble game players should find these versions faster and more inviting than the standard version.

[Scrabble has a reputation for being a slow game?]

9-TILE SCRABBLE

This variant is identical to the original game except players have 9 tiles on their racks...

[Playing with 9 tiles may be more fun for other reasons, but I see no reason why it would speed up a game. In spite of the extra tiles, there's no added inducement to play longer words than in conventional Scrabble, so most words formed will still be only two or three letters long. See my various pages on Scrabble II For Word Lovers to see how the game can finally escape the clutches of the terrible twos and threes.]

FINISH LINE SCRABBLE

In this variant, the game is over when one player reaches a pre-decided score, no matter how many tiles are left. ...

[I wonder how many people have tried this. My first comment is, if the point is just to get the game over with, why bother at all? Secondly, my own experience indicates that people find it extremely unsatisfying having to abort a Scrabble game. Heck, it's hard enough to stop at just one.]

 

*** Final (little) Word ***

The rule prohibiting diagonal words got me thinking about where the rules prohibit single-letter words. Most modern, conventional dictionaries include 26 of them, from A to Z. But nowhere in the Scrabble rules do they explicitly set a two letter minimum or say that single-letter words aren't scored. The closest they come is in Rule 1, whereby "the first player combines two or more of his letters to form a word", and Rule 11, whereby "the score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word..." If single-letter words were allowed, they might have written "letter value(s)" there. Of course, we all know - from being told how to play Scrabble, and from the lack of single-letter words in official Scrabble word sets - that they don't count, but it's the sort of thing rule makers can't take for granted.

Even talking about single letters as words in Scrabble probably sounds silly. But consider that each one of those "words" has a two-letter plural: AS, BS, CS, DS, ... XS, YS, and ZS. These, too, have been in dictionaries for decades. Serious Scrabble players have shown an insatiableness for juicy little words, no matter how far removed from the mainstream of our language, so it's always been a mystery to me why these two-letter plurals of the letters of the alphabet have not been brought into any of the the official Scrabble dictionaries. Is it possible Scrabble players do have some shame?

 
Please visit the companion page on rough dating of your Scrabble set.

 


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