Sunday, January 20, 2013

Scrabbling for Blog Topics

There is some controversy in the Scrabble world. Seems that the language has outpaced the game, and that letters like Q and Z, once the bane of a rack, are now easily played and thus overvalued.

(In case you haven't played in awhile, qi (the Chinese life force) and za (short for 'pizza' are acceptable plays now.)

I've been playing Scrabble since I was about six. I am nowhere near tournament-level...I average a bingo every third game or so, whereas professional players can expect a minimum of two per game. But as a Scrabble dabbler, I feel the need to weigh in.

In family games, we very rarely used the dictionary because the rule was you had to know the definition of any word you played. Once you leave the familial shelter, you'll find yourself easy prey to people playing monstrosities like cwm (the Welsh term for a glaciated valley). Every single day somebody plays a word I've never seen before in my life--in the last 24 hours I've had wud and lagered used against me. I look up these words whenever they appear--not to challenge, since online Scrabble and its derivatives like Words With Friends will not allow you to play an invalid word--but to increase my vocabulary. Wud is a neat word: it's Scottish for "insane". My reaction to lagered was visceral, not just because it looks ridiculous--watch out, you've been verbed--but because my friend Craig scored a freakin' bingo with that word. Turns out that 'to lager' means to cold-store yeast in the world of beer-making. No wonder I didn't know that word, considering how beer tastes like moose-piss and all. But I'd be wud not to use either of those words next time I have the opportunity, um, wouldn't I?

I realize that word choice are arbitrary and that if something appears in a dictionary, it's a word. Seriously? Since that's obviously a contraction of pizza, it should be spelled 'za and thus an unacceptable Scrabble play. My scruples won't prevent me from using za to rack up points, but I feel a little guilty about it. It feels like sanctioned cheating. Oddly enough, I'm okay with qi, with the proviso that the q really shouldn't be worth 10 points any more.

More bothersome are the words that haven't made the dictionary, but are in common use. Some of them are a tad rude, like twink and shart--but you can drop an F-bomb or a C-word in a Scrabble game with impunity. Fuck is actually not a bad play--lay it down on a triple word and you've got yourself as many as 51 points. I've had opponents play nigger and yid and other racial slurs--hey, they may be ugly words, but they're words. A couple of weeks ago, I actually played jism for quite a few points. (Interestingly, the word 'gangbang' has at various times been deemed acceptable and off-limits.)

Zen has long bothered me. Supposedly it's a proper noun and as such unplayable. Actually,while it does refer to a school of Buddhism (and 'buddha' is a playable word!), it need not be capitalized in English. If stoner lingo like za is fine, then zen should be, too. Peace out, dude.

Never mind that: the word 'razzmatazz" is good to go on a Scrabble board...if you can find a way to play it. There's only one z tile and two blank tiles, so good luck with that, 

The word pwn has made the dictionaries, but it's not an acceptable Scrabble play yet. Ditto teh, which I still think is just plain stupid...but again, stupid words are still words, just like stupid people are still people.

If I was in charge of changing the letter values, I'd definitely drop the worths of q and z...but there are letters that I think should be rated higher, chief among them U and V. 

I hate Vs. They invariably show up in a rack otherwise afflicted with vowelitis. There are no two letter words with a V as either the first or second letter. I find them among the hardest letters to get rid of. And u? Yes, it's a vowel, but not a common one. It seems to me absurd that a u and an e are worth the same single solitary point. 

One last rule change: an automatic twenty points for anyone who gets a rack, as I seem to at least once per match, looking anything close to this:


Swap, swap, swap. I'd much rather draw out a rack like


--find me an open i and I have pix, or an o and there's cox, an a and there's zax for a whole lotta points...not to mention neither the j (jo) the q (qi) or the z (za) pose any kind of problem to play any more. But AEIIIUU? Forget it. You're bound to waste at least two turns on hideously low-scoring plays just to deplete your surplus of i's and remove at least one u.

Happy Scrabbling, people. If you don't play, give it a try: it'll increase your vocabulary...and just maybe your qi.


No comments: