Scrambling to win We move on from crosswords this week to Scrabble – a game I view with ambivalent feelings. On the credit side, it’s a word game and word games are my passion; it’s competitive and you get to broaden the scope of your vocabulary from words the opponent puts down, which you didn’t know the meaning of or weren’t aware existed.
Hey, scratch that last one and shove it on the debit side – for Scrabble not only allows hundreds of words that you and I (not diehard Scrabblers) weren’t aware of, the game doesn’t require any player to know what those words mean.
The source of reference for looking up allowable words in the event of a challenge has evolved (I prefer the word degenerated) from a good comprehensive dictionary (hard copy or online) to mere lists of ‘legal’ words stripped of their definitions. These were initially published as “Official ScrabbleWords” and are now referenced online with programmes like Zyzzyva (a clever word there, it being the last word on the subject). In other words, a curious player can’t peek next to a word to look at its meaning, because it isn’t there.
In its present version, therefore, Scrabble has been reduced to a purely mathematical game, one in which players alternately place one to seven numbered tiles on the board in such a fashion as to maximise their score and minimise their opponent’s opportunities. Highscoring players have emerged from among pre-teens of the textspeak era and from among nationalities who can barely speak English.
An idle thought then springs as a natural corollary: why not do away with the dictionary entirely, allowing any combination of letters to count as a “word”? Retain only one fierce objective: to win at all costs.
A little internet surfing yielded the astonishing fact that this was proposed as a variation for jaded players as far back as 1974. One editor commissioned a Scrabble board diagram, and the highest single-move score possible in such a no-dictionary Scrabble game was 3,119 points, with a final combined score of 5,609! Anyone interested in seeing the moves required to reach that score can mail me at friday@ gulfnews.com.