The classic example of a crossword game. Though it wasn't the first, today it is the game against which all other games where words are built across and down on a board are compared.

Scrabble is played on a 15x15 board by two to four players. Players each draw 7 letter tiles from a bag of 100 tiles and replenish their racks to 7 after each play. Each letter is worth a certain number of points, from 1 for common letters to 10 for Q and Z, but two tiles are blank. The blank tiles may be turned into any letter when played but are worth no points.

Players take turns, on each turn playing one word using tile(s) from their rack. (Additional words may be formed in a turn perpendicular to that word, but all letters must be part of one main word.) Players receive a score based on the sum of values of the letters in the word(s) formed or modified, taking into account bonus squares that can double or triple the value of an individual letter or an entire word. The bonus squares only count on the turn a letter is played on them; future words using that letter count it normally.

Players receive a 50-point bonus for using all 7 tiles in a single turn; this is not doubled or tripled by bonus squares. The term bingo is used to describe such plays.

The primary strategy in the game consists of finding high-scoring plays using double and triple word scores, high-scoring letters on bonus squares, and bingos. Two important secondary strategies are avoiding leaving open good lines to the triple word score spaces, and saving blanks for good plays (bingos and others of 50 points or more, generally). Other strategies are rack balancing (trying to save useful letters like E's and S's and trying to achieve a good mixture of vowels and consonants and trying to get rid of most duplicate letters), tile tracking (like card counting; keeping track of what letters are left unplayed), and opening or closing the board (a player who is ahead should play so as to make it difficult to play large words, to avoid giving his opponent a chance for a big play to catch up.

See also these types of plays: hook, parallel play

Scrabble was invented in 1931 by an architect named Alfred Butts during the downtime he had as another unemployed victim of the Great Depression. Originally it was called Criss Cross because it was based on, as you might have expected, crossword puzzles. Over the next decade, Butts refined the game until it became the one we know now as Scrabble. He was content with the game purely as entertainment for his own family until a friend, an entrepreneur named James Brunot, convinced him of its commercial potential. They trademarked it in 1948 and began manufacturing sets. When demand took off a few years later, it was licensed to Selchow & Righter, who were convinced that it would be merely a short term fad. Instead, it eclipsed the popularity of their best selling game, Parcheesi, and they finally bought the trademark in 1972. It has become a world favorite: there are versions in many languages, and even one in Braille. In 1986, Selchow & Righter was bought by Coleco, which sold the game to Milton Bradley during Coleco’s bankruptcy the next year. Milton Bradley is now a subsidiary of Hasbro.

Despite the fact that I have a decent vocabulary (not to mention a degree in English), I never managed to do well at Scrabble. In fact, I hate Scrabble (gasp!). If you feel differently, and you must play Scrabble, I suggest you get one of those deluxe swivel boards with a raised grid to hold the tiles in place. It will make your games much easier, because one good jostle will destroy an entire game on a regular board.

Useless info:

letter | point value | # of tiles
A     1     9
B     3     2
C     3     2
D     2     4
E     1    12
F     4     2
G     2     3
H     4     2
I     1     9
J     8     1
K     5     1
L     1     4
M     3     2
N     1     6
O     1     8
P     3     2
Q    10     1
R     1     6
S     1     4
T     1     6
U     1     4
V     4     2
W     4     2
X     8     1
Y     4     2
Z    10     1
blank 0     2

total # of tiles: 100

How to Win at Scrabble

  • Know Your Twos and Threes. Sorry, but if you want to succeed (at least against non-tournament Scabble players) you need to commit to memory every two- and (for the more serious) three-letter-word in the OSPD. You can find on E2 a list of both twos and threes. Knowing your twos and threes is critical for making high-scoring parallel plays.

  • Manage your Rack, and Stop That Snickering. Blaming luck for a particularly bad rack of tiles is easy (and, in some cases, valid), but the more intelligent cause is probably poor rack management. Often, it's better to play a low-scoring word and dump some bad tiles (e.g., Ws, Ks, or double vowels) than it is to play a kick-ass word and be left with IIJK.

  • Oar Damages Organ (Anagrams Are Good). The factor that separates the men from the boys, as it were, in low-stakes Scrabble is the 50-point bonus that accompanies the playing of all 7 tiles, known as a bingo. Critical to getting the bingos is the skill of anagramming, or seeing words in scrambled-up letters. Example: Quick, make 3 different bingos from the letters AENORST! (Answers in this pipelink). Being able to find seven-letter words out of a pile of gibberish, unfortunately, is a skill that can only be developed through practice.

  • It's the Defense, Stupid.Yes, it's true, Scrabble is also a defensive game. Most defense has to do with either bingos or premium squares. Placing a high-frequency letter in a triple-triple column (that is, on the edge of the board, where it can be part of an eight-letter word that touches both triple-word score squares) is allowing your opponent to both bingo and multiply the word's value by nine. Ouch. Also, the concept of "closing the board" is an important one; if you're not getting bingo-prone tiles, try to avoid creating wide-open lanes for your opponent to play them.

  • Cheat. Yes, cheating is allowed. Playing words not found in the dictionary being used (called "phonies") is fine, as long as your opponent doesn't challenge them. Thus, against a novice, you might make a parallel play that creates the phoney word OB*, confident in the knowledge that your opponent doesn't know his twos. Another baiting tactic involves playing a likely-sounding phoney noun (e.g., CHALKER*), and, when your opponent pluralizes it (making CHALKERS*), challenging it off the board. The pluralizing S (and any letters hooked to it) is removed from the board, but the original phoney remains. Heh heh.

  • Be Really Goddamned Lucky. No matter how many twos or threes you know, or how long you spend staring at seven-letter flashcards, you could still draw an all-vowel rack, while your opponent draws DEIQUZ? on the first turn (or, rather, QUIZzED). That's the way it goes. But with the above steps, the tile gods' influence should be minimalized.

Good luck!

Announcer: It's a 7-letter word. The clue is...experts like to pick them.
Audience: Pockets!
Announcer: It's the crossword game you've played all your life, but never quite like this!
Audience: "Scrabble"!

Premiering on NBC at 11:30 A.M. Eastern time on July 2, 1984, this game show hosted by Chuck Woolery took little more from the board game than its title, the use of tiles, and the pink and blue color scheme.

Two contestants were given a clue to a word, the number of letters, and one of the letters to start with. One of the contestant then picked two numbered tiles, representing letters that were potentially in the word, and dropped them into a slot in front of them. They would then find out which two letters were associated with the chosen tiles, and would pick one of the letters to try to drop into the word. After successfully using both letters, they would pick two new tiles. The same contestant kept picking tiles and placing letters until they could guess the word, or until they tried to place a letter that wasn't in the word. That was called a stopper, and play would then pass to their opponent.

Corresponding to the spaces on the real Scrabble board, some of the blanks for the letters in the word were pink or blue, representing bonus money available if a contestant could solve the puzzle immediately after a letter fell into that blank: $500 on blue, and $1,000 on pink. Chuck would leave his podium to count out fake $100 bills for the contestant while the audience counted along.

If the contestants had hit all three stoppers between them, "Speedword" began, meaning the remaining letters were slowly filled in (except for the last letter) until one contestant buzzed in with the answer.

The next word would then build off one of the letters in the previous word. Whichever contestant correctly identified three words won the game; if both contestants were tied at 2, the final word would be played entirely in Speedword.

There were several rule changes affecting the bonus round throughout the run of "Scrabble," but the basic structure was as follows. The returning champion had played the main game against a new contestant, and then another round of the main game was played with two different new contestants. The two winners then competed against each other in the Scrabble Sprint, in which they were competing to see who could guess four words in the shortest length of time.

The first contestant had the choice of playing the words in the pink or blue packet. They would step up to the podium and be reminded by Chuck "no stoppers in any of these words, all the letters are good." He would read the first word and the number of letters, and then the clock would start. Two randomly chosen letters from the word would come up at a time, the contestant would pick one, it would appear in the word, and then two more random letters would show up. As in the main game, the last letter was never filled in. The contestant would hit the giant red plunger in front of them to stop the clock before guessing. An incorrect guess resulted in a 10-second penalty. Chuck would then read the next clue and number of letters before the clock started again.

After the first contestant finished all four words, the second contestant would then play with their set. The clock this time would be counting down from the first contestant's time. (During part of the run, the two contestants used the same set of words, with the second contestant offstage wearing headphones while the first contestant played the Sprint.)

The winner of the Scrabble Sprint was declared the champion and would get to come back tomorrow, but first, they played the bonus round, the Bonus Sprint. This was played like Scrabble Sprint, but with only two words and with the clock ticking down from 10 seconds, only enough time to place one or maybe two letters in each word. The prize for guessing both words increased daily until it was won.

"Scrabble" turned out to be fairly popular, running until March 23, 1990. It was then revived as a companion to "Scattergories," airing from January 18, 1993, until June 11 of that year. Reruns of the original run aired on the USA Network in the early 1990s.

As in the example at the beginning of this writeup, the clues on "Scrabble" encouraged a certain type of lateral thinking. Puns were frequently used, causing Chuck Woolery to groan. The most successful contestants could often figure out the word from the clue, especially in the Bonus Sprint, where doing so was almost a necessity. provided the clue I quoted above, and also reminded me of some of the rules.

Scrab"ble (?), v. i. [imp. & p. p. Scrabbled (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Scrabbling (?).] [Freq. of scrape. Cf. Scramble, Scrawl, v. t.]


To scrape, paw, or scratch with the hands; to proceed by clawing with the hands and feet; to scramble; as, to scrabble up a cliff or a tree.

Now after a while Little-faith came to himself, and getting up made shift to scrabble on his way. Bunyan.


To make irregular, crooked, or unmeaning marks; to scribble; to scrawl.

David . . . scrabbled on the doors of the gate. 1. Sam. xxi. 13.


© Webster 1913.

Scrab"ble, v. t.

To mark with irregular lines or letters; to scribble; as, to scrabble paper.


© Webster 1913.

Scrab"ble, n.

The act of scrabbing; a moving upon the hands and knees; a scramble; also, a scribble.


© Webster 1913.

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