A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Bananagrams!: the official book" - coming in September, 2009

The first Bananagrams-themed book is on its way:
Bananagrams!: The Official Book. It sounds like the book has a huge variety of Bananagrams-based puzzles (presumably puzzles you can solve using your Bananagrams tiles) as well as tactics for Bananagrams and random fun.

About the authors:
Joe Edley, the Zen master of competitive Scrabble, was featured as one of the main characters in Stefan Fatsis' _Word Freak_, the original investigation of the world of Scrabble tournaments (followed up by two documentaries (Word Wars and Scrabylon)). I really enjoyed _Word Freak_.

And from the Amazon page:
Abe Nathanson and his daughter, Rena, along with his grandchildren Aaron and Ava invented Bananagrams while spending the summer of 2005 together at a beach house in Narragansett, Rhode Island. The whole Nathanson family is involved in the growing game business. Rena and her family reside in the U.K., and Abe lives in Providence, Rhode Island, where he runs the company's headquarters.
According to the official Bananagrams origins story, Bananagrams was created by the Nathanson family during summer vacations, through a process of experimentation. Not unlike the Wright Brothers' persistent tinkering until they achieved perfection.

Why "Bananagrams"? Because they say that it is "the anagram game that will drive you bananas!".

Sunday, June 21, 2009

The ancestry of Bananagrams

What if a game like Bananagrams had been invented before Scrabble? Would Scrabble be as popular as it is today? Would it even have been manufactured? There are definitely people who like Scrabble but do not enjoy the pace of Bananagrams. But I would guess that Bananagrams could not have become popular before Scrabble, because the idea of the freefrom grid would have been a little too radical.

Scrabble was invented in 1931, and the inventor was inspired by crossword puzzles (which were a massive fad during the Twenties... picture women wearing crossword-puzzle stockings). And the inventor of the crossword puzzle was, in turn, inspired by word square puzzles where the objective was to construct a grid of tightly interlocking words to form a square (or other shape) based on clued words. A typical word square looks like this:
     C A R D
It is an interesting exercise to try to construct a word square,
By specifying the letters in such a square, this can be turned into a relatively easy puzzle.

Word squares as puzzles date back centuries, but the word square formation has been in existence for at least two millennia. (See the palindromic SATOR square.) Finally, the Greeks are credited with the idea of ordering letters in lined-up rows and columns (c. 600 B.C.), though without any words running vertically.

These are some of the giants whose shoulders Bananagrams perches upon. Remember to thank them the next time you pray to the Bananagrams gods for good tiles.

Further reading: The Straight Dope on why crossword puzzles are symmetrical.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Other games: Scrabble Apple and Los Bananagrams

The makers of Scrabble have released a game that is packaged as a bunch of tiles in a fabric piece of fruit: Scrabble Apple. (I like to call it "Scrapple" for short.) It came out in January of 2009, so it is clearly a response to Bananagrams. Some of the 100 tiles are red, indicating that they are "double word score" tiles. The rules make it sound something like "Snatch", a game I am interested in trying.

[UPDATE: I have played Snatch with Bananagrams tiles, and it is awesome! See this post.]

Also there is now a Spanish version of Bananagrams. It has special tiles for "rr", "ll", "ch", and the n with the tilde over it (a.k.a., the /en yay/).

"Za" and dictionaries

A recent article on the Wall Street Journal site discussed the effect of adding new words to the list of legal Scrabble words. The controversial words are things like "za" (a rare slang term for pizza), "qi" (a Chinese word, meaning life force... a new-fangled spelling of "chi"), and "zzz" (onomatopoeic word for the sound of snoring). Some argue that they make it too easy to use the letters "Z" and "Q", and that their point values should be reduced from 10. Others argue that some of these words are just lame. (It's a good article that also discusses the issues of rule changes in a more general sense.)

Apparently, the way the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary works is that if a word is added to just one of a set of five dictionaries, it is eligible to be considered for the "Scrabble-legal" list. My understanding is that it will be approved as long as it doesn't violate any obvious criteria (hyphenation, proper nounness, foreignness). The virtue of this is that it is an objective approach. I do wonder though how different the list would look if a word had to appear in four of the dictionaries before becoming a Scrabble word.

Should Bananagrams use the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary? Or should it come up with its own dictionary? Is "za" pronounced to rhyme with "baa", or does it retain the schwa sound from the end of the word "pizza"? Do I take every opportunity to use the word "schwa"? (Answer: Yes.)

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The coming iPhone Bananagrams program

UPDATE: The Bananagrams game for the iPhone is now available! See this post for details.

Majesco, the maker of the Facebook Bananagrams game, is nearly done with its iPhone version. It recently showed it off at the E3 video games convention.

In addition to single-player modes, it will have a way to play against other iPhone players, as well as people playing on the Facebook version.

A bunch more screenshots of the game can be found here, but the above screenshot gives you the basic idea.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bananagrams anecdote

Four of us were playing. It was late in the game. I was struggling through some tough letters (something like two Xs and one Z), and I had just torn down a few words and was wildly reconfiguring them, when, with a few letters left, someone said "Peel", and as I began to reach for a letter, one came sliding across the table toward me. I thought, "How convenient! At exactly the moment I need a tile, one appears!". I initially thought the person who had said "Peel." had knocked an extra letter in my direction, but when I looked at the letter, it was a Q. Someone had pulled a late match dump (or something) without saying anything and then slid the letter to me! The moral of the story: Beware of flying tiles!