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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

There is no official Bananagrams dictionary

Many players like to cite the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary to validate words they use when playing Bananagrams. But as discussed in the last post, the OSPD has serious flaws There is no... and may not be the best choice for a reference. The official Bananagrams rules say that "any available dictionary may be used" to decide whether words are acceptable. Some better dictionaries to use with Bananagrams are listed here.

As an alternative, when playing Bananagrams among friends, the group can decide how strict it is going to be about word acceptability. A strict reading of the rules would say that if a word is in the dictionary, it is acceptable, whether or not it is slang. In the groups that I play, we are pretty lax, and frequently we do not even have a dictionary on hand. When playing without a readily accessible dictionary, the validity of words is sometimes debated, but the de facto standard is one of the following (I'm not sure which): 1) The word is only considered a rotten banana if it is misspelt or clearly not a word. 2) The word is considered a rotten banana if most people think it is wrong. 3) The word is considered a rotten banana if the person who played it relents and agrees that it is wrong (or questionable).

Acknowledgments: My thanks to Chuck, who started an e-mail discussion with me which led to this post and a deeper consideration of dictionaries.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Well, that about wraps it up for the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary

I found a nice critique of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary in one of the reviews on Amazon. It's by Daniel Pratt, a lexicographer and mathematician who placed second in the first national Scrabble tournament in 1978. He also developed the rating system used for Scrabble players in tournaments. It was around the same time that the first Official Scrabble Players Dictionary was created. Pratt is therefore well qualified for making such a critique.

One of his strongest points is something that I had begun to suspect: The OSPD adds new words when they appear in dictionaries, but does not delete old words once they become obscure enough to not appear in modern dictionaries:
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD) is a compilation of words from twelve U.S. college dictionaries from the last four decades. Four are still in print and, as the descendants of seven of the others, contain most but by no means all of their contributions. As a result, pronunciations, etymologies, and full definitions are no longer available for many entries, especially those found only in the source that has been out of print for a quarter century. NSA members like to twitter that they don't play your grandmother's Scrabble, but in many respects they're using her dictionary. It's a shame they can't bring the game into the 21st century.
He also points out some of the most ridiculous entries, but the word that sticks out most in my mind is one that was pointed out elsewhere: "AARRGHH" is listed in the OSPD, like it is an actual word.

Ammon Shea takes a different position. After reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary (which feat he documented in his book, Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages), he describes returning to Scrabble for the first time in many years and how he finds that the list of allowed words no longer makes sense to him:
Why, for instance, does the Scrabble Players Dictionary list both howf and howff (Scottish words defined as ‘a place frequently visited’), but neglects to include many of the variants that Joseph Wright has in his English Dialect Dictionary, such as houf, hauf, hofe, hoff, houf, houck? I tried to play swad (a bumpkin, or fat person), which appears in most of the dictionaries I own, on three different occasions before I remembered that the Scrabble game wouldn’t recognize it.
He then goes on to observe:
Some complain that the Scrabble Players Dictionary is too inclusive; I find the opposite to be true. Rather than only let in some of the strange words, they should have opened the floodgates and allowed them all. It has become a game of memory, rather than a game of language.
Clearly, you can't please everybody.

In response to comments on his review, Pratt recommends several replacement dictionaries - the American Heritage College Dictionary, the American Heritage High School Dictionary, the New Oxford American Dictionary, and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary - with a discussion of the advantages of each.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

An article about the makers of Bananagrams

The Boston Globe has published a nice article about the invention of Bananagrams, giving more details than I have ever previous encountered, a photograph of the Nathansons (the family that invented the game four years ago), and quotes from Abe Nathanson himself.

The article describes how different family members contributed to different aspects of Bananagrams and how many of the details of gameplay were developed by Abe while working on his own over the course of almost a year.

Abe's aversion to the big retailers and the way they do business is the reason that Bananagrams is not sold at stores such as Toys R Us or Wal-Mart. Similarly, the Nathansons have no interest in selling the rights to Bananagrams to any of the big toy companies. Their success in independently developing a game from concept to best-selling juggernaut makes for an interesting story.

The last paragraph of the article is a hint about future directions of the company:
"We're almost at the point where we have more money than we need," says Nathanson, adding that he's drawing the line at creating any more fruit games. Bananagrams will always be the gold standard, he says, "and we don't want to kill a good idea."
So, no more new fruit-based games. Next up: Cabbagegrams! Lettuce Play! Beet, Don't Fail Me Now!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Bananagrams on Twitter

October 2011 Update (superseding the original post which is below): The official Bananagrams Twitter account has changed from _BANANAGRAMS_ to bananagrams.

Large Animal Games, the makers of the iPhone and Facebook version of Bananagrams, has been been posting updates on Twitter as bananagrams since early 2009. (The first post is here.)

I occasionally post Bananagrams-related things under the Twitter alias bananagrammer.

And now, there is an official Twitter feed for Bananagrams:


_BANANAGRAMS_ has started posting "Weords", a term introduced in the
Bananagrams book, meaning "weird words that are cool to play". It seems like it will be a useful account to follow. I am looking forward to future posts.