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

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Zip-It and Oh-Spell!: Two new games from the makers of Bananagrams

The makers of Bananagrams unveiled their latest creations at the American International Toy Fair this month.

Zip-It is a two player game in which each player gets 12 letter cubes (dice with letters on all sides) and then has to assemble them into a grid of words as quickly as possible. The first to finish their grid says "Zip!" and scores one point. You can keep track of the score by incrementing the two zippers built into the bag for the game pieces.

Coincidentally, I have been recently thinking that it would be neat to make a game with letter cubes, like in Boggle, except that the player would get to choose which side to use. The cube aspect of Zip-It is tantalizing. Imagine playing Bananagrams with letter cubes. I imagine that there might be a lot of head-tilting to look at cubes from the sides. If you don't like one of the face-up letters, you could just rotate it until you found a letter that you liked. But is that the fastest method? I really want to play this right now and find out!

Oh-Spell! is the first card game from Bananagrams International. It sounds somewhat like Quiddler in the sense that the cards have letters rather than numbers, and the objective is to form words. There is a twist involving the cards having suits... It's not yet clear how that will play into the game. And I have a suspicion that rather than making separate words, players will form a word grid from the cards in their hand. But at this point, that's just a rumor (which I started because I think it will make a cool game).

I will report back when I have more details on these games.

Zip-It and Oh-Spell! should be available in a few months.

UPDATE: OK, these games were not released by the summer, as I had expected. Oh-Spell has been delayed indefinitely, but Zip-It is now out. Get it while it's hot!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Bananagrams puzzles

I found a neat kind of Bananagrams puzzle that I have never seen before. Explaining them might give away that step of discovery, so I will just link to three examples:
I have a solution for the last one, and I think I know how to solve the second one, though it's not really my style, so I made my own variation:

If you want a rather significant hint to how to approach these puzzles, I suggest looking at this post and this one.


Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Werewolf game

Wired Magazine has a nice article about Werewolf, a sort of parlor game that is apparently becoming very popular in certain circles.

A game called "Mafia" was invented in the mid-eighties and spread rapidly. It showed up in the United States and was then modified to have a more fitting werewolf theme by Andrew Plotkin (a.k.a., Zarf) who then popularized it on the Internet. Andrew Plotkin is a major figure in the indie Interactive Fiction community which produces text adventures that are the evolutionary descendants of the old Infocom games.

Just as you might refer to Bananagrams as like Scrabble without a board (or pauses or lots of other things...), Werewolf has been described as like poker without cards. In a typical game, two players are secretly designated as Werewolves and the rest are Villagers. The game is divided into a series of day and night turns. During the nighttime turns, everyone closes their eyes except the Werewolves, who silently pick a Villager to "kill". They indicate this to a moderator who removes that person from the game. During the daytime turns, the Villagers have the opportunity to pick someone that they think is a Werewolf and lynch them. Since the identities of the Werewolves are secret, the Werewolves can participate in the debate over who should be killed, trying to maintain their cover and divert suspicion to someone else. The object of the game for the Villagers is to identify and eliminate all the Werewolves. To win, the Werewolves only have to survive until there are the same number of Villagers left as Werewolves.

It is a game of persuasion and bluffing and inference. It's very interesting to see how different people play the game and what tactics are successful in convincing a crowd to choose a certain way.

Detailed instructions can be found on Zarf's page on Werewolf. Or you might like the extra details compiled by Wired, including how to host your own Werewolf game, a cheat sheet, and the many different extra roles that can be added.

All that you need to play Werewolf is a group of people, but if you'd like some fancy cards to designate who the Werewolves are and who plays the other roles, you can find a PDF of free Werewolf cards that you can print out here (courtesy of http://www.ee0r.com/proj/werecard.html). Or if you want to buy a more formal version, the Looney Labs "Are You A Werewolf?" set is pretty cheap. One could, of course, use any other scheme for designating the Werewolves. For instance: each player chooses a Bananagrams tile from a pool that is pre-arranged to have 2 or 3 W tiles for the Werewolves and enough E tiles for everyone else.

If you are looking for a game that is out of the ordinary, I can definitely recommend Werewolf.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Some more of the Official Scrabble Dictionary's greatest mistakes

After posting my essay describing the many problems with the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD), I discovered that I am not the only one who has issues with the official Scrabble word lists. An article from the Times of London reports that the official Scrabble word list has come under increased criticism, arguing that the popularity of online Scrabble games has brought players of different positions on this issue into conflict.

The article points out that there is a Facebook group called "The Official Scrabble Dictionary: Winner or Whack?" which appears to be a venue for people to debate the merits of the OSPD. The group has 20 members at present, so the remarkable thing is not that there are some people who have complaints, but that those complaints are being heard. In the UK, the analog of the OSPD is called "Official Scrabble Words" (OSW). The first version of this British Scrabble word list was compiled by Allan Simmons (Scrabble columnist for the Times) and Darryl Francis in 1988. They still maintain the list. Simmons was interviewed in the article:
Mr Simmons is in favour of a wide variety of words, but he believes that archaic words should be removed from the list. "There are lots of archaic, obsolescent words that came from Chambers dictionary. That's not good for trying to promote Scrabble in schools. One of the words that annoys me is 'smoyle', an old form of 'smile'. Nobody is going to spell 'smile' that way now."
In a separate opinion piece, Simmons gives an overview of the situation, concluding that:
We, in the driving seat of the Scrabble community, should be letting go of the archaic word baggage in the interest of a more publicly acceptable word list. We should have a cleanout of all the spellings of ye olde literary works that are no longer in use.

So it sounds like word list reform may be coming to Britain. Whether this will mean changes to the word lists used in America remains to be seen. If dictionary reform is not imminent, we could always organize a demonstration. After all, who could pass up the opportunity to be part of a Million Banana March?