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

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Scrabble reformers: W*W*S

Last month, the Scrabble world was briefly rocked by news reports saying that a new version of Scrabble would allow proper nouns to be used as words. (It doesn't take much to rock the Scrabble world.) These stories turned out to be false. Actually Mattel is just introducing yet another of its many tangential spin-offs of Scrabble - in this case, a game called "Scrabble Trickster". But the resulting outrage serves as a good illustration of how passionate people are about defending the standard rules of Scrabble.

And then there are those on the other side of the spectrum, who believe that something is wrong with Scrabble and that it needs to be fixed. And they have come up with some delightfully crazy solutions.

Discontent with the word-memorization and short words that optimum Scrabble strategy requires, Peter Roizen came up with two small changes that totally transmogrify Scrabble into something else. First, he got rid of the blank tiles (which can stand for only one letter) and added in twelve wildcard tiles (which can represent long strings of letters). So, for example, the word
could be spelled

Unlike blank tiles, when building off of the wildcard tiles in the other direction, they can again stand for any sequence of letters desired by the player. And the second change he made was to add wildcard squares to the board. When placing a word that includes one of the wildcard squares, any tile can be placed on the wildcard square, turned over so it looks like a blank, but still functions like a wildcard.

An extra twist is that the player placing the tiles does not have to immediately reveal what the wildcards stand for. The opponents then have to decide whether to challenge the word, based on whether they believe the first player really knows a word that matches the wildcard pattern. Therefore, bluffing and pattern matching play a large role in this game.

The main effect of the wildcards is to break the game open, so rather than being dominated by short words, the board becomes covered in long words (albeit, long words that tend to be represented by 5 or 6 letters and some wildcards).

The web site for the game is filled with amusing discussion and digressions on Scrabble and WildWords.

There is also a free computer version of WildWords for computers that run on the Windows operating system. It allows people on different computers to play together.

The obvious question now is, what effect would including either blanks or wildcard tiles have on Bananagrams play? My guess is that both tiles would just make Bananagrams go faster. But it might be interesting to mix them in to balance other variations that tend to slow down the game to get a game with different strategy while maintaining Bananagrams speed.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Bananagrams writing contest is now open

The Newport Review's Bananagrams writing contest (previously previewed here) has started with the posting of the grid of required words and some more specific rules. The grid,
has really only one odd word: "foxed". "Foxed" can apparently be an adjective (used to describe paper having yellow-brown stains), but I think the people judging the contest will be expecting "foxed" to be used like "outfoxed", as in, outwitted. Which is precisely what you will have want to have done to your opponents.

Good luck!

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Before there was Bananagrams, there was Word-Sport

In the past, I've proposed, half-seriously, the idea of a future where Bananagrams is played on a serious tournament level, like Scrabble or chess. But it turns out that the idea of something like a Speed Scrabble tournament was floated and promoted before Bananagrams was even invented.

First, the game: It's called Word-Sport. Word-Sport is basically Speed Scrabble with some modifications. It is played with the entire Scrabble tile set (including the blanks, which are excluded from Speed Scrabble as normally played). Word-Sport oddly doesn't require that you actually link all your words into a single grid. Instead, there is a scoring system that offers rewards for single grids, for never allowing your opponent to peel (more feasible when you are playing with the smaller Scrabble tile set), and for words 7 or more letters long.

Plans were in the works for a version of the Word-Sport game you could buy (including some optional wild tiles) and a computer version of the game, playable over the Internet (modelled after Literati and paralleling the Large Animal Games Flash version of Bananagrams).

An equally fascinating part of the Word-Sport web site is the page that describes the birth of indoor rowing races. (Imagine a treadmill race, but with rowing machines). I am not making these races up. Apparently indoor rowing races inspired and motivated the idea of Word-Sport tournaments, complete with timers and specially designed tables.

Exploring the Word-Sport web site is like peering into an alternate universe because I can totally imagine a world where Word-Sport took off, pre-empting Bananagrams entirely.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Article about Bananagrams, Zip-It, and Oh-Spell

A Rhode Island newspaper published an article on a talk that Abe Nathanson (the Top Banana at Bananagrams International) recently gave. There are lots of great quotes. For instance, he reveals that, while he originally wanted to have Bananagrams sets manufactured locally, that would have resulted in them being sold for seventy to eighty dollars apiece.

Best of all, there's plenty of information on the new crop of games:
Zip-It, Nathanson said, was developed to be played within an eight-square-inch area and "is almost as fast as rock, paper, scissors." It involves 24 six-sided cubes and plays like a sped up version of Bananagrams, with players racing each other to complete ten word-grids first.

The simplicity and rapidity of Zip-It, says Nathanson, would make it a great drinking game for bars.

"I suspect that at bars it will start as Zip-It and wind up as Tip-It," Nathanson said.

His latest creation is based on the traditional card game "Oh Hell." Nathanson's version, Oh Spell, is a word-based card game that substitutes font patterns for suits.

"I don't know why no one has thought of this before," Nathanson said. "With numbers you are limited, but with words, creation is infinite."

This tells us that Oh-Spell will be a trick-taking card game, which still sounds kind of like Quiddler, but we may have to wait a couple more months to find out exactly how Oh-Spell works.

UPDATE: Zip-It is finally available from Amazon. Get it while it's in stock!