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

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Scrabble reformers: Donald Sauter and the Dover Scrabble Club

In contrast with the Scrabble reform proposed by Peter Roizen (see the previous post on WildWords), Donald Sauter's complaints are more of the "95 Theses" number. When he says he wants to fix Scrabble, some of the complaints he lists are:
  • Bluffing was never a part of the original game of Scrabble and was only introduced in 1976.
  • The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary has been anointed as the definitive word list, in spite of the fact that it contains lots and lots of bogus words (no longer printed in any dictionary), suggesting that about 5% of all OSPD words may be in this category.
  • As a corollary, conventional Scrabble encourages lots of little words to be played.
  • The standard Scrabble tile distribution gets boring after a while.
His solution?

Scrabble II: Amongst the new rules:
  • Play with 8 tiles on each player's rack instead of 7 and allow bonuses for 6-, 7-, and 8-tile plays.
  • Use a real dictionary (but toss some of its more made-up, iffy, or downright ridiculous words).
  • Allow words to stretch beyond the borders of the standard 15-by-15 board. (The extended board is such a cool idea!)
  • Forbid plays where only a single two-letter word is formed.
  • Mix three tile sets together and select a new, random tile distribution for each game.

Here are the full rules of Scrabble II, and a far more detailed description of the motivations behind and playing of Scrabble II. The latter is particularly fun to read because it is so spirited and analytical, and as a bonus it contains what amounts to a manifesto on two-letter words.

There are now tiny little ad hoc Bananagrams tournaments sprouting up in the U.S. without any organization or permanence to them. This is probably how Scrabble tournaments started up. Whether this will develop into anything like nationwide tournaments is yet to be seen. If it does, I would hope that some of the mistakes of the Scrabble tournament scene could be avoided. In particular, I would like to see competition divided into different groupings: one for the word-memorizers and one for the more casual player. Ideally, a newcomer to Bananagrams should be able to learn the rules of the game and start competing on the first day.

As Stefan Fatsis says in Word Freak (his book on the tournament Scrabble subculture), "Recruiting new players is Scrabble's toughest task." In addition to helping distinguish it from being just a "speed Scrabble" tournament, eliminating the requirement to learn a bunch of arbitrary letter sequences would make a Bananagrams tournament more inclusive and open and fun.