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

Friday, July 22, 2011

August 2011 Bananagrams events

A couple of notable Bananagrams-related events are scheduled to take place next month.

1) Bananagrams is sponsoring the August 13th instance of WaterFire, a spectacular event that takes place along the river in Providence, Rhode Island. One hundred fires blaze along two-thirds of a mile of the river, illuminating the art and performances that accompany the festivities. WaterFire happens several times each summer, but on August 13th, there will be special Bananagrams-related events.

waterfire.org/bananas is the official page for the Bananaganza. Also available is a schedule for the evening's events.

Providence is home to Brown University and a strong arts scene. A graduate of Brown, Barnaby Evans, created the WaterFire concept and has been running it since 1994. Evans was a friend of Abe Nathanson (the inventor of Bananagrams) and wrote a tribute to Abe.

It's very cool that Bananagrams is sponsoring this event. The Bananagrams components of the evening have not yet been revealed. I think they're going to be surprises, but this idea has been cooking for over a year, so I expect it will be a great event. If you are in the area, I recommend checking it out.

Also, if you happen to go to Providence, keep an eye out for the Bananagrams headquarters sign while driving around:

(This photo was sent in by a personal acquaintance and Bananagrams fan. In case you were wondering, that is not a sign for the "Bananagrams Archives Gallery". I believe the "Archives Gallery" is a separate business in the same building.)

2) On August 14th, large-scale Bananagrams will be played in Prospect Park in Brooklyn. They are going to use 1-foot square tiles made of Masonite (a type of processed wood, sometimes used for house siding and interior doors). The game will look something like this:

Further details on the event are here.

I suppose very large-scale Bananagrams would be played by moving around human-sized tiles, like "human chess" (those games of chess where people act as the chess pieces) except it would be much faster. Played with a full set of tiles, you'd need 144 people. Watching people run around and try to figure out where to stand to form words while other players are peeling off the bunch would be awesome. Human Bananagrams is really something that has to be played.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Hebrew Bananagrams

NEWS FLASH: Hebrew Bananagrams is now available in the U.S. from Amazon!

As posted in the forum, the Hebrew version of Bananagrams is now out. It looks like this:

The Israeli distributor has a web site dedicated to this version of the game, http://www.bananagrams.co.il which is in Hebrew. There is also an English translation of the site.

If there were an award for the language that Bananagrams would play most differently in, Hebrew would be a contender. Hebrew doesn't have an alphabet; it has an abjad - an alphabet without vowels. In written Hebrew, vowels may optionally be indicated by a system of diacritic marks placed above or below the consonants. In the image above, the tiles are all Hebrew consonants. My suspicion is that this will make Bananagrams matches in Hebrew markedly faster than in other languages.

UPDATE: This article gives more information on how the Hebrew translation of Bananagrams came about:
For the Israeli version, the Dalfens [the family that owns and runs the Israeli distributor] did not only translate the game’s instructions and special terms − such as “split,” dump,” and “peel” − but also consulted a Hebrew linguist regarding the frequency of each letter. [...] the allocation of letters would vary depending on whether Biblical or Modern Hebrew is used, according to the linguist. The Dalfens opted to allocate letters corresponding to the spoken language.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Good three-letter words for Bananagrams, sorted by rareness

When playing Bananagrams, 2-letter words are great for rapidly adding letters to a grid, like when you are running off a string of "PEEL"s, but it's hard to make an entire grid out of 2-letter words. In this post, I'm going to examine some of the 3-letter words and show you which are most commonly used and which you might want to add to your active vocabulary.

First, consider this list of some 3-letter words you can make with the letter V:
eve, ivy, ova, rev, van, vat, veg, vet, vex, via, vie, vim, vow

We don't have a good set of data of what words are most commonly used in playing Bananagrams, and Scrabble word choice would likely be a poor substitute since players' priorities in Scrabble are very different than in Bananagrams. WordSquared offers a good compromise: its gameplay shares score maximization with Scrabble, but also includes the rapid score-aloof word-building (such as when evading or outflanking opponents) that epitomizes Bananagrams.

If you sort the above V words by word count (as obtained from WordSquared word pages), you get
van, eve, vet, vat, vie, via, vex, rev, vow, ivy, ova, veg, vim

But sorting by raw word count is not the most useful ordering since the Scrabble tile distribution is going to skew the results. There are lots of As, Es, Ns, and Ts, so of course VAN, EVE, VET, and VAT will be popular words. I wanted to subtract out this bias to see what words would be most and least used if all letters were equally likely to be available. I accomplished this by just dividing each word count by the number of times that each of its letters occurs in a standard Scrabble tile set [which corresponded to the Word2 distribution until the recent Word2 redesign, which fortunately happened after I finished this post]. (For example, the word VAN had been used in WordSquared 24198 times (over about 2 months). In a 100-tile Scrabble set, there are 2 Vs, 9 As, and 6 Ns, so I divided 24198 by 2 and by 9 and by 6 to get a normalized count of 224.1.) Sorting the words by the normalized word count gives:
vex, vow, ivy, van, vat, vet, vim, vie, rev, eve, veg, via, ova

When people have a V, they are more likely to make VEX than any other three-letter V word. (In this case, 70% more likely than even the closest word (VOW).) On the other end, VIA is used fairly often in terms of raw word counts, but sparingly when considering how often it could be made.

Below are more word lists, all sorted by this effective word usage rate, starting from the most common words and ending with the most neglected:

3-letter words that contain the hardest letters, sorted from common to rare:

J words:
joy, jug, job, jam, jaw, jog, jay, jab, jig, jar, jet, jot, jut, jag, jib

K words:
key, kid, sky, kit, yak, kin, keg, wok, ink, ark, ask, oak, irk, ski, ken, ilk, koi, uke, eke, ska, auk

V words:
vex, vow, ivy, van, vat, vet, vim, vie, rev, eve, veg, via, ova

X words:
box, fox, wax, fix, mix, vex, fax, hex, tax, pox, six, sex, tux, lax, axe, lox, sax

Z words:
zip, zit, zoo, zap, zig, zag, fez

3-letter words that begin with vowels, sorted from common to rare:

Words that begin with A:
axe, ark, ask, any, awe, ace, arc, and, age, aim, arm, act, ash, ape, ago, ant, aye, art, air, all, aft, aid, ate, add, are, ail, ale, ado, apt, ass, asp

Words that begin with E:
elk, egg, elf, eve, eye, end, ego, elm, emu, ewe, eat, ebb, ear, eel, eke, era, eon, ere, eta

Words that begin with I:
ivy, ink, icy, ice, irk, ilk, ill, imp, inn, ire, its, ion

Words that begin with O:
off, owl, orb, oak, own, oil, old, owe, ova, one, oft, out, orc, our, odd, ode, oaf, opt, oat, oar, obi

Words that begin with U:
use, urn, ump, uke

Words that begin with Y:
you, yak, yam, yes, yet, yew, yap, yip, yin, yep, yon, yea

3-letter words that end with vowels, sorted from common to rare:

Words that end in A:
via, ova, yea, boa, pea, tea, bra, sea, spa, ska, era, goa, baa, eta

Words that end in E:
axe, the, bye, cue, ice, hue, she, pie, vie, eve, ace, awe, foe, eye, age, dye, bee, owe, hoe, rye, due, ape, woe, die, sue, aye, toe, tie, ewe, ore, rue, use, ate, lye, are, doe, ale, ode, pee, wee, see, ire, fie, uke, tee, eke, lee, ere

Words that end in I:
chi, ski, koi, phi, poi, obi, psi

Words that end in O:
zoo, who, ego, ago, boo, goo, moo, two, woo, too, coo, ado, pro, loo, bro, fro, rho, tao

Words that end in U:
you, flu, emu, gnu, tau

Words that end in Y:
joy, jay, why, key, guy, boy, buy, coy, way, toy, fly, cry, day, gay, sky, hay, bay, ivy, pay, shy, may, soy, hey, fry, lay, dry, say, ray, try, ply, sly, spy, icy, pry, nay, thy, fey, any, sty, ley

It's interesting to look at how different words fare. Auks and asps are nearly forgotten, but foxes and owls are quite popular. Greek letters (eta, phi, psi, rho, tau) and abbreviations for musical instruments (sax, uke) and for formal wear (tux) do not see much grid time. I am glad to see that everybody loves joy.

If you want to learn useful new words to add to your active Bananagrams vocabulary, the ends of those lists might be a good place to start.

Further reading: