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

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The longest word that you can make in Bananagrams

How long can a word constructed from the tiles in a Bananagrams set be? I decided to find out.

"Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis" is sometimes referred to as the longest English word. It now seems that this word was invented by the National Puzzlers' League as a hoax since the first instance of it ever appearing in print is in a 1935 newspaper article:
Pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis succeeded electrophotomicrographically as the longest word in the English language recognized by the National Puzzlers' League at the opening session of the organization's 103d semi-annual meeting held yesterday at the Hotel New Yorker. The puzzlers explained that the forty-five-letter word is the name of a special form of silicosis caused by ultra-microscopic particles of silica volcanic dust...

A book called Wordplay: A Curious Dictionary of Language Oddities tells the rest of the story:
Frank Scully, author of a series of puzzle books and later one of the early UFO enthusiasts, read the newspaper article and repeated the word in Bedside Manna: The Third Fun in Bed Book (Simon and Schuster, 1936, p. 87). On the strength of this citation, League members (with a wink from the editors?) got the word into both the OED Supplement and Webster's Third. There it remains even to this day.
Whether it really counts as a word or not is moot since it would require 6 C tiles which is 3 more than are in a Bananagrams set. (See this post for a table of the letters in a Bananagrams set.)

"Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" is a nonsense word from a song in the 1964 Disney movie Mary Poppins. In the movie, it is defined as a word to say when you don't know what to say. It is listed in some dictionaries, but only as a proper noun (i.e., the name of the song).

"Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism" is an unusual word because of the double "pseudo". It looks like a double negative, but it's really not. Pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism is so called because it seems like pseudohypoparathyroidism in that both are disorders resulting in symptoms such as inadequate skeletal growth and shortness, but pseudohypoparathyroidism is caused by resistance to calcium and phosphorus, while pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism is not. Regular hypoparathyroidism is caused by malfunction of the parathyroid glands resulting in low levels of parathyroid hormone and as a consequence, low levels of calcium and phosphorus in the blood. It's a real word, if a highly technical one. However, the word "pseudopseudohypoparathyroidism" requires more P tiles than we have.

Which brings us to the frivolous little word "floccinaucinihilipilification". It appears to have been coined in the 18th century by Eton College students who combined a bunch of Latin roots, each meaning "nothing" or "insignificant". Floccinaucinihilipilification was defined to be the act of judging something to be worthless. (This is a typical example of 18th century college student hijinks, right up there with herding cows into campus libraries and taking apart the dean's mini-steamboat then reassembling it in someone's dorm room.) It's kind of a beautiful word. Too bad we are one C short of being able to spell it.

And so finally we arrive at "antidisestablishmentarianism", the long word you've all been waiting for. During the 19th century, the issue of whether the Church of England should be the the state church of Britain was a contentious one. The movement favoring disestablishment of the state church was referred to as "disestablishmentarianism", and the counter-movement was called "antidisestablishmentarianism". It can actually be spelled with one set of Bananagrams tiles, is generally recognized as a real word, and is therefore (by my estimate) the longest possible word in a Bananagrams game.

Words like "antidisestablishmentarianism" are agglutinative constructions. English allows such limited use of such constructions, like when combining Latin roots to form words. Forming words (even new words) by agglutinative combination is so common in the German language that there effectively is no longest German word. And in fully agglutinative languages like Turkish, extra word parts can be added on to a base word to a much greater extent. Whereas in German, nouns are routinely extended into much larger nouns, in an agglutinative language, entire sentences can be built up from one long, space-free string of letters. Word games must be very different in Turkey!

So there you have it. A tour of the forces that push words beyond their normal lengths: hoaxes, pranks, politics, medical jargon, and musicals.

I will leave you with some really long words:



and, of course,


Friday, January 22, 2010

Play online Bananagrams and you might possibly win Bananagrams prizes

According to this press release, there is a contest running from now through February 12th, 2010 where, if you play Bananagrams online and attain certain levels of achievement, it is possible to enter into a drawing for an actual prize.

Depending on the day, you either have to play Solo Café Bananagrams (the one where you get all 21 tiles at the start with no peeling) or actual Bananagrams games against other online opponents.

Here's exactly what you have to do to be entered into the drawing:

From January 25th through January 29th, if you finish a game of Solo Café Bananagrams in less than 40 seconds, you are entered into the drawing for that day. (You can qualify once per day.)
From February 1st through February 5th, you have to win more than 12 Bananagrams games (in one day) against other players to qualify for that day.
And from February 8th through February 12th, you have to finish one game of Solo Café Bananagrams in less than 35 seconds.

You can play on any of the four venues for online Bananagrams (the iPhone app, Facebook, MySpace, or Bebo).

The Facebook information on the first week of the contest indicates that ten copies of the Bananagrams book will be awarded for the first week of competition as well as one copy of the Bananagrams iPhone app. Probably the prizes will be the same for the remaining three weeks.

Good luck!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Bananagrams match built for two: Thoughts on playing N-player Bananagrams

If you have ever played a 2-player game of Bananagrams, you know how much different it is that a regular game with 4 or 5 players. A 2-player game feels like a marathon and requires a lot of endurance. Playing longer games is a good way to build up and learn to maintain your focus.

For my casual play, the adaptation that I often use is to divide the regular pool of tiles in two, put half of them back in the banana, and play with just the other half. That way, each player winds up with the same number of letters in their grid as in a regular 4-player game (which is, for some reason, my standard). But you can wind up with asymmetric halves, so it's best to switch between the two halves, or else mix them together and split them periodically.

Conversely, 8-player games are like a 100 yard dash: You have to go as fast as you can, and just as coming out of the starting blocks as quickly as possible is critical for winning a short race, a small advantage in the initially drawn set of tiles can make all the difference when playing Bananagrams. Generally this results in more random outcomes than longer matches, but I like to view many-player matches as a challenge to my ability to play fast.

Of course, a big factor in why 8-player games go so fast is that they split the same 144 tiles up such that each player only has to make an 18-tile grid. Contrast that with the 36-tile grids in a typical 4-player game. A solution to this is mixing together two sets of Bananagrams (which explains the introduction of the Bananagrams Jumbo and Double Bananagrams sets which (as I understand it) both consist of two bananas sold together, giving a total of 288 tiles.) I've never tried playing a many-player game with two sets of Bananagrams. I would definitely like to see how different that format feels. I suspect that it would still be a bit faster than a 4-player, 1-banana game.

When it comes to the most fiercely competitive situations, like tournaments, some multi-player games such as Scrabble seem to converge to 2-player games. The argument is that this minimizes the influence of chance and allows the players' skills to maximally determine the outcome of the game. This does not hold for other games, like Settlers of Catan which does not work well with only two players (requiring a minimum of three), in part because player interaction is an important component of gameplay. Consequently it, and other so-called Eurogames, are probably not suitable for Bananagrams-style acceleration (a.k.a., Banananification).

Bananagrams is a wonderfully flexible game that can scale to small or large groups, and the feel of the game can be altered by increasing or decreasing the number of tiles per player. There must be many other ways that the game can be changed a little, giving it a different texture while maintaining its core Bananagrams nature. I hope to find and explore such ways in future posts.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

My first Q-without-U word and Academic Games

I once played a game called LinguiSHTIK in a competitive situation. The other players were clearly veterans, and I was the rookie. They must have decided among themselves that they were going to take advantage of the newcomer. A big part of LinguiSHTIK is placing constraints on the word to be formed (e.g., must be four letters long, must be a noun, must contain a certain letter) while moving cubes with letters on them into either the ALLOWED or FORBIDDEN areas of the board. The other players made the requirements that the word must contain a Q and must not contain a U. Then at some point, one of them decided to CHALLENGE WIN, essentially saying that it was possible to make a word from the ALLOWED letters that satisfied all of the constraints. Fortunately, I had already come up with a word spelled with a Q but without a U - something I remembered from browsing through the Q section of the dictionary: QOPH (the 19th letter of the Hebrew alphabet). Somehow, I had managed to get the letters I needed into the ALLOWED set. When everyone revealed their words, the other players were kind of irritated: they had both been thinking of QAID (which was presumably the accepted Q-without-U word in that group) and they had never heard of QOPH. They challenged my word, but fortunately the dictionary contained the word QOPH, and I was vindicated.

WFF 'N PROOF, the manufacturers of LinguiSHTIK, have produced many other games, all having the same parallel-universe board game feel, probably because most of them have educational value as their primary design goal. These games do a good job of challenging the player while being fun enough as a game to suck the player in. Equations: The Game of Creative Mathematics is similar to LinguiSHTIK in that players are setting constraints and trying to find a solution that meets them, but with numbers and mathematical operations instead of letters and words. WFF 'N PROOF cites research suggesting that students who sometimes get to play Equations in math class skip classes less often and are better at applying math concepts.

The even more interesting claim is that another game boosts I.Q. test scores:
The first studies published (in 1972) on the effects of resource allocation games involved I.Q. tests on groups of students playing WFF 'N PROOF: The Game of Modern Logic intensively for three weeks in summer school classes. The average increase in the non-verbal I.Q. scores was more than 20 points. Although researchers have questions about the sort of intelligence actually measured by such tests, it is clear that there was a dramatic improvement in the problem-solving skills utilized in such exercises.

Another game that seems really compelling to me is Queries 'N Theories: The Game of Science & Language. It's the closest thing I have ever seen to a code-cracking game. One player makes up a "language" (consisting of fundamental allowed sentences and rules for transforming those sentences to other sentences). [Mastermind] It's a bit like Mastermind except that where Mastermind has one secret sequence of colored tokens that the player is trying to infer, Queries 'n Theories starts off with such a sequence (a "sentence") which the first player morphs according to his transformational rules (like, every instance of GREEN RED transforms to RED YELLOW GREEN) and then presents the result - a more complex sentence in the language - to the other players. The other players then try to figure out the principles of the language by proposing possible sentences which are then accepted or rejected by the player who made up the language.

Like most of the WFF 'N PROOF games, Queries 'n Theories can be scaled down in complexity for the younger part of its age range (only sentences of length four for 12-year-olds) or scaled up to challenge more experienced players (sentences of length thirteen!). The most appealing part about this game, to my mind, is that it teaches scientific thinking and inductive reasoning.

There are two organizations that allow students to play some of these games against each other in a regular tournament: The Academic Games League of America and National Academic Games.

You can buy these games directly from Wff 'n Proof or you may be able to find them more cheaply (particularly The Game of Modern Logic) through Amazon.

Further reading: My previous post on Q-without-U words and a reference to another game about logic, invented by Lewis Carroll.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Bananagrams iPhone app is on sale

If you have an iPhone or an iPod touch, you may be interested to know that the iPhone version of Bananagrams is now on sale for 99 cents. I wrote a partial review of this app when it first came out. There are some bugs in the 1.00 release, but the ability to move different tiles with different fingers simultaneously is just so appealing (even if I haven't mastered it yet) that I would rather play the iPhone version than the Facebook version of Bananagrams.

I recommend buying this game while it's on sale, as whenever Large Animal Games eventually releases a patched version of the game, the upgrade should be free.