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

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: