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Tabletop Game / Scrabble

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Every word's a winner.
Scrabble is a long-standing board game involving words and letters. The game traces back to 1938, when Alfred Mosher Butts invented Criss-Crosswords, a game with a 15×15 board and individual letter tiles. He tabulated the frequency of various letters to determine the frequency and letter value of each tile.

James Brunot adapted the game into Scrabble and tweaked the rules somewhat, making them simpler. Although not a success at first, Scrabble allegedly gained popularity after the president of R.H. Macy’s played the game and was surprised that it wasn’t for sale in his stores. The game sold well there, and in 1952, Selchow and Righter picked up the rights to it. Since then, it has become an internationally popular game, with JW Spears picking up the international rights in 1955. 1986 saw the acquisition of Selchow and Righter by Coleco- which ended with them going bankrupt; Hasbro purchased the rights to it and Trivial Pursuit in 1989, and hence has seen different editions under both the Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers names. Hasbro has also invented multiple different variants and spin-offs of the main game, including an enhanced version called Super Scrabble. However, Hasbro's arch-rival Mattel holds the international rights, as they acquired JW Spears in 1994.


Typically played by two to four players, Scrabble involves a 15×15 playing board and 100 letter tiles (98 letters and two blanks). Each letter has a point value assigned to it: common letters such as E are only one point, while Z and Q are the highest at 10 points each. The blank tiles are wild and can be used as any letter (but are not worth any points in and of themselves). The board contains squares that double or triple the value of each word or letter.

Scrabble has also been adapted into two different game shows. First, an NBC series hosted by Chuck Woolery in the 1980s, which simplified the rules even further and set up each word with an Incredibly Lame Pun. 2011 saw the debut of Scrabble Showdown on Hasbro-owned The Hub; this version was hosted by Justin Willman utilized different mini-games (often based on some of the more arcane Hasbro-invented variants) before moving onto a final round more like the 80s series.


The documentary Word Wars follows around high-level tournament players and came out in 2004.

Tropes present:

  • Artificial Stupidity/Non-Indicative Difficulty: Playing against the computer on the hardest level is only hard because the game only uses the highest-scoring word it can muster, clobbering the human through high-score brute force. The computer, however, utterly stinks at strategy. In its effort to lay down the highest scoring words that it can, it will open up plays a human would not - like ending a word on or one space away from the edge of the board is asking for someone to use a triple word score (or two!).
  • Boring, but Practical: The two-letter words. Learning all 101 of them (124 in the international dictionary) and knowing when to use them correctly is the first and most important step if you want to play competitively. They allow to play words parallel to words already on the board instead of having to find a spot to intersect.
    • To a lesser extent, learning the shorter words that use Q but not U can help immensely if you get stuck in such a situation.
  • Bowdlerize: A controversy in the 90s was the removal of offensive words, including both slurs and garden-variety swear words, from the official Scrabble dictionary; proponents argued that the words shouldn't be treated lightly, especially because Scrabble was being promoted in many schools at the time, while people who wanted to keep the words in argued that they didn't mean to offend by playing those words and that meanings are meaningless in Scrabble. Some tournament lists kept them in, but the OSPD didn't. So if you're in a tournament, check the list first; if you're playing Scrabble in the parlor, better break out that OED or make sure your opponent doesn't know about the expurgation before you put down FUCK.
  • Difficult, but Awesome: Learning the official two-letter word list can be this, but is basically a must for anybody who wants to be competitive at this game. For instance, X can make a two-letter word with every vowel: AX, EX, XI, OX, XU. You're welcome.
  • Guide Dang It!: Players not as versed as others will be consulting their Scrabble dictionaries a lot to find out if "that's a real word." Words like "CWM" and "TWP", for example.
  • Interface Screw: The Android Scrabble app will sometimes have the controls go beneath the advertisement at the bottom of the screen, making them impossible to use. Of course Electronic Arts doesn't seem keen on fixing this, as it means if you're not paying attention you'll be tapping the advertisement.
  • Loophole Abuse: It is, technically, perfectly legal to play words that lexically don't exist — you just have to pay the penalty (taking back your word and earning no points) if you're challenged. If you can bluff your opponents into thinking it's a real word and not challenging, you're good to go. In fact, if a word is challenged but turns out to be good after all, the challenger has to pay a penalty, traditionally, losing their turn, i.e. after challenging a Perfectly Cromulent Word they cannot play a word themselves. (This last rule holds in America but is not universal — in some places there is no penalty for an incorrect challenge, or there is a five-point penalty, which is still more lenient than losing your turn, especially if you can make a good word).
    • This even works in tournaments. While in electronic Scrabble games, the computer typically won't let you play unapproved words, the judges at tournaments understand that this is a part of the game and will not point out that a word is invalid unless the word is challenged.
    • The British Hard Rock - Blues Rock band of the 1970s and early 1980s, Foghat, got their name from this. Guitarist Dave Peverett made up the word in a game with his brother.
  • Perfectly Cromulent Word: This trope tends to crop up a lot if you spectate championship-level games.
  • Score Multiplier: The bonus squares.
  • Scrabble Babble: Trope Maker and Trope Namer. (Averted by both game show adaptations, however.)
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: Is helpful in the game... depending on the situation.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Scrabble is another game associated with smart people due to its relying on vocabulary and spelling. Actually, this isn't required - since words don't have to be spelled correctly provided all players are in agreement (see Loophole Abuse, though this would simply be "agreement"), two players with similar spelling skills can still play the board game together. It's when a person who doesn't spell well is paired with a Grammar Nazi that sparks and tiles fly.
  • Strategy Game: Many players love this aspect - you have to strategize with just what's on the board and what's in your tray. For most casual Scrabble players the game is "let's make the best words we can", but the step to serious Scrabble is made when a player starts incorporating strategy: using a lower scoring word to block other players from accessing the Score Multiplier squares, etc.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: Online, Words With Friends. Essentially the same game minus a few rule differences and placement of bonus tiles. So similar, in fact, that its developer was sued by Hasbro. In a bit of irony, Hasbro eventually bought it, and even released a board game version of it...which sells right next to Scrabble in stores.
  • Spin-Off: Scrabble Jr. is a well-known children's adaptation. There's Super Scrabble, which allows for longer words and various other quirks. The 80s game show had its' own Home Game released, with gameplay more like that of the show. And quite a few Hasbro-invented variants which don't use the traditional gameboard are floating around, such as Scrabble Flash, where you use five tile-shaped devices to make words (Yahtzee and Simon also have Flash variants). Even fellow Hasbro word game Boggle has recently been put under the Scrabble range.
  • Technician vs. Performer: There are both types of players. A Technician is more interested in strategy and will put down whatever they see as the best scoring option even if it's boring, whereas a Performer is more interested in words and will take the risk on a play that's stylish, new or personally meaningful. Scrabble documentaries like Word Freak and Word Wars discuss both playing styles, although at very high levels even the Performers have to have good technical skills.
  • Writing Around Trademarks: In areas where Hasbro doesn't hold rights to Scrabble, some of the spin-offs are released under other names- ie. Scrabble Flash became Boggle Flash.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Some words are legal even though at first thought they aren't. For example "John" is a proper name, so when you see it in your rack you may consider it as a forbidden word (because if you play that word, John Decker is scheduled to knock you down until you die). However a "john" also has non-proper name definitions (as pajama clothing or a fast food restaurant), making it legal to play. Another forbidden word is "G-A-Y" (which references the owner of some car dealership). A rule in the official Scrabble rulebook is mentioned as you play a illegal word ("Warning: Any illegal word that you play is forbidden by federal law and may subject to become forfeited and/or banned by the referee during a Scrabble Tournament").
  • You Make Me Sic: This game will really surprise you when you find some of your friends (or yourself) can't spell for crap.

Works that Scrabble appears in:

  • Our Miss Brooks: In the cinematic series finale, Miss Brooks and Lawrence Nolan play a game of Scrabble aboard the Paradise, Nolan's yacht. Not surprising, the board is plainly the deluxe edition, with built-in turntable.
  • Foul Play: Old ladies are seen playing through a window as the main characters pass by.
    [Ethel and Elsie are playing Scrabble. Ethel has just put down the letters "fucker", to which Elsie has added "muther" at the beginning]
    Ethel: Wait, Elsie. I think you're wrong. I think you spell that word with a hyphen.
  • Non-Fiction book Word Freak covers the world of competitive Scrabble, as does the movie Word Wars.
  • Heavenly Creatures: Pauline spells out the word PUTRID.
  • Sneakers: Scrabble tiles are used to solve an anagram.
  • Daria: Daria adds "incarce" to "rate" in the episode "Big House".
  • That '70s Show: Red and Kitty are playing Scrabble with their neighbors, Bob and Midge. Red has recently discovered that Bob is bald and wears a wig, and he has "QBALL" on his rack, while Kitty has "A BAD RUG" on hers. Meanwhile, Midge has "ZYGOTE" and sheepishly admits she's got nothing.
  • A strip in Calvin and Hobbes has both characters playing the most outrageous words and getting ridiculously high scores from them. Another has Calvin spelling only two-letter words like "be" (complaining that he lacks vowels on his rack) whereas Hobbes wins big with words like "nucleoplasm".
  • There's a scary Short Story about a man who plays Scrabble with his wife. Any time either of them spells out a word, that word takes place on the other person. (For example, FLY causes a fly to appear or something.) It ends when the wife plays DEATH... The story is called "Death by Scrabble".
  • The movie Innerspace had Martin Short's character attempting to watch the game show (during a Sprint) to calm himself down, only for the shrunken guy inside him (long story) to send a pulse out that blows up the TV.
  • In Two and a Half Men, Alan plays online Scrabble and has played the actual game with Rose, Chelsea and one of Jake's teachers.
    Chelsea: Wow. You really take this seriously, don't you?
    Alan: It's Like I Always Say: The losers finish with a rack full of tiles.
  • Metalocalypse: In the episode "Klokblocked", Skwissgaar spells "quhzk". To quote Toki:
    Yeah, "Quhzk"s. That's whats a duck says.
  • In the National Film Board of Canada cartoon "The Big Snit", a husband and wife are playing Scrabble. He is staring at his letters, unable to spell anything with them. A reverse shot reveals that his tiles are "EEEEEEE".
  • In the Curb Your Enthusiasm episode "Car Periscope", Larry plays Scrabble with an elderly man, who shocks him by putting down "coon".
  • In The Sopranos, Meadow is playing with Jackie Jr. He complains that she's not allowed to play "Spanish words". The word Meadow played was "oblique", which he pronounces "ob-lik-ay".
  • In her memoir Bossy Pants, Tina Fey says that her "proudest moment as a child" was beating her uncle at Scrabble with the word "farting".
  • Done in this xkcd comic, which suggests use of the word "CLITORIS" without spelling it, of course.
  • In The Simpsons, Bart spells out "KWYJIBO".
  • In ALF, Alf spells out "QUIDNUNC". The rest of the players challenge him but they later learn that it is an actual word (one who enjoys gossip). Alf takes this up a notch by using his extra turn to spell out "QUIDNUNCLE".
  • Goof Troop has a game where Goofy takes nearly a half an hour to take his turn, decides not to play "cat" because he doesn't have enough k's, chooses to spell the word "sesquipedalian", and gets falsely accused of Scrabble Babble by Pete for it.
  • Charlie's Angels (2000): Dylan and Eric Knox were playing Scrabble at one point on their evening. The next morning, Dylan spells out "ENEMY" when The Dragon shows up, not knowing that Eric himself was the Big Bad.
  • Steve and Alex Keaton spend a whole episode Family Ties playing Scrabble, as they use increasingly hilarious strategies and questionable words to try to get an advantage, such as Alex hoarding U's to prevent anyone from getting rid of a Q.
  • In one of the Myth O Mania books, "Hit The Road, Helen", Persephone and Hades play this. The second game has Hades playing war words since this mind is worrying about the "Trojan War".
  • The end of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. episode "Repairs" has most of Coulson's team playing a game, though the only move shown is when Simmons makes the word aglet.
  • Five Nights at Freddy's Troll Palace. The animatronics (with the exception of Foxy, apparently) just want to play a game of Scrabble with the security guard.
  • Richard Castle, naturally, is a master at this, and always wins every game. Until Beckett comes and utterly humilliates him.
  • In CSI episode "Bad Words" a competitive Scrabble player is found dead with tiles in his mouth; it's discovered that he was killed after infuriating his opponent. He played a phony (EXVIN; "a wine aficionado who no longer drinks"), and then challenged his opponent for pluralizing it.
  • In the Discworld book Jingo, Leonard of Quirm invents Discworld's equivalent of Scrabble, which he, of course, calls The Make Words With Tiles That Have Been All Mixed Up Game. The one game of it that is played is between him, Colon, Nobby and Vetinari. Nobby only gets three points because all the words he wants to make are rude and Colon won't let him use them. Meanwhile, Vetinari manages to win by extending "avoid" into "unavoidable" and onto "this Three Times Ye Value Of Ye Whole Word square."
  • In Red Dwarf, Cat plays "Jozxyqk" in a game against Lister. He insists it's a cat word, defined as the sound people make when they get their sexual organs trapped in things. He's not sure if it's in the dictionary, but it would be if you were reading it in the nude and you closed the book too quickly.
  • Le Cœur a ses Raisons has a scene during which Criquette and Brett play Scrabble together. Not only do they use utterly obvious Scrabble Babble (wqt, ffiffu, txtxtx, etc, which are suspiciously all nocturnal aquatic animals), they place the tiles anarchically over the board.
  • In cousin skeeter Skeeter spells out "grzplfx"
  • Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events (2004): Near the beginning, Klaus and Violet can be seen playing it - Too bad Sonny's been gnawing on the tiles.
  • One episode of 8 Out Of 10 Cats Does Countdown had a member of Dictionary Corner discuss a Scrabble variant entitled "Cult", which involved "convincing the other player" that the nonsense words as seen in a picture (in which the center star space isn't even used) had actual definitions and were legal to play.note 
  • In Little Britain, hypnotist Kenny Craig plays Scrabble with his mother. He adds a Y to his mother's "cupboard", making the word "cupboardy", which he says means, er, cupboard-like.


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