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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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
    • Also, getting a "bingo" (using all seven of your tiles in a single turn), which awards a 50-point bonus on top of the score for all words formed.
    • Hitting two word bonuses in a single play. You need a word of at least 7 letters to reach two Double Word squares, or 8 to hit two Triple Word squares. Better still if you do the latter AND pick up the Double Letter square in between them.
    • And the granddaddy of them all: making a 15-letter word to hit all three Triple Word squares along one edge of the board.
  • 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.
  • Spin-Off: Scrabble Jr. is a well-known children's adaptation. There's Super Scrabble, which uses a bigger board and more tiles and offers bonuses that run up to Quadruple Letter/Word. The 80s game show had its own Home Game release, 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.
  • 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.
    • In the 1950s and 1960s there was a licensed low-rent version called Skip-A-Cross, which was identical to regular Scrabble except that the board, tiles, and racks were made of cardboard.
    • Hasbro games-mate UpWords is basically Scrabble where you can stack the tiles.
  • 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.

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