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Scrabble Rules

from the Guardian UK

Spell bound

When the Great Depression left architect Alfred Butts out of work, he scrabbled around for something to do – and came up with a game whose ingenious mix of anagrams, crosswords, chance and skill is still a winner, 60 years on. And yet it nearly didn’t see the light of day… Oliver Burkeman reports 

Saturday June 28, 2008
The Guardian

At the 36th National Scrabble Championship, Paul Allen plays the word 'bum'
At the 36th National Scrabble Championship, Paul Allen plays the word ‘bum’

The highest score that it is theoretically possible to achieve in a single turn in Scrabble is for the word “oxyphenbutazone”. Even at the top levels of tournament Scrabble, this has never actually happened: it would require the game to have unfolded in exactly the right way up to that point, leaving exactly the right open spaces, and the right combination of letters in the bag. But if it did, it would span three triple-word scores, creating seven other new words on the board, for a total of at least 1,778, depending on which official word list you used. The closest anyone has come in real life was a now deceased Kurdish player, Dr Karl Khoshnaw, who got 392 points for “caziques” at a contest in Manchester in 1982. (Oxyphenbutazone, in case you’re wondering, is a chemical compound used to treat arthritis; caziques were ancient Peruvian and Mexican princes. But if you had a Scrabble champion’s mind-set, you wouldn’t waste brain-space on what words mean: that’s not the point.)

Scrabble’s perfect equilibrium between chance and skill wasn’t an accident; Alfred Butts meticulously studied the matter. He had plenty of time to do so: born in Poughkeepsie in 1899, he trained as an architect and took a job in Manhattan, but by 1931, aged 32, he fell victim to the economic chaos engulfing the country. Years later, asked what he did after losing his job, he was self-deprecating. “Well, I wasn’t doing anything,” he said. “That was the trouble.”

He tried his hand at art, drawing New York scenes, but they didn’t bring in serious cash. “So I thought I’d invent a game.” He had a role model: by 1931, Charles Darrow, a Philadelphia heating salesman who’d lost his job in the Wall Street Crash, was on his way to becoming a millionaire thanks to Monopoly, which he claimed to have created. (It later emerged he was probably bending the truth.) “I think Alfred was hoping he could do something similar,” Robert Butts says. “Invent a game and make some money.”

[ click to continue reading at the Guardian UK ]

Posted on June 29, 2008 by Editor

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