- Posted January 16, 2013 by
Tiverton, Rhode Island
Scrabble Tiles Points Challenged
Lewis, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Diego, has developed a system that would change the value of certain letters and up-end the strategy of players devoted to the 65-year-old word game.
It's a suggestion that would be even less popular than when they changed the colors of the bonus squares on the board in 2008.
"I updated the statistical analysis … to reflect the changes that happened in the words for Scrabble," said Lewis.
"You play those two-letter words and people get a little annoyed at you, and I think they're justified at getting annoyed," he said. (By the way, za is an Arabic letter. It's also slang for pizza.)
Lewis' new method, developed with the program Valett, recalculates letters' values based on three things: the letter's overall frequency in the English language, its frequency by word length and the ease with which you can transition in and out of the letter in a word.
A "Z" would go from 10 points to 6, an "X" from 8 to 5 and an "F" from 4 to 3. Some letter values would bump up, like the "V" from 4 to 5 points.
"This guy seems to have done a better job than most of making a good case for how the game could be improved, but he's got a few flaws in his reasoning," said John Chew, the co-president of the North American Scrabble Association. "In part, he doesn't understand what it is about the game that makes it popular."
Developed during the Great Depression by architect Alfred Butts, Scrabble's letter values were originally determined by their frequency on the New York Times front page.
The language used in the 1930s and 40s is much different than that spoken today, Chew admits, but changing their value would take a lot of the randomness out of the game.
"What I like about the game of Scrabble is it has the right amount of luck. It's a game where it's quite obvious if you study the words, you can play the game better," Chew said. "Someone who knows all the two letter words is going to beat someone who doesn't know all the two letter words probably three games out of four."
But, there are always those people that just know how to spell really well and know the board, and all its points and premium spaces, and they will be agitated by this. By this new suggestion, this could get more people to buy it, or those people that had played it for 65 years that will object to this idea.
Lewis said he does not have plans to take the code to the manufacturers, but has abstractly thought of shopping it around on Kickstarter, a platform used to gain funding for creative projects.