Many lovers of English language can’t escape the lure of Scrabble. Central to the fun of Scrabble is its point system that each letter brings to the table. The challenge of making words with the toughest letters to gain maximum points makes the whole game exciting.
Now, this point system is under scrutiny as new words enter the Scrabble lexicon.
Late last month, a University of California–San Diego, cognitive science postdoc and casual player named Joshua Lewis conducted a computer analysis to recalibrate Scrabble’s letter values based on the game’s current lexicon. Lewis reposted his findings to Hacker News, and they were picked up by Digg and went viral. Around the same time, Sam Eifling, writing for Deadspin, asked a programmer friend to do the same. Both were inspired by the fact that while the language had changed dramatically from the time Butts performed his calculations, the game of Scrabble had not. (link)
The two new formats – Joshua Lewis’ and Deadspin’s – will impact the value of the letters in the following way:
Is it worth it?
Most experts and enthusiasts think NO! The system currently, rewards good players who understand and can use the high equity of some letters as opposed to others. If we “smoothen” the values of the letters, it will take away the fun, not to mention the challenge that is central to the game itself. It will stop making the game challenging to the best and most creative Scrabble players.
“Except for the Q, Josh [Lewis] basically squashes the volatility,” said Eric Chaikin, co-director of the Scrabble documentary Word Wars. “His values take the fun out.”
Quackle co-writer John O’Laughlin, a software engineer at Google, said the existing inequities also confer advantages on better players, who understand the “equity value” of each tile—that is, its “worth” in points compared with the average tile. That gives them an edge in balancing scoring versus saving letters for future turns, and in knowing which letters play well with others. “If we tried to equalize the letters, this part of the game wouldn’t be eliminated, but it would definitely be muted,” O’Laughlin said. “Simply playing the highest score available every turn would be a much more fruitful strategy than it currently is.”
In response to Lewis’ findings, John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association and a mathematics doctoral student at the University of Toronto, wrote that Scrabble has always had an “intentional” imbalance between the face value and the equity value of the letters. Whenever the game’s lexicon changes—a fifth edition of the Scrabble dictionary is due in 2014—players adapt. “The tile values were chosen to make an interesting game, not to accurately represent the statistical properties of a particular lexicon,” he wrote.
Well, even Joshua Lewis understands this and agrees, but he seems to be on an evangelizing campaign for Scrabble, and make it more agreeable as well as workable for the “ordinary” players.
Even Joshua Lewis, inventor of the new system believes the traditional valuations can make the game more exciting. “You’re really lucky if you pick an X because it’s over-valued and unlucky if you pick a V. So if they were to re-do the values of the tiles that would reduce the level of luck.
“That might be desirable in tournaments but it might not be as good in casual play where you want the less skilled players to have a shot periodically at beating the more highly skilled players.” (link)
But Why??? As a scrabble player, would you like the values to change?
Featured Image Credit: DavidMartynHunt
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