“My kids have been throwing Scrabble tiles at each other again. It’s all fun and games until someone loses an I.” — Dad joke 

Fads come and go. Right now everybody’s all excited about The New York Times version of Wordle. The problem is, you only get to try to figure out just one five-letter word a day. That’s it.

Scrabble, on the other hand, offers myriad opportunities to make words all over its 225-space board, and you get to keep score to boot. No wonder it’s been America’s favorite word game for 70 years.

But that wasn’t always the case. Originally created in 1933 by unemployed architect Alfred Butts, the game languished for about 20 years before it came to the attention of the president of Macy’s department store, then it was off and running.

The North American version of Scrabble is owned by Hasbro and uses Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, which contains more than 100,000 words. (Everywhere else on the planet the game is owned by Mattel and uses a word guide published by Collins.)

Of the game’s 100 tiles, two are blank and the other 98 have a total face value of 187 points. But it’s possible to score way more points than that depending on a player’s skill and strategy, such as getting to bonus squares for double and triple letter scores, and even double and triple word scores. (And of course, there’s the extra benefit of preventing your opponent from using those bonus squares.)

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And if you’re lucky enough to score a “bingo,” by using all seven of your letters at once (those blank tiles can really help here), you’ll reap an additional 50 points on top of your word score.

Another way to increase your score is to look for “hook words” — existing words to which you can add more letters and thereby potentially score two words. For example you can often add an “S” to a word to make it a plural at the same time that you’re creating a new word in a different direction. Similarly, you could change “LUSH” to “BLUSH,” or “COME” to “COMET” just by adding a letter in the right place.

And don’t forget about those prefixes (like: DIS, AUTO and IN) and suffixes (such as: ED, ER and OR) that can be added to many words.

Other words not to be overlooked are those containing a Q but no U (for example: QWERTY, CINQ, QAT, QAF, QI and QIN, or any of the 26 others in the Merriam-Webster official dictionary); ones using Y as a vowel (including BY, CRY, CRYPT and GLYPH); and allowed words with no vowels at all (such as HMMM, PSST and SHH).

And finally, two-letter words have been described as “highly regarded” by competitive Scrabble players because they give them a way to really rack up the points by connecting a longer word to one that’s already been played. Some good little words are: AA, DA, EW, GI, KA, OK, PO, TE and ZA.

If all this Scrabble jargon has gotten your competitive juices flowing, you can try your luck at the Literacy Volunteers’ Letters for Literacy Scrabble Fest next Sunday, April 24, from 12:30 to 4 p.m. at High Street Congregational Church at 106 Pleasant St. in Auburn.

Teams of two to four players collect pledges and compete in either the social or pro category. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is required and masks are optional. For more information, call 753-6658 or visit www.literacyvolunteersandro.org.

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]


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