by Janet Spencer

Worldwide, Scrabble is the 5th most popular board game, coming in after chess, checkers, backgammon, and Monopoly. In the U.S., it’s the second most popular game, with only Monopoly being more popular. In Britain, it’s #1. About 1/3 of American homes own an edition of Scrabble. In Great Britain, about half do. Come along with Tidbits as we play Scrabble!

SCRABBLE FACTS

Scrabble is sold in 121 countries and comes in 31 languages, including Welsh.

• English Scrabble comes with 100 tiles, but Portuguese and Italian have 120 tiles because they are more difficult languages.

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• Experts say that French is the easiest language to play in, because there are so many words that can be expanded by adding a single “E” or “S.” German is said to be the hardest because it’s hard to turn a short word into a longer word. There was once a debate if Germans should be allowed to use 8 tiles in their rack instead of the standard 7, but in the end they got stuck with the original 7.

• Spanish Scrabble has a tile with two Ls on it, pronounced as a “Y” sound. The Dutch have a tile with an “I” and a “J” side by side, and the Catalan language, spoken in areas of Spain, has a tile with two Ls with a dot in between.

In English, the letter which occurs most frequently is “E” and therefore each Scrabble game contains 12 of them. In second place is the letter “A” with nine. But the Malaysian version contains 19 of the “A” tiles, which constitutes 20% of the total tiles used in the game. This is the most of any single letter used in any version of the game. In English Scrabble, 42% of the tiles are vowels, but that includes all five vowels.

• By contrast, there is only one each of “J” “K” “Q” “X” and “Z” in the English version.

• Languages spoken in China, and also Japanese, do not translate into Scrabble tiles.

FACTOIDS

The world’s largest game of Scrabble as certified by Guinness World Records took place in Wembley Stadium, London, England to celebrate its 50th birthday in 1998. Each fiberglass tile measured 6 feet (1.8 m) square and took 2 strong men to lift.

• To celebrate Scrabble’s 60th birthday, which coincided with Prince Charles’s 60th birthday, a large portrait of Prince Charles was made solely from Scrabble tiles. It was created by artist Lizzie Sanders. She used different colored tiles from different types of games: white plastic tiles, black plastic tiles, and the classic wooden tiles.

• In 1992, Franklin Mint commissioned and produced a version of Scrabble featuring 24k gold-plated tiles.

• There is a Deluxe Scrabble with easy-to-see bold print for individuals with low vision.

• Underwater Scrabble was played in England in 1995 as a fundraiser. Special laminated boards were used and the tiles had lead weights attached.

• If all the Scrabble tiles ever produced were laid end to end, they would stretch around the world at the equator twice.

When Americans were held hostage in Iran in 1979, they made a Scrabble game out of paper to pass the time.

• During an expedition to Antarctica in 1985, Lieutenant Commander Waghorn fell down a crevasse, breaking a leg. He was successfully winched to the surface of the ice, but could not travel. After his broken leg was set, Lance Corporal Terry Gill set up a small tent and kept him company while the rest of the crew went for help. The two men huddled together, entertaining themselves with a portable game of Scrabble while they waited. Five days later, they were both pulled from the ice by a helicopter during a brief break in the stormy weather. No word on who won the icy tournament.

TOURNAMENTS

Each year since 1973, the Scrabble Players Championship hosts a National Scrabble Championship in a major U.S. city. The tournament attracts more than 500 skilled adult players who compete in 31 rounds of one-on-one play over a five day period.

• Today there are a variety of Scrabble tournaments, including the World Scrabble Championship, the Youth Scrabble Tournament, the School Scrabble Tournament, and innumerable regional Scrabble championships.

• Competitive games tend to be a lot faster than Scrabble games played at home with the family because each player only gets 25 minutes to make all of their moves combined—and chess clocks are used to keep time. Each side usually makes 11 to 13 moves in a tournament game, which equals about two minutes per play. Exceed your allotted time, and you’re penalized ten points for each minute over 25.

The highest Scrabble score ever received on a single turn is 1,782, achieved by adding tiles to words already in place to form the word “oxyphenbutazone” (an anti-inflammatory drug). Player Benjamin Woo played it across the top of the board, hitting three Triple Word Score squares while making seven crosswords downward. He also scored an extra 50 points for using up all seven of his tiles in a single turn.

• Benjamin Woo’s 1,782 points eclipsed the previous record-holder. Karl Khoshnaw from Manchester, England held the record for the highest word score achieved in a competition, scoring 392 points with “caziques” which is the plural form of a word denoting a West Indian Chief.

• The highest score possible on the first round is 128 points with the word “muzjiks” meaning a Russian peasant

SCANDAL

One player who regularly entered Scrabble tournaments came under suspicion when he ended up with both blank tiles in 29 out of 31 games. The blank tiles – two in each game – are the most valuable because they can be used as any letter in the alphabet. While under close scrutiny in the next tournament, he was found to be sneaking pilfered blank tiles from their hiding spot under his leg.

NEW WORDS

In November of 2022, the 7th edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary added about 500 new words now allowed in play. Some of the new words included: adulting (behaving like an adult); embiggen (to make larger); fauxhawk (a fake Mohawk hairstyle); dumpster (now no longer trademarked); torrented and torrenting (downloading files); bae (slang for babe); Covid and vax; along with yeehaw, vibing, welp, thingie, hangry, spork, swole, skeezy, pageview, and unmute.