NEWS

Pop Culture: 'Scrabble' crisis obviated

Dennis Volkert

"Scrabble" enthusiasts freaked out last week when word came that a new version of the game allows proper nouns.

The new version, called "Scrabble Trickster," is set for release in July, but it will be sold only in the UK.

News of the proper-noun ban-lift caused a wave of hysteria on the Internet.

I’ve never seen such querimony.

A headline on www.dailymail.co.uk read, “Scrabble to upset purists with ‘dumbing down’ rule change.”

Other headlines had a similar tone.

“Beyonce on a triple-word score?”

“Misguided quixotry!”

John D. Williams Jr., the executive director of the National Scrabble Association and spokesman for Hasbro, soon calmed the word-geek waters with an official statement.

“You may have heard the official rules of 'Scrabble' have changed,”?Williams said. “That is simply palaver. P-A-L-A-V-E-R. That’s 12 points, plus it’s a double-word score, and I used all my letters, so?I got 74.”

Scrabble was created in 1938 by Alfred Butts.?An unemployed architect, Butts needed something to occupy his time, and also sought a practical use for a box of alphabet-labeled wooden cuboids in his closet.

Butts wanted to create a game that combined the vocabulary skills of crossword puzzles and anagrams, with the additional element of chance.

I think it succeeded. Whenever I play "Scrabble," I find my skill lacking equally in each of those areas.

Don’t get me wrong. My vocabulary is OK. It’s the “chance” part that gets in the way.

I draw the tiles, put them in the miniature church-pew, and stare blankly at an impending vowel-fest.

“K-H-I-U-O-I-A?” I say to myself. “I?wish we were playing 'Scrabble Hawaii.'”

Other times, I have complete mental block.

“I can’t think of a single word with a blank in it.”

Even if you do get a promising letter combo, it won’t fit with the configuration of tiles already on the board. You can’t get a word in edgewise.

"Scrabble Trickster" doesn’t solve any of those problems, but it does expand the options. Most casual "Scrabble" players would jump at the chance to use names of people and places. How often have you had to pass up “Zanjan”?

Some people would insist on trying it anyway.

“Let’s see, J, O, H N ... there — Johnson!”

“You can’t use that,”?you say. “It’s a proper noun.”

“That isn’t proper!”

“I know. That’s why it’s against the rules.”

Now that the noun-scare has passed, our attention turns to the next tradition-wrecker —?"Scrabble:?Proper Verbs" version.

Contact Dennis Volkert at volkert@sturgisjournal.com.