Scrabble’s letter values are broken, says researcher

Ben Silverman
Plugged In

Can’t figure out how to use that pesky (and awesome) ‘Z’ tile in a game of Scrabble?

It’s actually easier than ever, claims one Scrabble expert, and that’s a big, big problem.

Researcher Joshua Lewis believes recent changes to Scrabble’s official dictionary have thrown off the balance in the game’s letter values, effectively ruining the scoring system altogether.

"The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed," he explained to the BBC. "Among the notable additions are all of these short words which make it easier to play Z, Q and X, so even though Q and Z are the highest value letters in Scrabble, they are now much easier to play."

Lewis is the creator of a program called Vallet, which calculates proper Scrabble letter values based on letter frequency and how easy it is to play with other letters. Changes made to the official Scrabble dictionary have had a huge impact on his program’s calculations.

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For instance, the letter ‘X’, currently worth eight points, should be dropped to five points. The letter ‘M’ should be demoted from three points to two, while that letter ‘Z’ you’ve been dying to get rid of should be worth only six points, not ten. As for ‘Q’, well, that’s still enough of a pain that Lewis’ program actually wants to raise it to 12 (he'll settle for leaving it at ten).

Pretty daring change for a scoring system that dates back to the game’s inception some 75 years ago -- and a change unlikely to take effect anytime soon. A Mattel spokesperson told the BBC that they’ve “no plans to change Scrabble tiles.”

”It is not a game where fairness is paramount, it is a game of luck and changing the tile values wouldn't achieve anything," said Scrabble’s UK rep, Philip Nelkon.

Scrabble’s top man in the U.S. think it’s a bad idea, too. John Chew, the co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association, believes any change would bring about "catastrophic outrage."

"Some people would just continue playing with the old tile distributions because people who've played the game often enough tend to remember that the Q is worth 10 points, the Z is worth 10 points and so on,” Chew said.

The initial Scrabble tile valuation was conceived in 1938 by the game’s creator, Alfred Butts, based on how frequently letters appeared on the front page of the New York Times.

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