Tuesday, December 17, 2013

That's not a word

Donna and Mark introduced me to speed Scrabble. Here’s how it’s played.

You start with two sets of Scrabble letters. (Usually collected from thrift shops.) If you have more than four players, you might want to use three sets of letters. The Scrabble board isn’t used.

The letters are face down in the middle of the table and each player takes the usual seven letters, keeping them face down until someone says, “Go.”

You try to make words, as in regular Scrabble, each player building their own grid of words.

Whenever you make a word, you call out, “Word.” The other players (but not you) must then take a letter from the pile. This is where integrity comes into play. Since each player is concentrating on his own grid, trying to make words as fast as possible, it’s hard to keep track of whether the other players have actually made words when they call it out and whether they take letters when they’re supposed to. Don’t bother playing with cheaters.

It’s permissible, though, to rearrange your grid as you go, changing words in order to use new letters.

The object of the game is to use all your letters first. When you do, you call, “Out!” and everyone stops. 

The others verify that all your words are good. If you have an ineligible word, each player gets to give you one of their unwanted letters. You must also disassemble any words built off the ineligible word. Since you’re the only one who knows the order you built your grid, there’s an integrity factor there, too.

Then play resumes.

If all your words are valid, then the round ends. You tally your score in the usual way, but, of course, without the double and triple values the board would have. The other players total the score of their grids but then subtract the values of their unused letters. Yes, it’s possible to have a negative score.

It’s hectic, which makes it fun—unless you’re the deliberative type. Then you’ll just go crazy. And lose. One needs to avoid the impulse to make long words. Three three-letter words are better than one nine-letter one, because your opponents will need to draw more letters. There are times, though, when you’re stuck with a bunch of useless letters and you hope someone will call, “Word,” soon so you can maybe get something you can use. And, of course, there’s the debate over the validity of words. It wouldn’t be Scrabble otherwise.


  1. An Official Scrabble Dictionary is available (updated every few years) -- our family uses it as the "final word" on what is allowed. They are paperback size but thick, so it's not a space hog.

  2. I spent the $4.95 for the iPhone version. It has already come in handy.