BARBELCS – THE GAME OF WEIRD WORDS (July 14/00)

Like Checkers, Snakes and Ladders, and Parcheesi, it’s a board game; it combines elements of the world’s most popular word game, the crossword puzzle, uses numbers and is a game of chance in that the luck of the draw is an important element.

While it has a huge element of chance, this game is like bridge and chess in that to play it well, skill, memory and creativity are necessary adjuncts. In other words, the very best players of this game, say world championship level, must possess a good imagination and a fair degree of intelligence. On the other hand, anybody can learn to play the game and play it well; one doesn’t have to be a computer expert or rocket scientist to be good at it.

The game? You’ve probably guessed – if you’ve unscrambled BARBELCS in the heading – that it’s the complex, engaging word game, Scrabble. Invented about 70 years ago by an American, Alfred M. Butts, Scrabble is one of the most popular board games in the world and has millions of adherents. Since the first Scrabble game appeared in 1931, over 100 million sets have been sold worldwide. Today Scrabble is the second best-selling board game in the world behind Monopoly.

Why is Scrabble popular?

Perhaps the words of the game’s inventor will explain. In an interview published some years ago, Butts said in effect that he was looking for something that would combine the elements of the three basic types of games – board games, number games and word games. After a period of diligent research, which mainly consisted of studying the leading newspapers of the day to make up an appropriate word list, Butts came up with a game that has captivated millions of people.

Scrabble, in effect, is a crossword puzzle on a board that keeps score and has an element of luck. Butts hit upon the perfect game for people who thrive on a harmless but challenging combination of word puzzles, competition and games of chance.

If you’ve never played Scrabble, you won’t find it a difficult game to learn. However, it can become a passion, so be warned. While suitable for various levels of playing ability – there’s even a junior game for kids – at advanced levels, it is complex and demanding.

I use “demanding” here in the sense of requiring skill and effort. To play at the top level in Scrabble, the Canadian championship, for example, players must know thousands of words of two to eight letters. One of the top Canadian players, Christopher Sykes of Cambridge, Ontario, knows 100 two-letter words, 100 three-letter words, 4,000 three-letter words, 7,000 seven-letter words and 3,000 eight-letter words.

And, says Sykes, knowing all these words still puts him behind the experts. Sykes claims that there are actually 20,000 seven-letter and eight-letter words and champion players know 15,000 of them.

At championship level Scrabble players must also be familiar with an assortment of “weird words” – words without vowels, and Q words without the letter U, for example.

The very best Scrabble players in the world have one thing in common – photographic memories. For you and I to enjoy the game, however, it suffices if we know a few Q words that don’t require the letter U, have a fondness for playing with words and like a bit of competition with our equals.

(If you’re interested in Scrabble for fun, a group meets informally at the Wolfville Library on occasion. For information contact the library.)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s