How do you start playing Scrabble

Between poker and chess: this is how professionals play Scrabble

Darn it. Almost only "E" s on the bench. What do you start with a loud "E" s? The beginner is at a loss. Beate Lutz smiles and helps: “Tea! Quite famous word when you have too many, E? Luckily, a “T” and an “I” are included, so quickly put them on the game board in the 15 by 15 squares. But the tea egg doesn't do much right now: only six points. Nothing compared to "myxedema", the pathological swelling of the skin with which you can get the highest number of points straight away in German-speaking Scrabble: 138! Wednesday evening in the "Standard".

While one or the other after-work beer is drunk and chattered a lot at the tables in the Würzburg pub, there is full concentration in the back corner. Only the letter stones clack. And now and then there is an appreciative whisper. For two hours now, the Scrabble friends' meeting has been about words that are as valuable as possible from a total of 100 letter stones. Cornelia Frank has just scored 39 points with “Confession” - because the word crosses a dark red field and therefore has three times the word value.

“Unfortunately, it's not about beautiful words. You have to drive that out of the beginners, otherwise you won't get very far. "
Jutta Wittmann, board member at Scrabble e.V., on the goal of the game

Confession? Jutta Wittmann smiles. “Unfortunately, it's not about beautiful words. You have to drive that out of the beginners, otherwise you won't get very far. “Hey, Hey and Ey. Not nice. But for that there? already 26 points. In the right place on the field, the simple "Nö" and "Oil" can add up to 51 points. And “Sequoia” may not be the most beautiful word either. But the Californian sequoia is the shortest word in the dictionary that contains all vowels. And there are seven letters that - strategically placed on the board - can earn 128 points with a single move.

Week after week brain teasers: Fixed by the letter puzzle in "Time"

Frequent letters such as “N”, “E” or “S” hardly ever increase your points account. The trick is to cleverly put the problematic but valuable "Ü" or even the "Y". It is best to use a blue or red field on the board, for which there is double or triple letter or even word value. Hey! The guest is amazed. A professional like Jutta Wittmann just nods. The retired psychologist is a tournament player and has been on the board of Scrabble Germany e.V. for six months. She was infected with the Scrabble virus through the letter puzzle in "Die Zeit". Jutta Wittmann has been scrabbling along for the last week. And sometime twelve years ago she took part in her first "Zeit" tournament. Then she noticed: "There are a lot of crazy people like me!"

Crazy people who memorize short words that are allowed under the official rules. Enthusiastic people who bend incomplete verbs in order to achieve the highest possible word values. They know that an abbreviation like "Kripo" is valid, but not an abbreviation like "BH". They are happy when they score a lot of points with an ugly word and prefer to sit in pairs rather than three on the board, because: "No tactics are possible with three people."

The attraction of this sport of thought? "Scrabble is a mixture of chess and poker," says Jutta Wittmann, while the beginner at the pub is sitting helplessly in front of his seven letters on the filing bench. What do you do with a "D", an "L", two "C", an O "and a" Q "without a" U "? On the playing field next door, Christine Simny is just laying a cool "Ixen" for 22 points and then gives neighborhood help with a look at the beginner's bench: "How about 'Dol', the unit for pain?" Which the beginner quickly understood : No word may be set diagonally and it must always be attached to a word that is already lying. Own names, city names and country names as well as brand names are taboo. Anyone who is serious about scrabbling is no longer surprised about anything. "Weft"? “Is there?” Says Beate Lutz. “I've already seen it on the board. I don't know what that is. ”A quick lookup, aha: weft yarn made from hard English Cheviot wool. The main thing is points.

Soon after her first tournament on Usedom, Jutta Wittmann brought the first official German Scrabble Championship with 77 participants to Bad Kissingen in 2010. And the following year, the Lower Franconian spa town took on the role of host again for the brain teaser tournament. The eventual winner got the most points for terms like “Rossend” and “Entringe” as well as “Gerodete”, “Felskamm” or “Beinern”. Whereby “Felskamm” was actually invalid and could therefore have been challenged by the opponent. Because it's not in Duden and not on the highly material list of all valid Scrabble words.

Pros make tactics - and wait for the bingo!

Jutta Wittmann has now played around 700 tournament games. You don't need to come to her with a “tea egg”. “It's not expensive enough.” She plays every day, especially online, for example with Christine Simny. At the bar table she just put all her seven letters on the board at once - bingo! 50 points extra! Beate Lutz lays "Grütze". "Nice, but only 16 points."

Cornelia Frank places “Varia” for 32 points. And apologizes to the opponent a few moves later: “It's my fault, the Varia shut everything up there.” “It's not just the ability, but also the coincidence,” says qualified pedagogue Beate Lutz when asked what she's doing Playing with the 100 letters is tempting. To do this, she learns three- and two-syllable words by heart. And when you go for a walk you think about how many points the beautiful word “amphora” is worth. “Scrabble” only had its 70th birthday in December. And manufacturer Mattel helped the board game to get some media attention. Namely, by announcing that in Germany the classic will be called “Letter Yolo” in the future. A PR gag, but there was a nice shit storm on the internet for it.

Of course, in the "Standard" category with tea, apple spritzer and Kässpätzle at the monthly meeting, "letter yolo" is not played. But Scrabble, of course, still and will continue to do so. On December 16, 1948, the most popular word game in the world was registered with the US Patent Office under this brand name. The inventor was not a writer, language teacher or journalist, but an unemployed architect with a penchant for word games.

What inventor Alfred Mosher Butt wanted: A game that consists half of luck and half of skill

In search of a game that required half luck and half skill, the American Alfred Mosher Butts had already developed the original form in 1931, at the time of the great economic crisis. "Lexico" was what he called his game, which initially did not have a board with diagonal bonus fields like it does today. But already wooden tiles with one letter of the alphabet each. Words as long as possible should be created from randomly drawn characters. The rarer the letter, the higher its score. Butts had determined the frequency of the individual letters from front pages of the New York Times. In 1933 Butts had offered his “Lexiko” to major manufacturers such as Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers - without success. He did not allow himself to be discouraged, continued to make copies himself and sold and gave them away to friends.

And with the help of his friend James Brunot, a lawyer, Butt managed to break through. Brunot was enthusiastic about the game idea and took over the production and distribution rights in return for payment of a commission. He changed the rules of the game a little and added the colored bonus boxes to the 15 by 15 field game board. Finally he filed the patent application under the name "Scrabble". Maybe because the player blindly pulls his letters out of a bag? Or because you - with the seven tiles on your bench in front of your eyes - feel your way through the possibilities of word formation?

Discovery on summer vacation: Success came with the boss of "Macy's"

Scanning the 145,000 current buzzwords that form the basis of tournament players' rules? In any case, the English “to scrabble” means “to look around, to feel around”. Brunot is said to have made 18 games a day with his wife at first. Until chance came into play: In 1952, the president of New York's largest department store operator, Macy's, Jack Strauss, discovered the game while on summer vacation. And back in New York, “Scrabble” was added to the range. 37,000 units had been sold promptly by the end of the year.

The word game came to Germany just three years later, and in 1955 it was presented for the first time at the Nuremberg Toy Fair. To date, Scrabble has been sold more than 120 million times and has been translated into Afrikaans, Arabic, Chinese, Hebrew and 25 other languages.There is a version in Braille, in Nigeria Scrabble is a state-sponsored sport, the competition is now held in English at the now annual World Cup Always stronger. In Würzburg that evening there are twelve points for “Toast”. And Jutta Wittmann is happy about 78 points for a triple word value including bingo. “Killer instinct,” say the teammates.

But cure? What kind of word is that supposed to be? At the Scrabble table, people argue when someone puts down a word that doesn't officially exist. Like the "tail dog" with which Loriot's aunt Mechthild once stubbornly wanted to score 57 points in "Oedipussi". Cure? Well, the French clergyman has found its way into the German Duden - and it is true. So: reach into the cloth bag, draw new letters - as it should be without spiking with an outstretched arm and at shoulder height, please.

Hardly anyone from the Würzburg Scrabble-Treff plays in the family circle. Because they are all merciless gamblers and sometimes just knock out a genitive S to land on a triple word value field. After all, more than half of all German households are said to have a Scrabble game. And if you can't find a game partner, you can check the association's website to find out where larger groups can be found nationwide, like in Würzburg.

The game is over when a player has played all his letter tiles and the bag is empty. The other player's points are deducted from the letters that he still has left on his bench. And credited to the player who had the last word. So Beate Lutz passed Jutta Wittmann with a grin: "Won in accounting."

Contact and information: There is a lot of interesting information about the game, the rules and the Scrabble Germany club online at In Würzburg, the next Scrabble meeting will take place on Tuesday, January 22nd, again in the “Standard” at Oberthürstraße 11A. It starts at 4 p.m. Beginners are also welcome! It is best to contact Jutta Wittmann shortly beforehand by email at [email protected]

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