At A Moment of Worldwide Controversy

Scrabble made international headlines recently when University of California cognitive scientist and computative data analyst Joshua Lewis suggested changing Scrabble’s age-old scoring system.

Here in Whitehorse, the 15-year-old Scrabble Club plans to use the well-loved, original Butts system for their regular Sunday gatherings and the Yukon Scrabble Championships on Sunday, Feb. 24.

Alfred Butts, the inventor of the game, assigned the original value for each letter by studying the frequency of words in the New York Times. Seventy-five years later, University of California cognitive scientist and computative data analyst Joshua Lewis claims that as language changes, so should the values for each letter played.

Lesley Ciarula Taylor reported in the Jan. 22 issue of the The Toronto Star that Lewis’s newly written, open-source software measures the frequency of letters in language while weighing their value against the length of a word. And based upon his computations, Lewis suggests changing letter values according to usage. For example, while the original value of Z is 10 points, Lewis suggests 6 allotted points.

When Lewis posted his software on his blog in mid-January the Scrabble world noticed. Within days the page garnered over 10,000 hits and Scrabble fans worldwide have since been hotly debating the issue. Richard Alleyne reported in the Jan. 15 issue of United Kingdom newspaper The Telegraph that John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association claimed there would be “catastrophic outrage” if the scoring system were to change.

I asked Whitehorse Scrabble club co-coordinator Micah Quinn for his thoughts on this scoring controversy.

“It’s an interesting thought that the rules to a word game should change as the language evolves,” Quinn says. “My initial reaction is that no, the game should stay the way it is. When playing, you don’t really think about why letters have certain point values, they just do and you make plays accordingly. Perhaps I’m a purist but I love the game the way it is”.

Founded 15 years ago by Rick Steele, the Whitehorse Scrabble Club meets every Sunday to play. The atmosphere is friendly and newcomers are welcome.

“I grew up playing strategy/logic games like Scrabble, chess, poker, etc. and have always had a love for them,” Quinn says. “You can always improve and every game is different. It’s really about challenging yourself. For Scrabble, it is largely skill but luck is enough of a factor (what letters you pull from the bag), so that weaker players always have a chance. I also enjoy the social aspect of the game, especially at the Whitehorse club where we play at the Gold Rush every Sunday afternoon, often with pint in hand”.

The Whitehorse Scrabble Club will host the inaugural Yukon Scrabble Championships at the Gold Rush Inn on Sunday, Feb. 24, but you need to register by Feb. 22. Check-in is at 9:30 a.m. and the first letter tiles will be pulled at 10 a.m.

The entry fee is $25, or $10 with a North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) membership. Players are guaranteed at least six 50-minute timed, 2-player games with what’s called modified Swiss pairings and standard NASPA scoring.

And by the way, the official Tournament Word List dictionary will be applied.

If you can’t make it to the tournament, you can always play a friendly game or two each Sunday at the Gold Rush Inn between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

For more information contact Micah Quinn by email [email protected].

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