## Scrabble!

AT writes:

Sitting on my [AT's] to-do list for a while now has been an exploration of Scrabble from an experimental design point of view; how to better design a tournament to make the variance as small as possible while still preserving the appearance of the home game to its players. . . .

I’m proud (relieved?) to say that I’ve finally finished the first draft of this work for two-player head-to-head games, with a duplication method that ensures that if the game were repeated, each player would receive tiles from the reserve in the same sequence: think of the tiles being laid out in order (but unseen to the players), so that one player draws from the front and the other draws from the back. . . .

One goal of this was to figure out how much of the variance in score comes from the tile order and how much comes from the board, given that a tile order would be expected. It turns out to be about half-bag, half-board . . .

Some other findings from the simulations:

• The blank is worth about 30 points to a good player, each S about 10.
• The Q is a burden to whichever player receives it, effectively serving as a 5 point penalty for having to deal with it due to its effect in reducing bingo opportunities, needing either a U or a blank for a chance at a bingo and a 50-point bonus.
• The J is essentially neutral pointwise.
• The X and the Z are each worth about 3-5 extra points to the player who receives them. Their difficulty in playing in bingoes is mitigated by their usefulness in other short words.

I [AT] have yet to make any other conclusions about how I think the game should be modified . . .

Not a problem! I have some ideas! See also the political angle here.

1. Phil says:

Andrew, one of your ideas is to get rid of "non-English words" like qat, xu, and jo.  I'm with you on "jo", but how can you say qat and xu aren't English words?  Isn't qat the English word for…well, how can I put it…for the plant whose scientific name is catha Edulis?  You might argue that it isn't, that the English word for that plant is kat, not qat, or maybe it's khat, not qat, but this is like arguing about the correct way to spell the name of the ruler of Libya.  For a long time, qat has been an accepted English spelling for that plant.  Who are you to say it's not right?  And that argument goes double for "xu."  It's a unit of currency, like the franc or the lire.  The correct English spelling for it is "xu".  What's your beef?

2. Phil:

Good point on qat.  But did you notice that the papers started writing Gaddafi instead of Qaddafi?  So maybe it should be gat.  xu is just obscure.  My beef is that it's a word that only comes up in Scrabble.  But maybe it's ok. I draw the line on aw, though.  In real life, it's spelled awwwww….

• Alex Cook says:

Nothing wrong with jo either. It's in the chorus of Auld Lang Syne. Jolly good word it is too.

3. Romeo says:

My friend Anjan turned me on to your post today.  It's pretty cool that you figured all this out through your simulation.  I always wondered about the Q.  I always feel like I get stuck w/ crap when I get it.  I'm curious what else you are going to figure out.

4. Phil Price says:

Andrew, no, I didn't notice that "the papers" started writing Gadaffi instead of Qaddafi.  It must have happened quite recently: within the past month or so the Boston Globe, NY Post, NY Daily News, San Francisco Chronicle, among many others, have spelled it "Khadafy", and The New York Times and Christian Science Monitor have spelled it Qaddafi. Outside the world of "the papers" many magazines and TV websites seem to prefer Qadaffi, including Cbs News, Business Week, The Atlantic (which, in a recent article, spelled his first name Muammer, which I had not previously seen).

• I just recall seeing a higher Gaddafi/Qaddafi this year then in the past, but I haven't studied the matter.

5. Thom says:

Is it a google effect? the former is about 10 times higher than the latter in hits when I search. Journalists maybe now use google to check spelling more often?