Scrabble Panic & Me
Posted April 7, 2010on:
The Scrabbleworld was rocked Tuesday with the announcement that Mattel is bringing out a new version of the game allowing proper nouns – places, names and even company names or brands.
Mattel, which has the rights to the game outside of North America, was greeted with tremendous anger about the announcement of these new rules.
Must it all change? First it was the words, ZA and QI, which were the first two-letter Z and Q words allowed in the game. Za is short for pizza and Qi is the energy of life (also spelled chi).
Having these two-letter Q and Z words takes away some of the challenge of the game and fear of getting stuck with those letters at the end of the game with nowhere to play them.
And now proper names will be allowed? Why, we could play a brand name like Apple. Or we could play a name like Sue or Butts, as in Alfred Butts, who invented the game in 1938. I know you would have been up in arms had you heard about this on Tuesday.
Is this the dumbing down of our world? Should we just declare all players winners so all Scrabble players have positive self-esteem?
Yes word nerds everywhere were getting the “vapors” Tuesday, as one writer noted. My cousin, Whoopie Goldberg, was up in arms on ABC’s The View. (I call her my cousin because my mother’s maiden name was Goldberg.)
“I’m a fairly serious competitive Scrabble payer (no, really), which is why I was seriously freaked out to read this morning that Mattel was changing the rules of the game for the first time in 62 years to allow proper nouns like Jay-Z and Shakira as playable words,” wrote Robert Quigley on a website called Geeksystem.
“This would be a nightmare for a number of reasons, not the least of which would be deciding which nouns are ‘proper;’ which brands, celebrities and acronyms are ‘big’ enough that they warrant dictionary entries?” Quigley continued. “Does TomKat for Tm Cruise and Katie Holmes annoyingly portmanteaued relationship work? Is ‘Bennifer still valid even though Ben Afflect and Jennifer Lopez have since broken up? All of which raises another point: Scrabble as we know it would become really dumb.”
Another writer wrote about this injustice with this headline: “Scrabble FCUKed with Proper Noun Rule Change.” (You may rearrange the letters in that second word if you wish.) “Toy makers Mattel risk the fury of thousands of highly literate wordsmiths today as they prepare a shake-up of the Scrabble rules to allow proper nouns such as Jesus (12 points), Topeka (12 points) and iPad (7 points).”
For some reason I did not panic. And it’s a good thing as Stegfan Fatsis, author of Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, let word freaks know that Scrabble life as we know it will not change.
“Mattel, which owns the rights to Scrabble outside of North America, is introducing a game this summer called Scrabble Trickster. The game will include cards that allow players to spell words backward, use proper nouns, and steal letters from opponents,” he said, adding it was “bad reporting and corporate flackery.”
And it is only for Great Britain, where they already spell words incorrectly, even those words that are not off colour.
The classic game will remain unchanged, particularly in the United States, where Scrabble is owned by Hasbro – not Mattel.
As Quigley wrote, “It’s just a relief that not everybody is being dragged down into the same, celebrity-obsessed pit.”
Some have gone so far to suggest that Mattel was just conducting a publicity stunt.
As far as I’m concerned, they can change Scrabble when they pry my letter rack from my cold hands (unless I’m playing on Facebook where you’d have to pry my whole computer out of my hands).