Does Scrabble Need A Revision?

Jan 19 2013 @ 3:15pm

In 1938, Alfred Butts assigned numerical values to Scrabble tiles based on how often each letter appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Joshua Lewis believes it’s an inaccurate system:

“The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed,” says Joshua Lewis, researcher and creator of a software program which allocates new, up-to-date values to Scrabble tiles. “Among the notable additions are all of these short words which make it easier to play Z, Q and X, so even though Q and Z are the highest value letters in Scrabble, they are now much easier to play.” … According to Lewis’s system, X (worth eight points in the current game) is worth only five points and Z (worth 10 points now) is worth six points.

Nick Carr warns that changing the game “would make it more difficult for novices to occasionally beat veteran players”:

The scoring system’s lack of statistical rigor, it turns out, has the unintended but entirely welcome effect of adding a little extra dash of luck to the game. The apparent weakness is a hidden strength. Let the statistically impure thoughts of Alfred Butts serve as a lesson to us all about the dangers of our current fixation on the analysis of large data sets. Armed with a fast computer, a wonky algorithm, and whole lot of Big Data, a geek will begin to see problems everywhere in our messy human world. And by correcting every statistical anomaly or inefficiency, he’ll not only clean up the messiness, he’ll remove the fun. To a statistician, a blank tile has no value. The rest of us know better.