A triple word sore


Scrabble fans have thrown up their tiles in horror at the news that proper nouns and product names will be allowed in a new version of the game, writes FIONA McCANN

DWEEZIL? THAT’S 20 points, please, not including a possible triple letter score, ideally on the Z. Never heard of it? It’s the first name of Frank Zappa’s son, and as such, qualifies as a proper noun. Which, if you’re playing Scrabble according to Mattel’s new rules, is suddenly – staggeringly, to many fans of the old game – allowed.

Hell, even Zappa is allowed, though it’s worth only 18 points.

For that matter, so are Kerrygold, Termonfeckin and the handily consonant-rich Xanax.

“I’m no purist, but I can’t help but feel Mattel is dumbing down Scrabble by adding proper nouns,” tweeted one disappointed Scrabble fan at the news. Another was less circumspect. “This. Is. Terrible. I could just kill someone.” Scrabble has been going since the unfortunately named Alfred Butts (17 points) came up with the concept during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and since then 150 million Scrabble sets have been sold, in 29 languages.

So if this alarming change in the age-old game felt like dumbing down, imagine the consternation when it emerged that the new version was being sold only outside the North American market. Which means that in the US, where Hasbro owns the rights to Scrabble, it’s business as usual, but in the UK, where Mattel owns the rights, it’s a Brave New World (25 points) of proper nouns, celebrity names, and even other unheard-of twists to the Queen’s English including playing words backwards or – gasp! – unconnected to other words on the board.

Players who have devoted their lives to memorising all the two-letter words in the dictionary – stand up and be counted, you ‘qi’ and ‘xi’ fans – could suddenly find themselves drowning in a sea of pop culture references, with entries such as Suri and Shiloh taking their place alongside previous board-stealers like hypoxanthic and phrontistery.

For scrabble fan Trevor White (20 points), the news of change in the beloved board game is not to be welcomed. “This decision could only have been made in a marketing department, by a group of highly qualified 19-year-old morons who have never actually played the game,” says White.

“Remember Breo? The white Guinness? I can only hope that Scrabble With Capital Letters joins it in the graveyard of dodgy ideas from the Dudes in Marketing.”

White may be on to something. As Scrabble fans railed, the news emerged that what at first had seemed like a drastic rule change, an opening of the scrabble floodgates to let any ludicrous place name (Fucking, an Austrian town, would garner an easy 17 points), brand, or celebrity baby on to the sacred board and destroy it permanently, was in fact something else entirely. Some clever marketing to generate the kind of Scrabble hysteria that immediately ensued? Perhaps.

Either way, Scrabblers were appeased by the revelation that rather than replacing the original, Mattel only ever intended to introduce a new version of the game, Scrabble Trickster, which will operate by the new rules.

This means the old Scrabble stalwart remains untouched, and words such as Persil, Bono and Vodafone are still outlawed, though trickster, which according to Merriam Webster’s online dictionary means “a dishonest person who defrauds others”, will still earn you 15 points.