Friday, January 18, 2013

The Numbers Letters Game

zScrabble is facing a challenge. A numbers cruncher, Joshua Lewis, is questioning some of the most important tiles! This analyst has crunched the numbers using some sort of algorithm that is no doubt mathematically unassailable but that no one believes anyway to determine that the Z and the X are overvalued! Evidently, in the seventy-five years since Scrabble was invented, enough small Z and X words have entered the English language that these quirky consonants are hardly so exotic.

Lewis says that Z should be demoted from 10 points to 8, and X from 8 to 5. He uses a software program named Valett to redistribute the values of these letters. I have three objections to this devaluing of scrabble letters.

One: You don’t change Scrabble values with a software program. If you’re going to change a Scrabble piece, you do it with a wood burner and a steady hand. If you can’t singe a new number onto that tile, it wasn’t meant to be changed.

Two: Can’t some things stay overvalued? Do we really analyze Sean Connery’s range and acting skills and his indisputable good looks, or do we say he’s James Freakin’ Bond and he can play an Egyptian named Ramirez with a Scottish accent if he wants to (there is nothing overvalued about the first Highlander movie, by the way). Whenever some union goes on strike for better wages, retirement or health packages, someone always says “ I wish I could get all that,” like those are exorbitant things to fight for. They forget that some jobs are supposed to be nice, that we’re not all supposed to be working ourselves exhausted for crap. Maybe those jobs are overvalued. Good. If no one ever gets a sweet job, all jobs suck. Maybe X and Z held out for a better package.

Three: Maybe we shouldn’t take Scrabble so seriously.  Maybe it should be a rainy day time-killer game, as opposed to some tournament-driven, scientifically analyzed contest of gaming perfection. I don’t know a lot of Z and X words; maybe people who do should come up with a more sophisticated word game? Look, the big slide at the end of Chutes and Ladders destroys small children’s dreams of victory, erasing an entire game’s worth of uphill striving with one unfortunate descent. It’s overkill, but no one’s agitating for a smaller chute; that’s just the way the game goes. Coming from a family where Scrabble has been taken so seriously it’s nearly led to divorce (and I don’t care if it’s sexist or not, Dina, SEAWOMEN is NOT a word! You owe me a turn!), I can tell you we shouldn’t take Scrabble so seriously, and it’s all right to put down a lousy word, so go already!

Of course, if I’m not going to take Scrabble so seriously, then I guess I can’t get all up in arms if they decide to change it. Even if this story is just a plant by Parker Brothers to stir up controversy and sales for their product, maybe some tinkering would be acceptable. Everyone puts their own spin on Risk, and if I hadn’t augmented a board game I never would have been able to summon higher demons using a Ouija board. Think of the first guys who moved the pawns two spaces in chess. They must have been assailed for their heresy! Now everybody does it. Of course, innovation can have consequences. Consider capturing a pawn en passant. I’m not going to explain the move, but it came about because of the whole moving pawns two spaces thing, and it’s the biggest fudge rule in chess and involves time travel.

So watch out! Maybe the Z and the X are overvalued, but demotion could have ugly consequences. Remember, the Chinese are pegging their alphabet to ours, deliberately weakening their letters to enhance the language deficit. Why do you think everyone has to speak English when we should all be speaking Mandarin? If Z goes to 8, then εΎ· goes to 2. Also, don’t forget that Z and X are fun letters! We don’t want Scrabble to be any duller. I say overvalue the letters! Keep the zazz and the excess in the game!

--Dan Kilian

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