4th Thursday [3]: The Day I Stop Playing

I don’t particularly like bugs, but I have been waiting patiently to see a particular one crawling slowly across my Scrabble board. It usually feeds on still-growing plants, though, and not those that have have been cut into wood tiles with letters and numbers on them.

It’s this little guy (about 1,000 times larger than actual size in this photo, unless you are viewing this on an iWatch):

zyzzyva

It may look nasty, but its size means it wouldn’t hurt you much if it bit you by mistake. But in a game, it would certainly earn you big points, because it is only likely to be played as a bingo. It is a type of WEEVIL, which isn’t a bad Scrabble word, either. However, this bug is called a ZYZZYVA.

If you are familiar with English tile distribution in Scrabble, you know that there is only one Z. That means the only way to spell this bug’s name is to have that Z and both of the two blank tiles. You also would have to have the game’s only two Y tiles. There are only two VEES (good Scrabble word!) as well, and you need one of those, too. The A is the easy part. Someone needs to develop an algorithm that can tell me the odds of having all of the necessary tiles to spell ZYZZYVA in a game. Whatever its odds, I have vowed that if I ever play it in a game, I will be able to accomplish nothing more substantial, and will quit playing forever.

But let’s think about that for a minute. If I could, would I even want to play it? If it is a bingo, it earns me an extra fifty points. The Z is ten by itself, each Y and the V are worth 4 each, and the A a measly one. That’s 73 points, not too shabby for a bingo. But its not QUARTZITE across two triple word scores, though. The blanks are worth zero points, so that’s still 73 points. Played to open a game, though, double the face value (23) and add the bonus and my opponent is starting off down by 96 points.20150416_183551[1]

Obviously, my placement here is the worst possible choice. As the first player, you can start your word at any position, so long as one letter crosses the middle space on the board. So, the best possible placement would be with the Z on the double letter score, giving me twenty for the Z, then doubled along with all other letter values (23 becomes 33, doubled to 66), for a total of 116 points including the bonus. Now we’re getting somewhere!

20150416_183611[1]

The dream placement, of course, would be on a triple word score, but you can’t reach one of those with the first play. It is seven spaces away from the center star, meaning you would need eight tiles to get there. 20150416_183724[1]So let’s say I have the right letters for the second play of the game, and my opponent BRAGS about her first play, for 22 points. Now I play ZYZZYVAS on a triple word score for 24 x 3 = 72 + 50 = 122 points. But I have to think a little differently now, because I have played a blank tile on top of a double letter score. I need to swap places with two of my Zs!

Doing so, I now have the Z on the DLS, again making it by itself twenty points instead of ten. But I will get triple for the whole word now, giving me a whopping 60 points for the Z alone! Tripling all the other letter values and including them in my total, I have 102 points, and the bonus makes 152. FOR ONE PLAY! Twenty-two is not looking so hot now! Even the 73 from my first example isn’t!

20150416_183946[1]But we can do better still. What if I had all the necessary letters minus one, but had an S, and my opponent supplied my missing letter? In the example to the right, someone else has played the first Y, and made a rookie mistake by leaving two triple word scores open. When I play, I again have my Z on a double letter score and a blank on a triple word score, but my S hits a second TWS, which means my score is multiplied by nine: Three times, three times. Twenty points for Z, 14 points for all other letters (34) times 3 (102) times 3 again (306). That’s right, 306. It actually seems petty to add the 50 point bonus for playing all seven tiles, but I do it anyway and score 356 for one word.

But what if an opponent makes it even more amazing for me, by playing a single letter in another key spot? I get the face value of points for any additional word I make with the same turn. Like a PUTZ, my opponent sets me up even further, with the word PUT:20150416_191731[1]Add to my 356 the face value of PUTZ (15) but with the DLS counting the Z yet again (so, 25), and my score for this turn is 381 points. I am probably going to win this game.

But there is this little-known thing in Scrabble called a quadruple word score. There is no space on the board for it, but it is possible to play a word across two double word scores, which is points x2 x2.

20150416_193150[1]

Here, I played first, and my opponent, starting the game with EEEEIU, plays two Es for GEE. Never mind that she could have played three Es and the I for EERIE, for five points instead of four. My opponent messed up. It happens.

Taking quick advantage, I add my Z (to which she exclaims, “GEEZ!”) and then play the rest of my letters as shown. I only have face value for all letters at first (23), but I multiple by two twice (92) add the bonus (142) and then add the 14 points for the second word created for 157 points total. Since in this example I began the game with a bingo of 82 points, I am now winning 224 to 4 (at which point my opponent has stopped exclaiming at all and has also ceased breathing.) But it’s still not 381 in one turn.

Finally, lets shift that whole letter layout over one space, change the play GEE to FRIT, throw in another bingo by me, 20150416_200428[1]and again add the S. I have placed that S on a double word score, so I am quadrupling ZYZZYVAS, doubling my earlier play of QUAGMIRE by placing the S on it as well, and in this scenario I am leading 393-34 (205 for the play with ZYZZYVAS). My plays are FRINGED, INFRINGED, QUAGMIRE, AND ZYZZYVAS. That’s 393 in four turns versus 381 in one, but I think I will take either one, gladly, and at the end of the game, I will be done playing Scrabble forever.

Probably, so will my opponent.

Wait… there’s still OXYPHENBUTAZONE! I have to keep playing!

ZYZZYVA–356 points, TWS+DLS+TWS.

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