Thursday, August 1, 2013

#SLATEPITCHES:  Julia Turner argues that Boggle is better than Scrabble:
Boggle is also superior because it’s a game where luck plays no part. In Scrabble, the most brilliant competitor can get stuck with a handful of vowels while a newbie notches the high-scoring Q. In Boggle, each player works with the same letters, so the game is a pure test of wits. Excited that you found MINION? Well, I found that, too—and CINNAMON! 
Which brings me to another of Boggle’s virtues: It prizes long words rather than short ones. Sure, Scrabble has its “bingos,” the seven-letter (and occasionally longer) words formed when you deploy all your tiles in one turn. But the best way to improve your Scrabble game is to memorize the list of 101 acceptable two-letter words.... From a linguistic perspective, however, this is a terrible list of words, alternately mundane (IS, IF, SO, GO) and arcane (cf. the dubious ZA, an abbreviation for pizza used by no one ever). Boggle eliminates these pesky two-letter words altogether; standard editions call for a three-letter minimum.
To which Stefan Fatsis, author of the books Word Freak and A Few Seconds of Panic, as well as the Friday sports correspondent for All Things Considered, scoffs:
Boggle is “fun,” he wrote. It’s “entertaining.” Boggle is “the Twister of word games.” But, he avowed: “There’s no strategy. … I and thousands like me prefer our word wars to be more complex than just making letter connections. Scrabble's challenge involves a range of skills: spatial relations, board geometry, probability determination and more. Boggle's is narrow.”  


  1. isaac_spaceman11:26 AM

    I play a lot of Boggle waiting for the bus or train, and it is clearly inferior to Scrabble. I play an incredible volume of three-letter words in Boggle for which I know no definition. Staples like tal, tae, tes, ret, ree, cee, wen, fet, etc. At this point, they're just memorized random-letter strings cluttering my head, like the combinations of lost locks (3-22-2! 16-32-6! If you find a Master lock somewhere, try those). And don't get me started on how overly prudish Boggle is on offensive words. Fart? Really? You can say it on SpongeBob but not on Boggle?

  2. I've said it before and I'll say it again - comparing the two isn't right. One is about forming a pattern, the other is about recognizing a pattern. Scrabble requires more strategy, Boggle, arguably, requires a larger vocabulary.

    Both are vastly different games in an online/digital/app environment than when played live against another human being. One of my biggest gripes about Words with Friends (as opposed to the Scrabble app) is the inability to turn off the game's own word checker and institute player-driven challenges. I'm fairly sure some of the big point words that get played against me all the time are Wild Ass Guesses along the lines of "Hmmm. I know the generally accepted pattern/combination of these vowels and consonants in English; let me throw a word against the wall and see if it sticks." I'm not saying that's wrong - I do it myself, because it's not prevented within either the rules or the technology of the game.

    Boggle in an online environment has its disadvantages, too. When I play it (or the knockoff Scramble) I only play against humans, usually in real time. That means the super players who know all those "staples" that Isaac mentions cancel each other out with those words because duplicate words amongst contestants don't count, just like in the original board game. Us normal humans are then left comfortably somewhere in the second tier of scores. I play to beat myself, but in an environment with rules more like the actual home game.

  3. Also, speaking about offensive words, I've actually written to Words with Friends about their allowance of the word "HEBE". I've researched the word in the OED and other sources and can find no definition for it that's not either 1. a proper, capitalized noun or 2. a derogatory word or slur. Last time I checked, admittedly several months ago, it was still allowed.

    This is different than, say, "FAG", which while having a very well known derogatory meaning, also has had and still has a non-derogatory meaning, more common in British English, but still.

  4. isaac_spaceman11:56 AM

    You can't play "FAG" in online Boggle, which is fine with me, but it's inconsistent because you can play other words that have both an offensive and an inoffensive meaning. For example, you can play "TIT" but not "TITS," which makes no sense to me. You can play "DONG." I believe you can play "WEE" but not "PISS" and "POO" but not "SHIT."

  5. I guess people don't talk about birds in the plural?

    But, seriously, I guess they're making a distinction between scatalogical/sexual slang and slurs?

  6. Marsha9:44 PM

    I couldn't care less which one is superior or inferior. I much prefer to play Boggle on line (I play Scramble with Friends - come find me!) than Scrabble/Words with Friends.

    In WWF, I agonize over every single move, and can't bring myself to pull the trigger because there might be some better move if I just stare at the tiles long enough. It becomes a massive time suck, and the temptation to cheat (looking up words, even typing things into an emulator) is immense. And unlike playing in real time, where two evenly matched players can have some good fun, on line, if one is "cheating" and one isn't, much less fun.

    In SWF, it's two minutes. No more, no less. (Unless you use the little freeze thing, and I and everyone else I know use the one free one and that's it.) I press "start" and I can't agonize after that. I just play. I've learned score-maximizing strategies, and I play with a bunch of fairly evenly matched people (and one or two who kick my butt every time) and it's fun. It's also much less of a time suck because I can play one two minute game and be done with it.

    They're both fun games, and they're different. I don't play WWF, but I love SWF. And lately, the latter is taking a back seat to Where's My Water....

  7. Speaking of word games, big fan of Bananagrams, which moves fast, is competitive but doesn't have the "SCREW YOU!" factor that Scrabble does, and scales to smaller or larger groups well.

  8. kdbart6:59 AM

    Peggy Hill was an accomplished Boggle player. Enough said.

  9. Watts9:34 AM

    Doesn't have the "Screw You" factor? Ask anyone who's ever played with me how the sound of me constantly shouting, "PEEL!" feels. Muahaha.

  10. Watts9:40 AM

    The episode focused on her at the tournament is one of my favorite episodes of a comedy.

  11. True, but there's not the "you blocked the perfect play I've spent the last 5 turns setting up!" factor.

  12. Marsha12:26 PM

    You can play many of those things in SWF - I think you can not only play "SHIT" but its past tense, "SHAT."

  13. Marsha12:27 PM

    A staple of life at my synagogue. Very Shabbat-friendly, and you can even buy it in Hebrew. I keep a set in my tallis box...

  14. isaac_spaceman4:51 PM

    SHAT would be like the four-letter equivalent of EAT/ATE/ETA/TEA/TAE -- a combination that appears in maybe half of the boards I see. Probably not half, but as much as a quarter, I'd guess. I always try it, just in case an update made it playable.