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Scrabble letter values need modern update, researcher says

Joshua Lewis's software called Valett analyzed modern usage of the alphabet and found letters like X and Z deserve attention.
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A leather-bound Scrabble board awaits buyers at Geoffrey Parker Games in London, England. (Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images)

After 75 years, it’s time to update the Scrabble board, an American researcher says.

Joshua Lewis created software called Valett to analyze modern usage of the alphabet and found letters like X and Z deserve attention.

“The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed,” Lewis told BBC.

“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.”

Unemployed architect Alfred Butts invented the game during the Great Depression.

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He based original values on how often letters appeared in The New York Times from the 1930s, The Detroit Free Press reported.

Considering how the English language has evolved, Lewis’s offers this take:

  • X should drop to 5 from 8.
  • Z should drop to 6 from 10.
  • U should increase to 2 from 1.
  • G should increase to 3 from 2.
  • Q remains at 10 (narrowly avoiding a decrease).

While values have been long debated by Scrabble players, Mattel told BBC it has no desire to make changes.

That’s lucky for them, said the co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association.

John Chew told BBC any changes now would cause “catastrophic outrage” in the Scrabble-playing community.

Phew, so Scrabble is safe. But that’s not all Lewis – who received his PhD in Cognitive Science at UC San Diego in 2011 – has in mind for his software.

“More broadly, I think Valett can provide the foundation for answering other interesting questions in word games, such as how to quantify the difficulty of Boggle,” he wrote on his blog.

That’s right, Boggle, you're next!

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