Sunday, April 20, 2008

2-letter words are your friends

Posted by Brad Mills
This is the first of what I hope will be a series of posts about words, studying, and strategy aimed at the newbie.

With 178,691 valid words available in Scrabble®, learning them can be a daunting task. How do you go about it? Where do you begin?

An important thing to consider is not all of these words are useful in the game. While ZYZZYVA is a valid word, the likelihood of ever playing it is extremely low because it requires having both blanks, the Z, both Ys, and one of the two Vs at the same time. Because I'm lazy today, I'll leave calculating the odds of having those letters simultaneously as an exercise for the reader.

ANEROID, on the other hand, is very likely to appear on your rack - as are AILERON / ALIENOR, ELATION / TOENAIL, and ERASION. So an approach which has a quicker payoff is to learn words with a higher probability of occurring, and disregard those you will likely never see. More on this in a future post.

Another consideration is in-game dynamics. Many people playing Scrabble® for the first time tend to make all their words in an intersecting crossword pattern. It is often far more lucrative to play parallel to a word already on the board. For example, look at the CONDO-OX play shown to the left. The person who played OX picked up at least 16 points for the X instead of just 8, because it scores in two directions at once - horizontally as well as vertically. If that X happened to fall on a premium square, it would be worth even more points - and the premium would score in both directions as well.

If you could imagine the word OXYGEN were played in this scenario, you could see the value of knowing the short words DO and OX - because it gives you 1) a place to play, and 2) an opportunity to pick up at least 12 more points (3 for DO, and 9 for OX horizontally). Opportunities like this appear in the game over and over, so it's definitely to your advantage to learn all the 2-letter words.

This is nothing but good news. There are only 101 2-letter words, many of them are common (IT, IS, OF, OR, BE), memorizing all of them takes only a week or two, and your game will immediately improve when you're finished.

Here's a quick tip: All the musical notes (DO, RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, TI) are valid 2-letter words. So there are 7 you can remember quickly and easily - only 94 to go! A list of all the 2-letter words is available at our club's website.


  1. Very true! There are still a few of the 2's that I get messed up on though. I have a few things I've got to keep straight (OP, XU, and FE) and for some others I have phrases like "TI not TE and DE not DI" or "AW, OW, but not EW". I've also got to remember that things like WA, YI, and DA don't play as sometimes they look very inviting.

  2. What is the exact definition of ZYZZYVA anyway? :)

    Oh, and I must show some more of my dorkdom here. While all the "common" solfege (musical syllables) are accepted, those are only the major scale (think C to C on a piano). If you are talking about minor scales or accidentals, only two are accepted. Here are the accidentals, with the non-accepted labeled with stars:


    Apparently the person who decides acceptable words for the OWL is not a musician... :)

    PS: Since Brad played TRITONE on Friday, it is important to note that a tritone is an augmented fourth, equal to the distance from DO to FI*.

    *steps down from dorkbox*

  3. SI is acceptable as well, defined as "the seventh tone on the diatonic musical scale" (which is actually TI). I won't comment as to how accurate that definition is, since I'm really only familiar with the DO-RE-MI sequence.

    I only know TRITONE because it's part of the STONIER stem. I have no musical ability whatsoever.


    Please note that TENORIST is yet another musical term within that stem.

    Oh yeah... ZYZZYVA is a tropical weevil. I don't know if it can sing or not.

  4. Yeah, I knew that one...don't know why I left it off. My bad! :)

    Interesting that that one is acceptable but not most of the others.

    Diatonic just means all half-steps instead of the normal Western pattern of halves and wholes.


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