The Fascinating Scrabble AMA

There's a wonderful AMA with a North American Scrabble champion happening right now on Reddit. Here are a few favorite exchanges. On "hooks."

Q: You get to go first, your letters are: UUUTJNZ. What do you play?

A: JUN and JUT are the only words really worth playing, though I'm not happy about keeping two U's. JUN is better defensively

Q: Can you give me a brief explanation as to why it's better defensively? I'm not great at scrabble, but im always interested in high level game strategies.

A: Simply due to the "hooks", i.e., the letters you can add to the front or end of the word. JUT can hook an E or S to make JUTE or JUTS. Whereas JUN can only hook with a K to make JUNK. So by playing JUT, you're giving the opponent more options

The letter "Q."

Q: Would the fact that you have a U make it more worthwhile to hold on to the N so you have the UN prefix? I guess it might not in this case, since you probably won't be bingoing next turn with that leave anyway. It's decisions like this that separate great players like you from decent ones like me!

A:The U is a horrible letter. There is a disproportionately high number of them in Scrabble simply because of the Q. If you draw a U, you should try to play it off if possible.

On playing your rack.

Q: I've read that top scrabble players focus on bingos, whereas the average best-among-your-friends focuses on tile placement for multipliers. Any tips for transitioning from the latter to the former?

A: Improve your bingo-finding skills! First, learn how to look for them on your rack. Most bingos include a common prefix or suffix. If you have -ING, -ERS, -ABLE, or -IEST on your rack, that's a good place to start. It's a lot easier to find the 8-letter words in EEGINRST if you start with the common suffixes. Second, learn how to manage your leaves better. The "leave" is the leftover tiles when you make a play. We know that ERS is very powerful, so if we're not able to bingo this turn, it might be a good idea to make a play that saves those tiles for next turn. Third, learn more words. There's no way around this one. You'll play more bingos if you learn more words. One of the most common 7-letter words in Scrabble is ANEROID. You have to know it to be able to find it!

How to get rid of vowels.

Q: I still have problems coming up with words when I end up with so many vowels. What are some good tips or words to use when you end up with so many vowels and the board is already full ish?

A: The bag is inherently vowel-heavy, so it always takes some care to not end up with too many. Try not to unload as many vowels as you can each turn. Also, it helps to learn some of the less-common vowelly words. Words like AUREI, MIAOU, UNAI, or ILIA can clean up those ugly racks quickly.

On being a Scrabble player.

Q: How many of the less common words do you use in your daily lexicon?

A: Do you mean outside of Scrabble? None. I try to act like a normal person when I'm not at tournaments

I wrote about the fascinating Scrabble tournament subculture for Mental Floss a few months ago. This is also a good opportunity to throw rocks at Scrabble for blundering the move to apps, and at Words With Friends for allowing players to jumble their letters endlessly on the board, clicking "play" until one is accepted by the computer. In case you're wondering, the reason that Words With Friends isn't a flagrant violation of Hasbro's copyright is because a game's concept can't be copyrighted for a game—only the game's rules. Words With Friends places its bonus squares in different locations on its board, and its BINGO bonus is different. This feels wrong on a lot of levels, but if Hasbro couldn't bother to invest its billions in a good app, I can't be bothered to shed many tears for them.

(Image credit: Local Scrabble)