20 Words You Should Learn if You Play Scrabble

Learning just a few useful words might give you the edge over your friends in Scrabble.
Learning just a few useful words might give you the edge over your friends in Scrabble.
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You can say you don't care if you win or lose at Scrabble, but you may very well be in the minority. Even former President Barack Obama, one of United States' most high-profile Scrabble enthusiasts, isn't above boasting about his wins. "It's his favorite game to play," said White House communications director Robert Gibbs in a 2008 interview reported in The Independent. "He'll play with his family and particularly his sister. And the winner gets bragging rights for a long, long time" [source: McSmith].

And Obama's not the only famous Scrabble devotee. President Richard Nixon was an avid player. So is actor Mel Gibson, who plays the game while waiting on the movie set. Author Vladimir Nabokov, famous for his novel "Lolita," was a skilled player. Even Queen Elizabeth II is reported to enjoy a royal game of Scrabble [source: McSmith].

Not bad for a pastime invented during the Great Depression. In 1931, out-of-work architect Alfred Mosher Butts came up with a game that he first called Lexiko, then Criss Cross Words. He spent several years tinkering before settling on the rules, now familiar to all Scrabble players: You draw seven letters and try to make words on a board with a 15-by-15 grid. Each letter scores specific points that roughly go along with how hard it is to fit the letter into a word. If an opponent challenges an unusual word, it had better be in the dictionary, or you'll have to remove it and lose a turn.

Butts's game didn't meet with much success initially. But in the 1940s, another game maven, James Brunot, took over. He renamed the game Scrabble and by 1952, it had become a sensation [source: NPR].

Scrabble aficionados, like the ones mentioned above, may memorize long lists of unusual words to win their bragging rights. But casual players can improve their games by learning just a handful of useful entries. You can impress -- and even beat -- your friends by blitzing them with high-scoring words, or by sneaking in common but strategic words that get rid of unwanted letters. Remember to make use of the double and triple squares to leverage your score on almost any word. And always look for what players call a "bingo," the 50 extra points you get for using all your tiles on one play.

Now let's look at 20 words that every Scrabble player should know.