How Boggle Works


A competitive word game, Boggle has been around since the 1970s.
A competitive word game, Boggle has been around since the 1970s.
Jeremy Kemp/Wikimedia Commons

As a young child, Karis Tompkins learned how to compete -- not that she had much of a choice in the matter. Growing up outside of Pittsburgh with her parents and an older brother, Tompkins had to learn to fend for herself when she went up against the rest of her clan. "We are very competitive in our family when it comes to games," says Tompkins, who is now the chief development officer at Passage Home, a North Carolina-based nonprofit community development corporation.

But while other family members were willing to take a run at her in games like "Dictionary" -- also known as Balderdash -- there was one game in which she went unchallenged. "No one in my family would play me in Boggle, because I would always win," she says.

Tompkins ended up looking beyond her family circle for worthy opponents. In the process, she earned the right to represent her grade school in Boggle tournaments that matched her up against other school champions. Even outside her home, Tompkins was tough to beat, winning local Pennsylvania Boggle tournaments three years in a row.

Boggle has been a platform for competition of all sorts since its invention in the 1970s. The game, which is made by Hasbro, is about one thing: finding as many words as possible from a jumble of 16 letters in just 3 minutes [source: Trani]. (As of this writing, Hasbro planned to rename the game Scrabble Boggle in 2012, as it becomes part of the Scrabble family of word games.)

For Tompkins, who was a devoted player in her youth, the skills Boggle helped her acquire have been helpful throughout her life. It was especially beneficial, she says, in preparing her for timed tests, a staple of any curriculum. "Boggle helped with thinking on my feet, time management and making quick decisions," she says.

Of course, before you can reap the positive benefits of Boggle, you've got to learn the rules.

Letter of the Law: Boggle Rules

It may sound like a cliché, but the fact is that no two games of Boggle are exactly alike, which is a big part of its appeal. Although the goal -- find as many words as possible in 3 minutes -- sounds simple, there are some elements to the game that make it tricky even for those who are avid readers and have extensive vocabularies.

Here's how it works: As few as one and as many players as can fit around the game place a cover over a 4x4 grid filled with Boggle cubes -- all of which have a different letter on each face -- and shake them up. Once the cubes are mixed up and the cover is removed, the grid just looks like a jumble of letters. When the game begins, someone starts the 3-minute timer, and everyone starts looking for words that are three letters or more in length. Every time you find a word, you immediately write it down on a piece of paper, so it's necessary to have a pen or pencil handy. There are some limitations, though.

First off, you can only form words using letters that adjoin one another, either horizontally, vertically or diagonally, and each letter cannot be used more than once. [source: Trani].

Secondly, it's not a matter of finding just any words. You get more points for pinpointing words that have a greater number of letters. Words with three or four letters receive one point, words with five letters earn two points, those with six letters garner three points, seven-letter words bring in five points, and words with eight letters or more score eleven points.

Originality is also important, because duplicating words that others find means nobody gets any points. You'll assess word point values and duplicates at the end of each 3-minute period, when you and your fellow players read the words you discovered out loud in whatever order the groups decides. If a player challenges the validity of a word used by another player, you'll use a dictionary to settle whether or not it counts.

The 3-minute rounds continue until someone reaches 50 or 100 points, or whatever pre-determined point target participants decide on before the game starts. As far as family games go, Boggle is one that appeals to a wide range of generations -- Hasbro says that it's appropriate for ages 8 and up.

For those young and old who like their classic games on the go, Boggle has entered the 21st century.

Gone Digital: Boggle Bash

Those who are more digitally inclined might enjoy an online version of Boggle, known as Boggle Bash.
Those who are more digitally inclined might enjoy an online version of Boggle, known as Boggle Bash.
©iStockphoto.com/StudioThreeDots

Boggle may already have its quarter century anniversary in the rearview mirror, but a variety of new versions of the game provide many ways for those not familiar or comfortable with physical board games to play. For instance, there are now Boggle iPhone and iPad versions as well as a special Boggle for Xbox and Playstation [source: Trani].

Another way technology inclined wordsmiths can play is via Boggle Bash on Pogo.com, a gaming Web site which allows people to play games for free after registering, no downloading required. This virtual version of Boggle works in pretty much the same way as real-world Boggle does -- in other words, it has the same rules with the same scoring methodology -- but it uses the Internet as a platform to provide different ways to play.

Visiting the Pogo site and entering a game room allows players to meet up with others who have also come to the site to play. This means that rather than being limited by the number of people who are physically in one place at a time, Boggle Bash allows for multiplayer games in which you simultaneously compete against the other players and also try to attain collective goals [source: Boggle Bash]. For example, a group of players in a Boggle Bash online game room may begin a 3-minute game with the goal of together creating 60 4-letter words.

Another interesting twist in Boggle Bash is the "Panic Flip," a function which scrambles the board of letters in the last minute of a round. This doesn't always happen, but when it does, it allows you to form a host of new words that weren't possible just seconds before, and add those points to your total score for that round.

If you enjoy Boggle in all its forms, you're in good company. As you'll see on the next page, plenty of popular celebrities feel the same way.

Celebrity Wordplay: Boggle in Pop Culture

Way back in 1997, in the very first season of Fox's popular, though now discontinued, TV show "King of The Hill," one episode revolved around Boggle. In it, Peggy, the wife of lead character Hank Hill, heads to Dallas to play in the Texas State Boggle Championship as the representative of their town, Arlen. While in the Big D, Hank ditches his duties as Peggy's coach in order to check out the Dallas Mower Expo [source: TV.com]. Peggy ends up winning the tournament anyway and becoming Texas State Champion.

It's one thing to have a fictional character be a big fan of Boggle, but there are also a host of real, flesh and blood celebrities who have expressed their fondness for the game, too. For example, Claire Danes and her actor husband Hugh Dancy met on the set of the movie "Evening," and reportedly struck up a friendship and romance while playing Boggle and Scrabble while on set [source: People.com].

Other celeb Boggle enthusiasts include talk show host/comedian Ellen DeGeneres and celebrity chef Rachael Ray. Boggle once again got a turn in the spotlight with its inclusion in February 2012's "This Means War," starring Reese Witherspoon, who has also expressed her real life affection for the game [source: Trani].

Of course, as the experience of former Boggle champ Karis Tompkins showed, you don't have to be famous to get the best out of Boggle. All you need is 3 minutes, some focus and a touch of word-nerdiness to get you on your way.

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Sources

  • Pogo. "Boggle Bash." (Feb. 9, 2012). www.pogo.com/games/boggle
  • People.com. "Claire Danes and Hugh Dancy Wed." Sept. 28, 2009 (Feb. 8, 2012). www.people.com/people/article/0,,20308634,00.html
  • Tompkins, Karis. Chief Development Officer at Passage Home. Personal correspondence. Feb. 8, 2012.
  • Trani, Laura. Public relations representative for Hasbro, maker of Boggle. Personal correspondence. Feb. 9, 2012.
  • TV.com. "King of The Hill, Peggy the Boggle Champ." (Feb. 10, 2012). www.tv.com/shows/king-of-the-hill/peggy-the-boggle-champ-4218/