Bad Scrabble strategy, from Alaska

by on November 28, 2009 at 12:46 pm in Games | Permalink

I try not to blog Sarah Palin, but this passage, reproduced on Andrew Sullivan's blog, caught my interest for non-Palin reasons:

"Everybody in the family played Scrabble and took great pride in hoarding Ks and Qs and slapping them down in long, fancy words on triple-letter scores." — Going Rogue, p. 12.

Sullivan's reader objects that there is only one K and one Q but I think permissible to use the plural in this context, referring to general acts of hoarding over time.

My point is that this is bad Scrabble strategy.  The way to do very well is to put down seven-letter words on bonus squares, thereby getting the fifty-point bonus for using all your letters and doubled or tripled at that.  Such a strategy means maximizing one's holdings of S, R, E, T, O, A, and N, essentially, and dumping awkward letters which stand in the way.  "ING" is a powerful combination.  In addition, high frequency letters help you link up with other words running crossways, boosting your score further.

The astute MR reader will recognize here that we are dealing with portfolio theory, albeit where many assets are complements rather than near-perfect substitutes.

K doesn't mesh well with most other letters and so you should try to dump it quickly.  Q is paralyzing unless you have a U to go with it.  If you are happy because you could lay down "quit" on a double word score, for 26 points, I would say you are not a very ambitious Scrabble player, all the more if you hoarded letters and waited turns to do that.  (You have some chance of "aliquot" or "quaeres" or "quinoas," but do you really expect to score "obloquy," "quassia," or "qigongs"?, keeping in mind that if you build upon an already-laid tile you need an eight-letter word with q to score the bonus.)

If this is her game of Scrabble, you can only imagine what her foreign policy would be like.

Correction: If you search inside the book, you will see that she is referring to the Scrabble strategies of her grandparents, not her own Scrabble strategies.  They are the ones who cannot be trusted with U.S. foreign policy and it can also be said that she misses this chance to condemn their weak gaming strategies.

I thank Seth H. for the pointer.

1 Robert November 28, 2009 at 1:33 pm

Depending on the dictionary you use, Q can be pretty useful if your opponent is unexperienced and puts an “I” next to a double or triple letter score. In the official scrabble dictionary, QI, KI, KA are words. I’ve made ~60 points off QI quite a few times.

It doesn’t make sense to hoard Qs and Ks, but they are decent letters.

I’d say J is probably the worst letter.

2 anon November 28, 2009 at 1:52 pm

If this is her game of Scrabble, you can only imagine what her foreign policy would be like.

I wonder if she would have tried to pay back the Chinese in clunkers.

3 nathaniel November 28, 2009 at 2:08 pm

you can only imagine what her foreign policy would be like.

Quickly attacking Khamenei’s Qom bunker, quashing killer nuke quest.

4 Andrew November 28, 2009 at 2:21 pm

Scrabble-Boxing to decide the election?

5 k November 28, 2009 at 2:27 pm

Better than Obama´s for sure

6 dsmith November 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm

Came to mention Qat, but expected to be late. Posting to say I very much enjoyed Nathaniel’s comment.

7 Andrew November 28, 2009 at 3:03 pm

What brazen insensitivity. Obama is so going to nail her with the dyslexic community.

8 BKarn November 28, 2009 at 3:13 pm

I’m absolutely no fan of Palin, but I sincerely hope this is Tyler’s version of a joke. I’m not sure I can adequately describe the respect I would lose for him if he’s even remotely serious in his conclusion.

9 Quackery November 28, 2009 at 4:12 pm

An eight-letter word that includes both Q and K.

10 Jorge Costales November 28, 2009 at 4:17 pm

Any other person at the other end of this joke and can be taken as just that. But with Palin, given your fellow intellectuals rather intense dislike of her, you have in effect taken sides [the rather safe side in your world I might add]. Noted.

11 David Pinto November 28, 2009 at 4:41 pm

The way to do very well is to put down seven-letter words on bonus squares, thereby getting the fifty-point bonus for using all your letters and doubled or tripled at that.

The fifty point bonus is not doubled or tripled. It’s added on to the score once all premium tiles are counted. See the rules here:

BINGO! (50 extra points). If you play all seven tiles in a single play it’s called a Bingo. Bingos score you a premium of 50 points on top of your score for the turn.

Now, bingos are a great way to score lots of points, but playing conquest on two triple word scores yields much more.

On a baseball note, Javier Vazquez holds the highest scoring name of any player in the history of the game.

12 Fred November 28, 2009 at 5:02 pm

How many heads will explode by president Palin’s second term?

13 Bob November 28, 2009 at 5:25 pm

How very amusing! Commie fucking nonsense.

14 E. Barandiaran November 28, 2009 at 5:53 pm

Tyler, now that you have claimed expertise in foreign policy (in addition to Scrabble), I’m waiting for your review of Obama’s foreign policy. In particular, I look forward to your application of Tom Schelling’s views on strategies to deal with critical bilateral relations.

15 Jim November 28, 2009 at 6:15 pm

Palin Derangement Syndrome — it can strike anywhere, any time.

16 mgunn November 28, 2009 at 6:45 pm

All the Palin bashing has gotten rather absurd. What percentage of Washington politicians are smarter than Palin? 50%? 30%? 60%? She’s probably pretty average. Does anyone think Maxine Waters is smarter? How about Harry Reid?

What annoys me:
Oppose trade, and the media treats you as an intellectual.
Don’t attend Ivy League schools and believe in God, and the media treats you not only as an idiot, but with contempt.

It’s identity politics run amok, as if the establishment in the liberal bastions of San Francisco and New York don’t believe the common folk in the rest of the country are fit to govern themselves.

17 Eric November 28, 2009 at 7:36 pm

“If this is her game of Scrabble, you can only imagine what her foreign policy would be like.”

If this is your idea of how someone should qualify for President, I can only imagine what your ideal candidate is.

On a lighter note, as annoying as picking up a Q is, it is worth all of the other failures when you can lay down QUOTIDIAN in game of Fast Scrabble.

18 Barkley Rosser November 28, 2009 at 8:21 pm


That was very witty, hah hah, but in case you have not been following things the latest reports are that Khamenei is actually the anti-nuclear weapons guy in the Iranian leadership, with power shifting to the more militaristic Revolutionary Guards. Khamenei long ago issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons, and there is every reason to believe he means it. The RGs do not. So, if Palin followed your proposed strategy, well, that would much dumber than hoarding Ks and Qs in Scrabble.

19 mark November 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm

I voted McCain / Palin. It would have been the better of two terrible options.

Right now, the republicans are having a resurgence moreso because of barack obamas incompitence, rather than their own confidence.

But they will destroy all that if she seeks the office of the presidency.

Thoughout the whole election, and even now, I was and still am disgusted with the way the left has treated Palin. At the same time, I hope she is never president.

20 indianajim November 28, 2009 at 11:42 pm

Ben Ho illustrates the fatuous presumption of knowledge in some big talkers. Bravo Ben!

21 Andrew Edwards November 29, 2009 at 12:58 am

Sure are a lot of people taking Tyler’s obviously-kidding last sentence very very seriously.

22 E. Barandiaran November 29, 2009 at 5:55 am
23 Mark O. November 29, 2009 at 7:00 am

“If you are happy because you could lay down “quit” on a double word score…”

That must be her favorite word.

24 Bea November 29, 2009 at 8:36 am


25 Michael Drake November 29, 2009 at 12:27 pm

Palin’s proprietary lexicon of Q and K words is arbitrarily large because she has license to make stuff up.

26 Bernard Yomtov November 29, 2009 at 2:08 pm

The only thing about Palin everyone can agree on is that any post about her will generate a ridiculous number of comments.

27 Martin Brock November 29, 2009 at 5:36 pm

The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary added “Qi” in the fourth edition, so Q is now easily disposable. Holding it is a good strategy. Placing an “i” next to a double or triple letter/word square, when Q is not already on the board, is bad strategy.

28 logan November 30, 2009 at 12:41 pm

QI/QI (66 pts) on a triple letter or triple word going two directions is a game winner.

QAT, QAIT are also great words to put down. 7-letter words arent always the best strategy, stacking 2, 3 or 4 letter words with big letters on multipliers are always better.

i am not a palin fan at all, but this article is nonsense.

29 Barrett November 30, 2009 at 5:40 pm

I don’t know what version of Scrabble you play but in the official rules the 50-word bonus for using all tiles is not doubled, tripled, or otherwise affected by premium squares.

30 guy in the veal calf office November 30, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Hoarding letters to get the 50 point point scrabble is a losing strategy. Holding a Q until it can be played on a triple alongside an “i”, “ua” or “su” or an “at” is superior to Tyler’s strategy.

If Tyler’s scrabble skills are worse than Sarah Palin’s grandparents’, then you can only imagine what his…..

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The astute MR reader will recognize here that we are dealing with portfolio theory, albeit where many assets are complements rather than near-perfect substitutes.

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Hoarding Ks and Qs – sounds more like a game of Bridge (to nowhere).

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