Scrabble needs new scoring system, researcher says

An American researcher is calling for an overhaul of Scrabble's scoring system, arguing that the classic board game has become outdated.

Z, Q and X overvalued since recent changes to allowable-words list

U.S. researcher John Lewis has proposed a new Scrabble scoring system, arguing that the current version is outdated. (Jeremy Hogan/Bloomington Herald-Times/Associated Press)

An American researcher is calling for an overhaul of Scrabble's scoring system, arguing that the classic board game has become outdated.

Joshua Lewis says that certain letters are now overvalued in the context of the modern English language.

"The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed," he told British media. 

"Among the notable additions are all of these short words which make it easier to play Z, Q and X, so even though Q and Z are the highest value letters in Scrabble, they are now much easier to play."

Rules of Scrabble

Scrabble is played by up to four players on a board with a 15-by-15 grid. Players take turns forming a word with their set of letter tiles and placing it on the board to read either across or down.

New words can be formed by adding one or more letters to a word or to letters already on the board, placing a word at right angles to a word already on the board, or placing a complete word parallel to a word already played so that adjacent letters also form complete words.

The score for each turn is the sum of the letter values in each word(s) formed or modified on that turn. Additional points can be obtained from placing letters on Premium Squares, which multiply the number of points awarded: triple-word squares, double-word squares, triple-letter squares and double-letter squares. The centre square, usually marked with a star, counts as a double-word square.


Lewis created a program called Valett that recalculates the values of each letter to better reflect modern usage.

The new system looks at three factors: frequency of the letters in the English language, frequency by word length and how easy it is to play the letter with other letters.

Under Lewis’ new system, the letter Z, currently one of the highest-valued tiles at 10 points, is only worth six. The Letter X, currently worth eight points, would only be worth five.

Other letter values are also modified slightly: U, which is currently worth one point, would be worth two in the new version, and M and G, which are now worth two points each, would be worth three.

The letter Q, which Lewis called an "outlier" because it is much harder to play than the others, remains at 10 points, though Lewis said he considered raising its value to 12.

Scrabble was invented during the Great Depression by Alfred Mosher Butts. He devised his point system by studying the front page of The New York Times and calculating how often each of the 26 letters of the English language was used.

John Chew, co-president of the North American Scrabble Players Association, told BBC News that he often hears criticism of Scrabble’s scoring system, but that any changes would bring about "catastrophic outrage."

"Some people would just continue playing with the old tile distributions because people who've played the game often enough tend to remember that the Q is worth 10 points, the Z is worth 10 points and so on," Chew said.

A spokesperson for Mattel, which manufactures Scrabble in Europe, told British media that it has no plans to make changes to the board game.