Tagged: scrabble

KB, your True Grounds Scrabble legacy is safe with BLLMPPRU

Last week, I spent an engaging hour at True Grounds with the estimable YobYot (or is that yoByoT?) who wrote an embarrassingly nice post about that day on his own blog.  It’s shameful that I only just noticed.  I won’t bore you with the details of two guys geeking out and telling one another how great their glasses look, but I will bore you with an update on my ongoing quest to preserve and restore cafe Scrabble sets.

Since I had spied True Grounds‘ Scrabble set on a prior visit, I returned today to audit it.  The set’s general condition was good, the box intact and the original tile sack present.  Oddly, there were more than the regulation four tile racks, but sadly and typically, tiles were missing, eight of them to be exact: B L L M P P R U.  That’s 100% of the Ps if you’re minding them.

What makes this set special is the inscription on the corner of the board showing that KB donated the set to True Grounds on July 28, 2008, just a few months after my first cafe Scrabble audit and top-up.  Losing only 8 tiles in four plus years is pretty good based on what I’ve seen at other cafes.  Maybe I’m not the only one looking out for this set.  KB should be proud.  I will drop off replacement tiles soon.

The new Scrabble math, down 21 at Diesel, up 33 at Bloc 11

Has it really been three years since I repaired a Scrabble set? Such slacking, I’m appalled at myself. The other day I met up with trademarkable JeffCuter(TM) at Diesel Cafe and later had a nice game of Scrabble with the estimable J, who beat me by three points with the utterly cromulent fake bingo, SOLTERN.

So anyway, I decided to check the Diesel game locker, and found the Scrabble set down by a whopping 21 tiles.  On the plus side, at least one kind person had made up some cardboard substitutes, some of them really quite nice.  With a quick A A A B C C E E F G I K M N S S T U V _ _ I topped things up from my strategic Scrabble tile reserve.

Across the ‘ville at Bloc 11, I found an even more perplexing situation, a set with 133 tiles, 33 more than regulation. But it wasn’t pure surplus, there were still tiles missing, such as both of the Bs normally in the set.  So I contributed the missing tiles and set the excess aside, returning another scrabble set to 100-tile perfection, at least for now. Also, I discovered an interesting message inside the box cover. You don’t get those with Words With Friends, do you?

But what kind of maniac would crate a 133-tile set? It’s can’t have been an accident. Did somebody combine two incomplete sets? Are there merry pranksters at work? Is some speech-impeded supervillan playing a twisted form of megascrabble with twice the D and none of the B?  I’m not sure which option is less frightening, but I’m going to have to step up the Scrabble vigilance.

If you know of a cafe Scrabble set in need, don’t be a SOLTERN, speak up!


My squabble with Typography Scrabble

I like Scrabble, I like the Oxford comma, and I like typography.  So why does the a new Scrabble set for Typographers (or at least people who like type) have me so out of sorts?   For those not hep enough to know, Typographer’s Scrabble is a redesigned Scrabble set getting some design blog love these days.  It’s got several great features and one terrible flaw that just plain ruins it for me.

The Typography Edition has a lot going for it that has nothing to do with typography, and honestly, not a lot to do with Scrabble either.  It comes in a birch-covered walnut box and the game board is made up of six magnetically-attached cork-bottomed sections. This is winning major points with me on materials – wood and especially cork are favorites.   The board itself is nice enough but I’m a little worried that the treatment of the grid and the double/triple score spots is a little too low-key and therefore harder to read and use than the orthodox version.  But I’m ok with all of that.

What I’m not ok with is the “typography” part.  It’s not clear to me if each of the 98 letter tiles is printed in a different font or if there’s a smaller number of fonts distributed across the letters. I can see that at least some letters come in different fonts.  What we have here is not typography, it’s ransom note.

Bear in mind that anybody trying to “do” typography on a Scrabble board has an uphill battle.  Typography is not just letterforms, it’s the way letterforms work together in words and paragraphs.  In Scrabble, you have  no paragraphs or even sentences.  You have only words, and only capital letters. The spacing between letters is defined by the grid of the board, which rules out ligatures and leads to some pretty awful keming.  About half of all Scrabble plays go vertically, and hardly any fonts look good doing that.  All of those characteristics of the Scrabble game board are pretty much barriers to good typography.

Does that mean you shouldn’t try?  Certainly not.  In fact, in what I believe to be the origin of this idea, designer Andrew Clifford Capener proposes that you could buy his Scrabble set with the font of your choice or that you might even buy additional font packs.  I think that would be a much better idea than this ransom note nonsense.  Unfortunately the edition being marketed for pre-ordering now has only the ransom note available.

So, if I ran the zoo what I would do here?  Well, as I’ve outlined above it might be a fool’s errand to do typography in the confines of a Scrabble board.  But if this blog isn’t about foolish quests, what is it about?  With that in mind, I have two semi-contradictory ideas for better Scrabble typography:

1. lowercase it. I like lowercase letters for the legibility.  I DO NOT MUCH LIKE UPPERCASE IN GREAT QUANTITY.  [On a total tangent, if you visit the grave of e e cummings at the Forest Hills Cemetery you’ll learn his full name and see that his family didn’t much care for the lowercasing.]  Since Scrabble word plays exist in a vacuum outside of sentences, who’s to say they should be capitalized or not?  I realize there are practical problems with the varying heights and ascenders/descenders in the lowercase world but it might be interesting to try lowercase, it certainly would be fresh and different.

2. Choose the right font for the job. As in any design project you need to pick what works, not your pet concept or what you think will win you an award.  Redesigning a Scrabble board includes making a playable game. Given the constraints of the board and how the game is played, I’d probably go as close to a monospaced font as possible although maybe not all the way.  (Designer Capener’s nice minimal website is done in Courier, a bold choice for a website if you ask me, but a fine candidate for a Scrabble set.) Maybe something with a slab serif.  Ideally the font would fill the almost square Scrabble tile well to reduce the uneven letter spacing, and work passably in vertical play.  Poster Bodoni could be a fun choice.

Will I pre-order typography scrabble for $200?  As of now, there’s only 39 sets left out of 1,200. Would I pay $200 for a set that addressed my issues above?  I’m thinking probably not, since I already own three scrabble sets that I don’t use enough.  Perhaps I’d buy a new set of typographically enhanced tiles for a lot less money.  In any case, I hope that board game makers will pay attention to the possibilities raised here for better design and better materials in game boards.

The half-life of a cafe scrabble set

I’ve been repairing cafe scrabble sets for over a year now, but this is the first time I’ve gone back to a set that I previously topped up.   Last March I fixed up the set at Bloc 11 cafe in Union Square.  When I checked the board again in late June, I found it was missing one of the four tile racks and also the tiles E E F G J R T.  From that I can calculate that this set lost those 7 tiles in 445 days, a tile loss rate of about one every 64 days.  And from that we can calculate the half-life of a cafe scrabble set, in this case, about 8 years and 8 months.  I didn’t replace the tile rack, that seemed outside my mandate.

Later in the week, I was having a soup lunch at Bloc 11’s sister, Diesel, and I checked their scrabble set.  The box was in much better shape so I assumed it would be more complete, but it was down ten tiles (A EE J L O P R S Y) which spells LEPROSY (with AEJ left over) and implies that the set is about 1 year and 9 months old.  I returned to my cache of spare letters and found that I had recently deployed my only J, so I topped up the other nine letters and went back to ebay to buy more tiles.

Since I started this odd little project, I have replaced 24 tiles:

  • AA
  • F
  • GG
  • J
  • L
  • O
  • PP
  • RRRR
  • S
  • T
  • W
  • Y
  • [blank]

…plus the additional J owed to Diesel.

It’s a rare pleasure to find a boardgame you enjoy at a cafe, let alone to find one that’s complete.  I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up, but I hope cafe patrons in the greater limeduck listening area are enjoying slightly higher-fidelity scrabble sets.

Improving the board II: Nuthin' but a G thang at Caffe La Luna

Ever since I topped off the scrabble set at Bloc 11 Cafe in Union square, I’ve been on the lookout for other public scrabble sets in need of repair. After all, what am I going to do with 96 extra letters? Earlier this week, I checked 1369 coffeehouse in Inman square, also looking for a good savory scone. Not only did they not have any useful scones, but their scrabble set was completely gone. The only way you’d know it had ever been there was by the lonely OSPD sitting on the game shelf. I’m not sure if complete scrabble set replacement is in my mandate.

Yesterday, I was helping L buy dirt at Economy hardware, (she bought it on her own, I helped carry it) and we dropped in at Caffe La Luna for some gelato. I hadn’t been back to La Luna Caffe since that time I decided to try the “Puffo” gelato. I should know by now that “blue” is not a flavor. In any case, I spied a scrabble set and resolved to come back and check it.

Today, I’m sitting here watching a jazz combo setting up and smelling some really good smells from the kitchen. I checked the set, and sure enough, it was 33% short on the letter G. Fixed that.

While I’m here, let me say that this is a wonderful cafe for many reasons, and there’s no sign of any more gelato puffo. There’s a big window open to the street where a new public space is almost finished, there’s live music, good coffee, real gelato, sandwiches and salads too. Free wifi and a decent number of electrical outlets. It’s got a wonderfully laid-back feeling, not the cramped and overcaffeinated vibe you often get at independent coffee places.

So now you know. The scrabble set is complete and the cafe is a cool place, so come on down.

Improving the board, one tile at a time

As you may recall, earlier this month, I discovered that scrabble players at Bloc 11 Cafe were not playing with a full deck, and resolved to do something about it.  My ebay purchase arrived earlier this week, and today I went back to Bloc 11 and audited their scrabble set.


Oddly, I found the set contained 96 tiles, not the 94 I counted last time.  Perhaps there are other scrabble robin hoods at work.  In any case, I quickly replaced the missing blank, P, E and A, finished my espresso and put the set away.

I hope that alert limeduckers will let me know if this or any other public scrabble set in the area is in need of repair. The price of cafe scrabble is eternal vigilance.

Would you like some OPiATE in your POTAgE?

I had a pleasant brunch with J today at the new Bloc 11 cafe in Union Square. Bloc 11 is run by the fine folks who own Diesel cafe in Davis Square, and is housed in a former bank building. You can even dine in the vault. Besides enjoying egg and cheese sandwiches, we had excellent soy drinks, a latte and a mocha chai, both with artistic foam illustrations. And we found a scrabble set in the game vault and set down to a match.

Amazingly, we both drew bingos on our first plays – DOILIES and WEBSITE – although I’m not sure if the latter is an accepted scrabble word, but we had no dictionary and played on. The game was close to the end, but I got shafted with the Q and ended up losing 289 to 327. But towards the end, when the bag was empty, we started to realize that we were not playing with a full deck, so to speak. When the game was done it was obvious that we were missing at least a P and a blank. We counted up and found only 94 tiles out of the regulation 100. Further examination revealed the exact contents of the deficit:

A E O P T [blank]

I guess that’s par for the course for a public scrabble set. We wrote a warning note on a coffee cup sleeve, put it in the box and returned the game to the vault.

I like scrabble. I like coffee shops. I like coffee shops that have their own complete scrabble sets. So I decided to do something about this. But where do you go to get just six tiles? Six particular tiles. Ebay, of course! Oddly there were no short sets for sale, only lots of 100 or even a couple of hundred tiles at a shot, many of them listed as “for crafting.” If bidding goes my way, in a few days, I will have a full set of tiles and will set about topping up all the damaged scrabble sets I can find.

And after that, I’ll make earrings and cuff links from the rest and sell those on ebay to recoup my investment.