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] 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.

3 Responses

  1. Rose's Lime
    This is a beautiful and commendable effort deserving of great praise! Mending the world, indeed. This said, I think assuming the half-life of a scrabble set is linnear is insufficiently complex. I imagine the rate of loss would decline through disuse as the number of pieces drop. What I'm saying is I'd like more data.
  2. It's true, Rose, OCD can be used for good as well as for evil. I agree that we need more data and I hope that alert limeduck readers will write in with updates on their favorite local scrabble sets. You can bet that I'll post updates as I learn more about the properties of scrabble sets in the wild. While I agree that the decay isn't likely to be linear, I think the shape of the curve will go the other way, at least at the end: as a set gets more visibly compromised, it's more likely to be completely discarded or raided by people who figure it's already useless - scavengers looking to repair their own sets or crafty hipsters looking to make cufflinks from their initials in scrabble tiles.
  3. Judging the half-life of a Scrabble tile is not really possible with the known information. I assume a tile is missing because some miscreant took one home because his set is missing that tile. Thus, the stolen tile lives on and does not enjoy a half life. Just because a Scrabble tile has been cruelly ripped from its native set does not mean its useful life is over. To the contrary, it may well be enjoying a new Scrabble environment. The nasty thief will do poorly with his stolen tile due to the attending karma.
  4. [...] 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. [...]

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