A couple of years ago I started to dabble in Scrabble on Facebook.  I had never Scrabbled before and I wrote about that learning curve. Now, according to the Scrabble tally, I have played exactly 300 games.   And I’ve learned a few more things.

It was my understanding that on the board game, Scrabble, you had to rely on your brain and the dictionary was only for looking up a disputed word.  One of the first things you learn on FB Scrabble is that there is no such thing as a disputed word. As soon as you play a word it is either accepted or rejected; there’s no arguing. Another difference is that on Facebook Scrabble they provide you with a list of acceptable two-letter words and you don’t have to be able to define them. You can play ae, aa, qi, hm, pe, oe and have no idea what they mean and that’s OK. Right off it has become clear that the rules for playing online are different.

So I looked up the rules for FBS (Facebook Scrabble). They say that it is OK to check the validity of a word before it is played in the little box that is  provided with the game. You could play around with the letters on your rack until you found a combination of letters that added up points and you didn’t have to know what the word meant at all.  When you came up with a word like hae or qat or arim or whatever, that was fine.  And if using the little valid word-checker was OK, then it would certainly be OK to  use a regular dictionary or a Scrabble dictionary but the word-checker was much handier.

I have an excellent vocabulary but eventually I noticed that other people were using words that I had never heard of–that they were finding words in their 7-tiles that were really unlikely to be in their vocabulary.  That was when I discovered the World Wide Web had anagram finding sites that would list all the valid words in your 7 tiles.  You could spend all day re-arranging your 7 tiles and never come up with some of the more unusual ones.   It was a real time-saver.  You filled in your 7 tiles and chose the word that best fit the situation.  I figured it was just a time-saver and I was already spending too much time on Scrabble.   Everyone else was coming up with weird words and I knew their vocabularies were unlikely to be better than mine.

Well, along came Katy, my daughter, and we played a few games, which I usually won.  “Are you cheating?”  she asked.  “Where are all those long words coming from?”  I explained to her that I had seen no rules on Facebook Scrabble against using aids, and we were even provided with the aids I’ve already mentioned.  I told her she was welcome to get her kids to help her, use the dictionary, whatever! There seemed to be no rule against it.

So, Katy fixed my wagon.   All of a sudden her Scrabble playing reached new heights.  I had never scored over 500 points in a game.   All of a sudden Katy’s scores were way up there in the stratosphere!  I could tell by the way the games were going she had found some super aid somewhere and I was never going to win a game again.

So, now I know.  The internet  not only has word-finding aids  but actually game-playing sites!!  You can reproduce your Scrabble board on their grid and it will not only show you the best possible word you can play, given the tiles you have, but where to play it.   “Never lose another game,”  it says!

One of the Scrabble help sites says

Please use our Scrabble Helper responsibly. It is up to you to cheat or not to cheat; there is a thin line between cheating and improving your vocabulary. Our professional Scrabble players – who use our solver daily – make sure to click on words and learn dictionary definitions.

Does that mean that most people use a “solver”  and it’s OK provided you learn the meaning of the words you choose?

Well, I thought I would poll some of the friends I was playing online with, and I asked them, honestly, were they using other sites than the Facebook site for help when they played a game. Some didn’t reply. The three that did said:

Used to use a scrabble words web site. But I don’t use anything anymore. I just play words.

Not during a game.

I use the teacher feature on the iPhone version of scrabble which tells you what the best play was after you go. It helps me quite a bit. Unlike the board game I also use the electronic scrabble dictionary extensively. As such my scores are generally higher when playing electronically. We have a HODSON rule that one can only use what comes with the scrabble app.  If you use some of the sites you pretty much can make the best play every time. Then the game will evolve into luck of the draw in which case we might as well just play “war” with cards and save the trouble.

The fact that some of the people I polled did not respond tells a tale.  In fact, my first tip that others were not playing the old-fashioned board game scrabble  came when one of them got his highest word score with a medical word that had a one-in-a-gazillion chance of being in his vocabulary.

I’ve also learned that those who play from their smart phones and iPads have the teacher-feature mentioned above which will tell you the best word you could have played (after the play is done) — which means maybe you can play it next time!

When you get right down to it, using an anagram site to find all the words in your tiles is really small time cheating.    There’s big time cheating to be done using the computer’s brain instead of yours.   It will tell you what word to play and where to put it!  Katy found it wasn’t as much fun that way.  Scrabblers that use  Scrabble apps on their smart phones or iPads have an advantage over those using Facebook, because they have the teacher-feature.

Recently an opponent played the word bean and my little word-checker box assured me that beano was a valid word.  I played beano along with rhino in the other direction and the points added up nicely.   When my opponent played jaw the word-checker told me jawed was valid and when it ended up on a TW square the points were good.   In my opinion using the helps that come with the game is not cheating.

Katy and I are still enjoying online Scrabble  but staying away from the sites that will play the game for you.  I like the HODSON rule mentioned above that you can only use what comes with the Scrabble app.

Anyone else want to weigh in?