Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to beat me at Scrabble

You know one of my all-time favorite games is Scrabble. I've been playing since I was old enough to spell, on one of the turn-table deluxe versions with the grooves for the tiles. 

My highest play ever. I'm still ridiculously proud of it.
One of my crowning achievements growing up was beating my grandma at Scrabble. I was twelve, and I remember the feeling of joy and accomplishment at this seemingly insignificant feat. Because in our family, adults don't just let kids win. You have to earn it. This tough-love attitude extended to all venues, meaning we also did our own laundry, made dinner once a week, broke the rules and suffered the consequences (oh, did we suffer). But if Grandma had let me win, I wouldn't remember the first time I beat her, would I?

When I play anyone now, even past, present, or future students, I don't let them win. But I do hopefully teach some strategy.

So here's my definitive "How to beat me at Scrabble" (or Words with Friends) strategy list.


This is not optional if you want to win. You cannot stack words if you haven't familiarized yourself with this list. Keep it handy while you're new and pretty soon you'll know it forwards and backwards.

Source: http://www.hasbro.com/scrabble/en_US/2LetterList.cfm
AA:  n pl. –S rough, cindery lava
AB:  n pl. –S an abdominal muscle
AD:  n pl. –S an advertisement
AE:  adj one
AG:  adj pertaining to agriculture
AH:  interj – used to express delight, relief, or contempt
AI:   n  pl. –S a three-toed sloth
AL:  n  pl. –S an East Indian tree
AM:  present 1st person sing. of BE
AN:  indefinite article – used before words beginning with a vowel
AR:  n pl. –S the letter R
AS:  adv to the same degree
AT:  prep in the position of
AW:  interj – used to express protest, disgust, or disbelief
AX:  v –ED, -ING, -ES to work on with an ax (a type of cutting tool)
AY:  n  pl. –S aye
BA:  n  pl. –S the eternal soul in Egyptian mythology
BE:  v AM, ARE, ART, WAS, WERE, WAST, WERT, BEEN, BEING to have actuality
BI:  n pl. –S bisexual
BO:  n pl. –S a pal
BY:  n pl. –S a pass in certain card games
DE:  prep of; from – used in names
DO:  n pl. –S the first tone of the diatonic scale
ED:  n pl. –S education
EF:  n pl. –S the letter F
EH:  interj – used to express doubt
EL:  n pl. –S an elevated railroad or train
EM:  n pl. –S the letter M
EN:  n pl. –S the letter M
ER:  interj – used to express hesitation
ES:  n pl. ESES the letter S (also spelled ESS)
ET:  a past tense of EAT
EX:  n pl. EXES the letter X
FA:  n pl. –S the fourth tone of the diatonic musical scale
FE:  n –FES a Hebrew letter
GO:  v WENT, GONE, GOING, GOES to move along
HA:  n pl. –S a sound of surprise
HE:  n pl. –S a male person
HI:  interj – used as a greeting
HM:  interj – used to express thoughtful consideration
HO:  interj – used to express surprise
ID:  n pl. –S a part of the psyche
IF:  n pl. –S a possibility
IN:  v INNED, INNING, INS to harvest
IS:  v present 3d person sing. of BE
IT:  pron the 3rd person sing. of BE
JO:  n pl.  -ES a sweetheart
KA:  n pl. –S the spiritual self of a human being in Egyptian religion
KI:  n pl. -S the vital force in Chinese thought
LA:  n pl. –S the sixth tone of the diatonic musical scale
LI:  n pl. a Chinese unit of distance
LO:  interj – used to attract attention or to express surprise
MA:  n pl. –S mother
ME:  pron the objective case of the pronoun I
MM:  interj – Used to express assent or satisfaction
MO:  n pl. –S a moment
MU:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
MI:  n pl. –MIS the third tone of the diatonic musical scale
MY:  pron the possessive form of the pronoun I
NA:  adv no; not
NE:  adj born with the name of (also NEE)
NO:  n  pl. NOS or NOES a negative reply
NU:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
OD:  n pl. –S a hypothetical force of natural power
OE:  n pl. –S a whirlwind off the Faeroe Islands
OF:  prep coming from
OH:  v –ED, -ING, -S to exclaim in surprise, pain, or desire
OI:  v – oy--used to express dismay or pain
OM:  n pl. –S a mantra used in contemplation of ultimate reality
ON:  n pl. –S the side of the wicket where a batsman stands in cricket
OP:  n pl. –S a style of abstract art
OR:  n pl. –S the heraldic color gold
OS:  n pl. –S ORA, OSSA, or OSAR either an orifice, a bone, or an esker
OW:  interj – used to express sudden pain
OX:  n pl. OXEN or OXES a hoofed mammal or clumsy person
OY:  interj – used to express dismay or pain
PA:  n pl. –S a father
PE:  n pl. –S a Hebrew letter
PI:  v PIED, PIEING, PIING, or PIES to jumble or disorder
QI:  n pl. -S the vital force that in Chinese thought is inherent in all things
RE:  n pl. –S the second tone of diatonic musical scale
SH:  interj – used to urge silence
SI:  n pl. –S ti
SO:  n pl. –S the fifth tone of the diatonic musical scale
TA:  n pl. –S an expression of gratitude
TO:  prep in the direction of
TI:  n TIS the seventh tone of the diatonic musical scale
UH:  interj – used to express hesitation
UM:  interj – used to express hesitation
UN:  pron pl. –S one
UP:  v UPPED, UPPING, UPS to raise
US:  pron the objective case of the pronoun we
UT:  n pl. –S the musical tone C in the French solmization system, now replaced by do
WE:  pron the 1st person pl. pronoun in the nominative case
WO:  n pl. –S woe
XI:  n pl. –S a Greek letter
XU:  n pl. XU a monetary unit of Vietnam
YA:  pron you
YE:  pron you
YO:  interj – used to call attention or express affirmation
ZA:  n pl. -S a pizza

It still irritates me that they don't accept "ew" as a word. C'mon. Everyone knows that ew means.
This is a good example of what "stacking" words looks like.
"BOOTY," worth 11 points at face value,  is now worth 41 points.
A couple other notes on two-letter words.

  • C and V have no two-letter counterparts, so they can block a section of the board pretty easily. 
  • Q on has QI,  Z only has ZA, and J only has JO. These are high-pointers though, so look to use them on a double- or triple-letter in both directions.
  • X is my favorite letter because it works with every vowel- AX, EX, XI, OX, XU.
  • The two-letter words that don't require a vowel are SH, HM, MM, BY, MY. 

Unless my rack looks like there's a 7-letter word in there somewhere, I look for a good spot first. I'm going to use the same game and show you what I mean.

When I look at this board, the first thing I see is the double word in the lower right-hand corner by "ORE." Add a B, C, F, G, L, M, P, S, W, Y.... I think that's all the possible combinations. You get the point. Now I don't have much left in my rack, but I was watching the spot for awhile. A and T have plenty of two-letter combinations that I could stack a word right next to "GOAT" and have a high value play. For instance, "PLAY" would work and I would also get "PORE," "LA," and "AT." Whereas "PLAY" is just worth 9 points, or 18 with the double word score. But put it all together, and it's worth 34 points.

The only time I try to find a good word is if I'm loaded with the magic combination of letters that looks like it'll net me a 7-letter word (worth 50 bonus points!), which brings me to my next tip.


These are magic letter combos:

If you have any of these combos, put those letters together and see what you have left. You might find a word that would have eluded you otherwise.


"ZAX" is one of my favorite words. I have no idea what it means.
These are some of the words that veteran Scrabble players will use to their advantage (not including the two-letter list above). 

The Q is one of my favorite letters, but you have to know how to use it wisely. Don't obsess about having a U. I bet "QI" is the most common Q word I play!

J is another good letter to abuse:

And Z...

This is by no means a definitive list, but they are some of my favorite tricky words that can net a lot of points.


An S is a treasure to be held until just the right moment. If you found a hundred dollar bill on the ground, you wouldn't just hand it to the next person you see, would you? No, you save it until an opportune time. 

In this game, I have an S in my rack. There are no words on the board right now that can end in S, so it'll sit there unless it gives me some advantage. What would be a good reason to use an S that isn't adding it to the end of another word? I'm glad you asked.

Look at the first word played, "AWAITS." This looks like a wasted S, right? Wrong. I'm not sure who played the first word here, but the S was used to move the W from a plain square to a double letter, meaning instead of four points doubled, now it's eight points doubled. From four to 16 points, just like that. Boo-yah.

Unless you have a good excuse, use that S to tack onto another word and rack up those points.


Consider yourself warned.


Yes, I am aware that there are a million Scrabble and WWF cheats out there. I know which of my friends use them and which don't. But I play for fun, not to win. It's not fun if you're cheating. And you'll feel much better about yourself when you beat me for real.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Happy Heart

"A happy heart is like good medicine, but a broken spirit drains your strength."
Proverbs 17:22 (NCV)

I know many people have asked me about the trip and when I'm going to share stories, but honestly I'm not ready yet. Anyone who has been on a mission trip knows it takes a while to decompress and process everything you've seen. I'm still in the processing stage, but I thought I'd share some of the lighter moments that kept us going.

Couldn't help but snap this photo at the car rental counter. Glad to know we have options.

After we got our trucks and were loading up, Stephanie and I were looking for an English radio station. We found one, kind of. A cover of "Discovery Channel" by the Bloodhound Gang. Yeah, 'cause that song needed a remake.

It was because of that song though that we realized we graduated the same year, and we were both at the Purdue vs. Michigan State game in East Lansing in 2000! We both remember it as a cooooooold game. It's nice to find friends down here who understand what "wind chill" and "lake effect snow" mean. :)

This is what I wrote about our hotel the first day. "We're leaving the Villa Nuria hotel for Copan today. It's pretty much indistinguishable from a condo in Florida. Except the electric fence and guards with guns."

I have plenty more happy memories to share. Later. :)

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Meaning of Worship

I know I haven't posted any Honduras stories yet, but it's tough to get those thoughts on paper and convey exactly what I want to say. I have half a dozen posts started, but none finished. This one, though, is easy enough and I have been excited to share it.

Confession- I was not looking forward to attending Dr. Cruz's church in San Pedro. I figured it'd be long, hot, and in Spanish. Well it was long, but it wasn't hot thanks to multiple AC units, and even though the music was in Spanish, it didn't matter because it was SO MUCH FUN. More on that later.

There was a guest preacher from North Carolina, so while much of the service was in Spanish, the sermon was actually in English. We kind of got the feel on how the translating works. There's a balance for keeping the train of thought going, but also pausing often enough for the translator to keep up. The parts of the service that were in Spanish with no translation were still really emotional, so even though I really had no idea what was begin said, I still understood what was going on, if that makes sense. Plus I thought it was good for me to be more sympathetic to guests in our country who don't speak English. I've never been one to think "if you want to be an American, learn the language," but it's still very different being on the receiving end. 

So I'm not going waste my time trying to explain how JOYFUL the service was, because I took some video. Keep in mind the service was three hours long, but they kept up this energy and enthusiasm THE WHOLE TIME. Definitely different from the way we worship most of the time. 

This video is just of the offering. Now we were there on a special Sunday (it was a birthday of the church), so I don't know if it's like this every week, but I thought it was so much more in the spirit of giving than just passing a plate around! (I apologize for the poor quality of the video. I was using my old point and shoot camera, which doesn't auto focus. Boo.)

So in the end, I was wrong. The service was one of the highlights of the trip for me. Just goes to show you always need to have an open mind, AND an open heart.