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Seeing Value

In the past year, I met a goal I had set about something trivial. I have a point to this story… you’ll have to be a bit patient, though, to get to it.

I wanted to be the top-ranked Facebook Scrabble player in my peer group, in all 3 categories of highest ranking, highest word score, and highest number of 7+ letter words, all at one time. I did it by taking an approach to the game that most people have never tried, as far as I can tell.

The key to doing well at Scrabble when you break it down, I figured, is to get more point value out of your letters than your opponents do.

If you were to take a superficial look at the value of Scrabble letters, you would probably say that the 5 most valuable letters are the Q and the Z (worth 10 points), the X and the J (worth 8 points), and the K (worth 5 points).

The way I play the game, the most valuable letters are S, R, E, I, and D, in roughly that order. Why? Well, I figure that since players get 50 bonus points for using all 7 of their tiles at once, the best way to get the most out of your letters would be to get the most 7 letter words. And, the way to do that would be to use word-extenders (plurals, suffixes, prefixes). And so, the letters that show up most often in plurals, suffixes, and prefixes would be letters to hold onto, in order to get the most out of them. S is the letter most used for plurals. -er and -ed, -ier and -ied are common suffixes. re- and de- and dis- are common prefixes. There are other letter combinations I consider after that, but you get the idea. In addition, if you add an s or an e or an r onto many existing words, you get a new word or version of the existing word, providing a connection point for your word placement.

So when I play, it’s more about the letters that I don’t use in a turn than the letters I put down. I will often sacrifice the opportunity to score more points on one turn, taking the chance that by holding onto my more ‘valuable’ letters I can score a ‘bingo’ bonus for using all 7 of my tiles in a turn to come, depending partly on luck to do so.

I reasoned that, while many other players may have a larger vocabulary than I do, and while some players (not likely in my peer group, but among ‘random’ opponents that may be chosen for me) may be tempted to purchase the ‘Teacher’ app on Facebook Scrabble (which shows you the highest possible scoring word from the previous turn), if I was willing to play in an unorthodox way I could potentially win games by giving myself more opportunities to score large numbers of points.

And, long story short, it worked. I had a theory, based on reasoning; I applied my theory; I met my goal. The reason it worked was that I was able to see value where others did not, and was willing to take chances that others were not willing to take.

There are applications here. Sometimes we may be tempted to take the easily measured values of our society – amount of money, titles and status, letters behind names – as gospel for how we ought to measure the value of people. But all people have contributions to make in our lives and in society, and maybe what really needs to happen is that we need to take a different point of view in order to see the value that is being overlooked. Maybe if we can work as a community, we can all extend our abilities in order to add up to more than any of us as individuals can achieve alone.

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