U.S. players react to news that new Scrabble version will allow proper nouns

(Michael Temchine)
By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Tuesday dawned with sputtering Scrabble fans dashing for their dictionaries: Appall! (10 points). Pox! (12 points). Crazy! (19 points). Zounds! (16 points).

By day's end, they felt better: Phew. (12 points). Sheesh. (12 points). They wished they had enough tiles in their racks to spell "apocrypha" or "exaggerate."

Stefan Fatsis, a Washington-based Scrabble coach and devoted chronicler of the Scrabble world, summed up the snafu (8 points) this way: "It's a case of corporate flackery and media incompetence completely misleading the public."

What caused about 10,000 near-heart attacks from London to El Segundo, Calif., began a few days ago with a tiny item in a British trade paper. It referred to Mattel's plans to introduce a new kind of Scrabble that would permit the use of proper nouns.

The horror. To Scrabble purists, this would be like lowering the height of the baskets in the NBA, or doing away with the net in tennis. Suddenly, any idiot could spell, say, "Bjork," and score a quick 18 points.

The British press grabbed this seed and planted a garden. In their accounts for Tuesday's editions, the holy rules of basic Scrabble were being changed for the first time since they were codified in 1948 (after being invented in a slightly different form in 1938).

"Stuck at Scrabble? Bring on Beyonce!" said the Daily Mail. "My Word! Scrabble changes rules," said the Times of London. "Dumbing Noun; Scrabble Rules Are Changed to Count Names," said the Mirror.

Surely the Daily Telegraph's headline writer is a Scrabble player: "Why Quzhou is now Scrabble's dream destination."

(Quzhou, a city in China, would be worth 27 points under the new system.)

A Mattel spokeswoman who was not identified in any of the accounts told the Telegraph, "We believe that people who are already fans of the game will enjoy the changes." Most of the stories buried as an afterthought another of her comments: "Obviously some people will want to continue playing the old rules so we will still be selling a board with the original rules."

As the story got picked up in the United States a few hours later on radio, television and the Internet, citing British reports, that nuance occasionally fell out of the story completely.

The American Scrabble community checked its calendars. Was it April 1?

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