Scrabble celebrates 50 years with nabk in the nude

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The Independent Online
YOU CAN play it in 30 languages in 121 countries around the world - or naked in Edun, Oxfordshire, if you prefer. And if you play your tiles right on Wednesday, you can celebrate Scrabble's 50th birthday with a cazique, writes Colin Blackstock.

The world's most popular word game reaches its half-century on 16 December, and although it is unlikely that many players will ever have played with a cazique, you might be one of the lucky ones who have managed to spell it out on a Scrabble board.

A cazique is a West Indian chief, and the plural - caziques - earned the highest word score ever achieved in a competitive game of Scrabble.

Worth 392 points, it has remained unbeaten since 1982, when Dr Karl Khoshnaw from Manchester displayed his knowledge of tribal leaders - and how to mind his z's and q's. However, this is not the highest possible score that can be achieved in one go: that honour goes to benzoxycamphors (a type of chemical), which, if played along the edges of the board, is worth a staggering 1,970 points.

Scrabble scores, for the majority of us, remain quite low, with 200 being a respectable total for a game. But if you can start the game with "squeezy" or "quartzy" then you've managed to score 126 points straight away - the highest possible score for the first turn.

If on the other hand you have ended up with a rack full of vowels (a Scrabble disaster), don't despair. Use those pesky vowels to spell euouae (which is a Gregorian chant) and get some new tiles.

The enduring popularity of Scrabble, which has sold more than 100 million copies worldwide, has even spawned an official Scrabble dictionary. The British version allows 122,863 words, of which 109 are two-lettered, although none of these contains the letter v.

What it does contain are banxring (a tree squirrel), xeric (lacking in moisture), and keitloa (a two-horned rhinoceros). And why spell bank when you can rearrange the letters to spell the perfectly legitimate nabk (a prickly thorn bush)?

The game itself originated during the Depression in the US. In 1931, Alfred Butt, an unemployed architect with a penchant for word games, first came up with Lexico, the precursor to Scrabble. It was played without a board, and players scored on the basis of the length of words formed, but the game was a commercial flop.

Mr Butt continued to redesign his game, using a variety of names, including Alpha and Criss Cross Words, before it became Scrabble in 1948, and was launched around the world in the subsequent years.

And as for playing it naked in Edun, Oxfordshire? That's where you'll find the Naturist Scrabble Enthusiasts' Club.