Scrabble players adjust as official dictionary adds ' za , 'qi ' and 3,300 others.
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Italian Village Pizza in Squirrel Hill does a brisk business near one of the busiest corners in this diverse neighborhood, but none of the workers there can ever recall anyone ordering a "za."
"A what?" asked Cory Savit, who's now at his second pizza shop in a year.
You know, a "za" -- a slang term for pizza. What do they call pizza?
"Pizza," he said with a puzzled look.
No matter, the word "za" is now part of a new list of acceptable words for the crossword game of Scrabble that is "literally changing the way Scrabble is played," said John D. Williams Jr., executive director of the National Scrabble Association.
Scrabble, invented by out-of-work architect Alfred Mosher Butts in the late 1940s, is found in one in three American homes. Sales of Scrabble, a real word that means "to grope frantically," didn't take off until the early 1950s, when the president of Macy's discovered the game on vacation and ordered some for his store. More than 100 million sets have been sold worldwide, and there are an estimated more than 40 million leisure players in the United States and Canada alone. The game is now marketed by Hasbro Inc.
The National Scrabble Association, based in Greenport, N.Y., is the governing body for tournament and club play in the United States and Canada. There are more than 300 clubs in both countries, and the School Scrabble Program involves more than 500,000 students in 23,000 schools.
The association sponsors the U.S. Scrabble Open, to be held this year Aug. 4-9 in Phoenix, which will be televised on ESPN. Last year's tournament drew more than 700 competitors between ages 13 to 95.
Find out more at www.scrabble-assoc.com.
The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary is available in stores for $24.95 hardcover, $7.50 paperback.
-- Virginia Linn
In fact, "za" and another newly accepted word -- "qi," the ancient Chinese term (pronounced chee) for the vital energy believed to flow throughout the body -- are a boon for modern-day Scrabble players who often grapple with how to play "z" and "q" on the board.
They're among more than 3,300 new words in the fourth edition of the "Official Scrabble Players Dictionary," which took effect last month for tournament play. It's updated about every five years and includes more than 120,000 words.
This is the first time two-letter words with either "q" or "z" -- the two highest-value tiles at 10 points apiece -- have been acceptable. If players are stuck with either one at the end of the game, they have to subtract 20 points from their total score. ("Q" is particularly difficult to place without a "u.")
But neither Mr. Williams, nor local Scrabble aficionado Linda Iannetti of Mt. Lebanon, would go as far as to say having "qi" and "za" in their arsenal are making the game easier.
"It definitely makes for a more high-scoring game," Mr. Williams said. "The game is 30 percent luck and 70 percent skill."
Ms. Iannetti agreed. "You have to have luck drawing the letters."
Coletta Sporrer, another serious player who lives in Hampton, said the new words could even add to the challenge because players now have to be extra careful about how they place specific letters next to triple-score blocks.
"A smart player is not going to leave that open," she said.
But both Ms. Sporrer and Ms. Iannetti are puzzled by the addition of some of the words.
"The 'za' I don't like," Ms. Iannetti said. "Did you ever hear anyone call pizza 'za'? I think it's kind of like a wacky word."
"It comes out of the West Coast," Mr. Williams explained.
Actually, duh also is new to the list, as are fe, ki and oi, eek, fab, mic, zzz, blog, zine, jurassic, goth, def, perv, ziplock, snarfing, doodoo, doowop and realtor (which had always been a proper noun).
These all have been lively conversation topics for the roughly 30 members of the Pittsburgh Scrabble Players. About a dozen or so meet at Northland Library in McCandless from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. most Saturdays to play.
The founder of the club, established in 1987, has since moved to Las Vegas, but others such as Ms. Iannetti, who joined in 1992, have been playing with the group for years. Ages of the members range from 20 to more than 80, although at one time, a handful of young teens also were involved.
At least one member, Jim Dodds of White Oak, has competed regularly as a top player in national tournaments.
"The players are aware of how great it is for them," Ms. Sporrer said about the new words. But she added: "It's a pain in the neck to learn. ... No one learns all of them."
For those most passionate about the game, the added words don't come as a surprise because they've already been added to reputable dictionaries due to their growing use in everyday language. The Scrabble Association updates its players dictionary in conjunction with Merriam-Webster Inc.
"We have people who read dictionaries," Mr. Williams said. "The novices or intermediates may learn just a few new words; the experts will learn all 4,000."
Some words make it into the players dictionary, are removed, then come back into favor. For example, "stetson" was added to an early edition of the official players dictionary because it had become more of a generic term. But it was left out of later editions because of a complaint from the 141-year-old Stetson hat company claiming the word was a trademark.
That word was still under debate at press time for the latest players dictionary so it didn't make it into publication. But it now appears on the Official Tournament and Club Word List, so it's fair game.
Some other new words you'll find on the Scrabble association's Web site as late entries that missed the publication deadline -- and many of these may surprise you -- are lycra, kleenex, buddha, popsicle, brillo, vaseline, mylar, kewpie, enuf, teflon, jacuzzi, tofutti and levis.
All this can sound pretty obscure to most people, Mr. Williams acknowledged.
"But if you love words and language, it's pretty wild stuff."
First Published April 9, 2006 12:00 am