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Scrabble Word Records

Here at the _floss, we love Scrabble and have written about it often. Among others, there's Stacy's post on Scrabble words that will help you win, my post on how Alfred Mosher Butts, inventor of Scrabble, couldn't spell very well, and even a quiz by Jason Plautz testing your knowledge of 2-letter words.

One of the topics we haven't really covered, however, are those big point-getters—the words that earn the most points and the people who've played "˜em. But before we get to them, let's start with some hypothetical word plays, or words played in theoretical games.

Obviously you're going to need to cover three triple-word-score squares to achieve these first couple. According to this site, using the OSPD (2nd ed.) and Merriam-Webster (9th ed.), the highest-scoring single play word, found by Dan Stock of Ohio, is OXYPHENBUTAZONE for 1,458 points. Add in hooked words, OPACIFYING for 63, YELKS for 12, PREInTERVIEWED for 25, BRAINWASHING for 63, AMELIORATIVE for 17, ZARFS for 27, EJACULATING for 63 and a 50 point bonus, and the grand total for this theoretical move is 1,778 points!

Scrabulizer.com confirmed this move, and redid it using only words from TWL06. With the rack ABEOPXZ, playing oxyphenbutazone, they were able to up 1,778 to 1,780. See the image below.

They were also able to get all the way up to 2,015 points using TWL06 only and the word sesquioxidizing (which doesn't actually exist in any of the Scrabble dictionaries), from the rack DGIQSXZ. So where does this antiquated word live? Online, of course. Right here. ["Well the word is derived from the word "sesquioxide", and thus not found in the dictionary directly (Endangered)"]

2ndscrabble

Now on to some real world records!

Presently, Michael Cresta holds the record here in the U.S. for most points played in a single game. He set it in 2006, topping a 13-year-old record of 770 points. So how many points did Cresta rack up? How about a whopping 830!

Slate has a really long, well-written post detailing each play, if you're interested, but suffice it to say, Cresta started the game with a bingo, and eventually had a record-breaking single turn of 365 points for the word QUIXOTRY (quixotic action or thought). He and his opponent, Wayne Yorra, wound up breaking another record that game, too: the most total points in a game: 1,320, as Yorra racked up 490, and played several bingoes of his own!

slateboard

Wiki has some stats that are also worth noting:

# Highest opening move score (OSPD) "“ MUZJIKS (with a blank for the U) 126 by Jesse Inman (S.C.) at the National Scrabble Championship, 2008.[27] The highest possible legal score on a first turn is MUZJIKS 128, using an actual U rather than a blank.
# Highest opening move score (SOWPODS) "“ BEZIQUE 124 by Joan Rosenthal.[28] BEZIQUE 124 by Sally Martin.[28]

* High game score of 1,049 by Phil Appleby of Lymington, Hants, UK, on June 25, 1989 in Wormley, Herts, UK. His opponent scored just 253 points, giving Appleby a record victory margin of 796 points.
* High single-turn score of 392, by Dr. Saladin Karl Khoshnaw[29] in Manchester, UK, in April 1982. The word he used was CAZIQUES, meaning "native chiefs of West Indian aborigines".

What are the most points you've ever racked up on one word? How about one game? What were the words? We want to hear about it!

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Big Questions
Where Does the Phrase '… And the Horse You Rode In On' Come From?
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Horses may no longer be the dominant form of transportation in the U.S., but the legacy of our horseback-riding history lives on in language. When telling people off, we still use the phrase “... and the horse you rode in on.” These days, it’s rare for anyone you're telling to go screw themselves to actually be an equestrian, so where did “and the horse you rode in on” come from, anyway?

Well, let’s start with the basics. The phrase is, essentially, an intensifier, one typically appended to the phrase “F*** you.” As the public radio show "A Way With Words" puts it, it’s usually aimed at “someone who’s full of himself and unwelcome to boot.” As co-host and lexicographer Grant Barrett explains, “instead of just insulting you, they want to insult your whole circumstance.”

The phrase can be traced back to at least the 1950s, but it may be even older than that, since, as Barrett notes, plenty of crude language didn’t make it into print in the early 20th century. He suggests that it could have been in wide use even prior to World War II.

In 1998, William Safire of The New York Times tracked down several novels that employed the term, including The Friends of Eddie Coyle (1972) and No Bugles, No Drums (1976). The literary editor of the latter book, Michael Seidman, told Safire that he heard the term growing up in the Bronx just after the Korean War, leading the journalist to peg the origin of the phrase to at least the late 1950s.

The phrase has had some pretty die-hard fans over the years, too. Donald Regan, who was Secretary of the Treasury under Ronald Reagan from 1981 through 1984, worked it into his official Treasury Department portrait. You can see a title along the spine of a book in the background of the painting. It reads: “And the Horse You Rode In On,” apparently one of Regan’s favorite sayings. (The book in the painting didn't refer to a real book, but there have since been a few published that bear similar names, like Clinton strategist James Carville’s book …and the Horse He Rode In On: The People V. Kenneth Starr and Dakota McFadzean’s 2013 book of comics Other Stories And the Horse You Rode In On.)

It seems that even in a world where almost no one rides in on a horse, insulting a man’s steed is a timeless burn.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Big Questions
What’s the Origin of Jack-O’-Lanterns?
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TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

The term "jack-o'-lantern" was first applied to people, not pumpkins. As far back as 1663, the term meant a man with a lantern, or a night watchman. Just a decade or so later, it began to be used to refer to the mysterious lights sometimes seen at night over bogs, swamps, and marshes.

These ghost lights—variously called  jack-o’-lanterns, hinkypunks, hobby lanterns, corpse candles, fairy lights, will-o'-the-wisps, and fool's fire—are created when gases from decomposing plant matter ignite as they come into contact with electricity or heat or as they oxidize. For centuries before this scientific explanation was known, people told stories to explain the mysterious lights. In Ireland, dating as far back as the 1500s, those stories often revolved around a guy named Jack.

LEGEND HAS IT

As the story goes, Stingy Jack—often described as a blacksmith—invited the devil to join him for a drink. Stingy Jack didn't want to pay for the drinks from his own pocket, and convinced the devil to turn himself into a coin that could be used to settle the tab. The devil did so, but Jack skipped out on the bill and kept the devil-coin in his pocket with a silver cross so that the devil couldn’t shift back to his original form. Jack eventually let the devil loose, but made him promise that he wouldn’t seek revenge on Jack, and wouldn’t claim his soul when he died.

Later, Jack irked the devil again by convincing him to climb up a tree to pick some fruit, then carved a cross in the trunk so that the devil couldn’t climb back down (apparently, the devil is a sucker). Jack freed him again, on the condition that the devil once again not take revenge and not claim Jack’s soul.

When Stingy Jack eventually died, God would not allow him into heaven, and the devil, keeping his word, rejected Jack’s soul at the gates of hell. Instead, the devil gave him a single burning coal to light his way and sent him off into the night to “find his own hell.” Jack put the coal into a carved-out turnip and has supposedly been roaming the earth with it ever since. In Ireland, the ghost lights seen in the swamps were said to be Jack’s improvised lantern moving about as his restless soul wandered the countryside. He and the lights were dubbed "Jack of the Lantern," or "Jack O'Lantern."

OLD TALE, NEW TRADITIONS

The legend immigrated to the new world with the Irish, and it collided with another old world tradition and a new world crop. Making vegetable lanterns was a tradition of the British Isles, and carved-out turnips, beets, and potatoes were stuffed with coal, wood embers, or candles as impromptu lanterns to celebrate the fall harvest. As a prank, kids would sometimes wander off the road with a glowing veggie to trick their friends and travelers into thinking they were Stingy Jack or another lost soul. In America, pumpkins were easy enough to come by and good for carving, and got absorbed both into the carved lantern tradition and the associated prank. Over time, kids refined the prank and began carving crude faces into the pumpkins to kick up the fright factor and make the lanterns look like disembodied heads. By the mid-1800s, Stingy Jack’s nickname was applied to the prank pumpkin lanterns that echoed his own lamp, and the pumpkin jack-o’-lantern got its name.

Toward the end of the 19th century, jack-o’-lanterns went from just a trick to a standard seasonal decoration, including at a high-profile 1892 Halloween party hosted by the mayor of Atlanta. In one of the earliest instances of the jack-o’-lantern as Halloween decor, the mayor’s wife had several pumpkins—lit from within and carved with faces—placed around the party, ending Jack O’Lantern’s days of wandering, and beginning his yearly reign over America’s windowsills and front porches.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

 

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