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22 Two-Letter Words to Boost Your Scrabble Score

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In Scrabble, two-letter words are often used only as a last resort. In a race to use up your final few tiles at the end of the game, low-scoring pairs like AD, AS, AN, and AT can suddenly become unexpectedly useful. But among competitive Scrabble players, two-letter words are a crafty means of boosting your score: Instead of linking one word perpendicularly to another, try playing one word directly on top of, alongside, or overlapping another on the board to form a chain of two-letter words between the two. So imagine, for instance, that your opponent has just played the word EARTH. If you play the word DREAM directly beneath it, one letter below the other, then you’ll not only pick up points for using your D, R, E, A, and M, but you’ll also score for the words ED, AR, RE, TA, and HM that are formed between the two.

More than 100 two-letter words are acceptable in Scrabble; 22 of the most unfamiliar and most bizarre of which are listed here.

Note: In North America, all the words that are officially acceptable in a game of Scrabble are listed on the TWL or Official Tournament Word List. In the rest of the English-speaking world—including the UK and Australia—Scrabble players use the so-called SOWPODS list, which combines Merriam-Webster’s Official Scrabble Player’s Dictionary and the Official Scrabble Words list produced by The Chambers Dictionary. All of the words listed here are included on both lists, and so are officially playable in any English language game.

1. AA

You’ll only score two points for the name of this rough and rubbly basaltic lava, but it’ll be a useful two points if you’re sitting with a rack full of vowels. You can also play AI, the name of a species of three-toed sloth, and AE, a Scots variation of "one."

2. AG

An abbreviation of agriculture, used in phrases like "ag college" and "ag school."

3. AL

Another name for the Indian mulberry tree, Morinda citrifolia.

4. AR

You can play the names of all of the letters of the alphabet in Scrabble, including AR, ES, and TEE.

5. BA

BA is an old dialect word meaning "to kiss," but among Egyptologists it’s also the name given to a person’s immortal soul.

6. BO

American slang for a boy or best friend, and an exclamation used to frighten or surprise someone.

7. DE

You can use DE as a synonym of "from" or "of."

8. EL

As well as being the name of the letter L (you can play EM and EN as well), an EL is an elevated railroad.

9. ET

A dialect spelling of "ate."

10. FE

Also spelled PE (which is also acceptable, incidentally), FE is a letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

11. HM

The expressions HM, HMM, UM, and MM are all acceptable in Scrabble, as are HA, HO, OH, and AH.

12. JO

An old Scots word for a sweetheart.

13. KA

Like the BA, in Egyptian culture, the KA is the spiritual part of a person's soul.

14. LI

A LI is a standard Chinese unit of distance, equal to 500 meters.

15. MU

As the names of letters of the Greek alphabet, you can play both MU and NU in Scrabble.

16. OD

OD is the Odic Force, a hypothetical life force theorized to exist by the 19th-century philosopher Carl Reichenbach.

17. OE

As well as being an old word for an island, the OE is a whirlwind near the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic.

18. OM

Taken from Sanskrit, the syllable OM is used as a mantra in certain forms of meditation.

19. QI

In Chinese philosophy, QI is the vital life force inherent in all things.

20. UT

The first note of the musical scale, now known as DO, was originally called UT. The other note names RE, MI, FA, SO, LA, and TE (or TI) are all also acceptable.

21. XU

As well as the name of the Greek letter XI, you can also play the word XU in Scrabble as the name of a monetary unit worth one-hundredth of a Vietnamese dong.

22. ZA

As a slang abbreviation of "pizza," ZA is worth remembering if you need to ditch a letter Z at the end of the game. If you're playing with the SOWPODS list outside of North America, you can also play the word ZO or DZO, which is the name of a hybrid of a domestic cow and a Himalayan yak.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
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science
How Experts Say We Should Stop a 'Zombie' Infection: Kill It With Fire
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Cs California, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Scientists are known for being pretty cautious people. But sometimes, even the most careful of us need to burn some things to the ground. Immunologists have proposed a plan to burn large swaths of parkland in an attempt to wipe out disease, as The New York Times reports. They described the problem in the journal Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews.

Chronic wasting disease (CWD) is a gruesome infection that’s been destroying deer and elk herds across North America. Like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE, better known as mad cow disease) and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, CWD is caused by damaged, contagious little proteins called prions. Although it's been half a century since CWD was first discovered, scientists are still scratching their heads about how it works, how it spreads, and if, like BSE, it could someday infect humans.

Paper co-author Mark Zabel, of the Prion Research Center at Colorado State University, says animals with CWD fade away slowly at first, losing weight and starting to act kind of spacey. But "they’re not hard to pick out at the end stage," he told The New York Times. "They have a vacant stare, they have a stumbling gait, their heads are drooping, their ears are down, you can see thick saliva dripping from their mouths. It’s like a true zombie disease."

CWD has already been spotted in 24 U.S. states. Some herds are already 50 percent infected, and that number is only growing.

Prion illnesses often travel from one infected individual to another, but CWD’s expansion was so rapid that scientists began to suspect it had more than one way of finding new animals to attack.

Sure enough, it did. As it turns out, the CWD prion doesn’t go down with its host-animal ship. Infected animals shed the prion in their urine, feces, and drool. Long after the sick deer has died, others can still contract CWD from the leaves they eat and the grass in which they stand.

As if that’s not bad enough, CWD has another trick up its sleeve: spontaneous generation. That is, it doesn’t take much damage to twist a healthy prion into a zombifying pathogen. The illness just pops up.

There are some treatments, including immersing infected tissue in an ozone bath. But that won't help when the problem is literally smeared across the landscape. "You cannot treat half of the continental United States with ozone," Zabel said.

And so, to combat this many-pronged assault on our wildlife, Zabel and his colleagues are getting aggressive. They recommend a controlled burn of infected areas of national parks in Colorado and Arkansas—a pilot study to determine if fire will be enough.

"If you eliminate the plants that have prions on the surface, that would be a huge step forward," he said. "I really don’t think it’s that crazy."

[h/t The New York Times]

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