Ramblings of an Ornamental Hermit

How to Suck at Scrabble

(But Have Fun Doing It)

I love me a good bit of Scrabble. It’s the best game for feeling smart without actually being smart. People think it’s about having a large vocabulary, which isn’t completely true — strategy plays a bigger part, I would say, and chance bigger still. I’ve seen brilliant players of decades derailed by unlucky tiles, and yet when you win you think, “Yes, Mattel, I am a genius, thank you for noticing.” If you really were a genius, you’d be playing something like chess, that a) wasn’t copyrighted in the ’50s by a children’s toy company, and b) has nothing to do with luck.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun, though, and the element of chance means you have to depend on your ingenuity even more when you need to dig yourself out of a deep bear-pit. I didn’t used to be all that interested in it, but I’ve since had several exes who fed my addiction and introduced me to some variations of the game. For reasons that will later become clear, let’s call the first ex the Scrabbleshark. Let’s call the second one Stropic Thunder.

But house rules are a dangerous game. There’s no better way to suck at real Scrabble than playing your own janky homebrew version because when you forget all your old strategies. I’ve been playing online Scrabble for so long now that I don’t think I’d be able to play the board game properly. The problem in that case is that you don’t get penalized for incorrect words, which means your strategy morphs from skilled gameplay into trying as many variations on “JZYXQ” as possible and hoping one of them sticks. There was a great article on Forbes about this a few years ago1, and if it weren’t for the fact that I need my Scrabble fix and there aren’t any popular alternatives, I’d have quit online Scrabble a long time ago.

Although house rules can screw you up, there are some variations that make it better as a party game. Your average game of Scrabble is a competitive thing — you’re pitting your strategy and knowledge against your opponents’ and you’re scoring points meticulously. There’s always that guy with the pencil and paper ready to tell you that no, you can’t play your tiles in that direction because YOUR FACE that’s why. A large number of Scrabble variants are already documented, but I was pleased to see none of these are on the list.

One-Tray Scrabble

I got introduced to this a few years ago by the Scrabbleshark and his family. In One-Tray Scrabble you only have one tray of letters, and with each turn you pass it onto the next player. This makes for a faster game, but it also means that if you get any good letters, you have to use them right away or else the next player will get them. In this game it doesn’t even matter who else sees your tiles, but then I don’t think that makes any strategic difference — it just means you don’t have to guard your tray like a Nazi with the German codes.

I played One-Tray Scrabble with the Scrabbleshark and his family, and his mother is by all accounts a diabolical player with no mercy or forgiveness. It made me very happy that I won, which also meant that I could never play them again in case I spoiled my perfect record.

Phonetic Scrabble

Phonetic Scrabble was described to me by Stropic Thunder. But first, I think, a little back-story. When I met Stropic Thunder I discovered that he’d been on an ill-starred date with the Scrabbleshark. It’s San Francisco — these things happen more often than I’d like to contemplate. Sometimes I think there’s a really gross game of “six degrees of separation” to be played.

Anyhow, Stropic Thunder had been on a date with the Scrabbleshark. The date nose-dived faster than a Malaysia Airlines flight, but at some point the Scrabbleshark had managed to trick Stropic Thunder into a game of Scrabble. The Scrabbleshark had passed himself off as only a casual player and then proceeded to trounce Stropic Thunder and earn his nickname in one afternoon.

Stropic Thunder was a bit leery of the game at this point, but he got some satisfaction out of bending the rules. He and his best friend had invented a variation called Phonetic Scrabble in which your words don’t have to be spelled correctly — they just have to sound like an actual word.

Challenge Scrabble

Challenge Scrabble is the only one of these games that I can lay any claim to. The others were invented without me, but I actually had a hand in this one. I forget how it started, though I’m like 99% sure I’d been drinking which would explain both how it happened and why I can’t remember it. It was invented on a date with Stropic Thunder (whose nickname, by the way, is not based on board games — this one’s all personality).

In Challenge Scrabble you have to complete a challenge set by the other players. Let’s say it’s your turn and your opponents decide your next move has to spell out the name of an American president. You could play “Bush” or “Truman”. You could play “Calvin” or “Ulysses”. You could even play “Dubya” if you wanted, because half the fun about the challenges is thinking up inventive ways around them. Now it’s the next player’s turn and you decide they must play a word that describes their boyfriend/girlfriend. Watch them squirm.

The reason I like Challenge Scrabble best isn’t just that I co-invented it, but also that it is such a good party game. You don’t need to keep score, and you don’t need to keep your tray private if you don’t want. The fun of the game is in the challenges and they can be as tricky or as personal as you like.


In what scientists are calling “a good idea”, I’m now seeing a boy who does not play Scrabble.

In an effort not to talk out of my arse, I did search for people who might have invented these variations sooner. Phonetic Scrabble, I gather, is not a new invention, but as far as I can tell One-Tray Scrabble is unique. I’m pretty sure Challenge Scrabble is unique too because Stropic Thunder and I came up with it on the spur of the moment, but if it does already exist then it’s a happy case of multiple discovery. Or two sets of drunks eventually arriving at the same conclusion, whichever makes you happier.


Ruin My Website

It seems like forever ago that I did something pointless with JavaScript. Actually scratch that, it was like today. What I mean is it’s forever since I did anything fun with JavaScript. Practically the only fun thing I’ve ever done with JavaScript was a Greasemonkey plugin1 called Julius, Eat Your Heart Out, which did a simple search/replace on any website you visited to replace the names of the months with my own very special versions:

  • January → Snotviper
  • February → Loosecorn
  • March → Dripwobble
  • April → Imsquelchy
  • May → Wetmold
  • June → Cleanpants
  • July → Strangelymoist
  • August → Fatflaps
  • September → Rottenchops
  • October → Blackndangley
  • November → Stinkmuch
  • December → Catspit

I once heard a song by April March on YouTube. I’m sorry Ms. Imsquelchy Dripwobble, but this is your real name now.

While this is all good and fun, I want to invite you wonderful people to make your own fun. That’s why I’ve knocked together a simple script called Ruin My Website. The source is really nothing to write home about, but I’ve always been impressed by how much you can wreck with so few lines of code. When you include this in your website’s head2, any visitor to your site can enter parameters in the URL to do a search/replace on your site’s content. All the code has to do is loop through the URL parameters, search for each key, and replace it with its respective value. It’s running on my website this very second.

Try it! Try it now! Just add something like “?Ruin=Rear-End&Website=Toyota” to the end of the URL on this page. All it takes is a little ingenuity to turn this:

Before Ruining

Into this:

After Ruining

No, please, no need to thank me. Simply knowing I’ve added to the progress of our species is satisfaction enough for me.

EDIT: Although I tried and couldn’t get “Ruin” to execute JS injected via the URL parameters, acyclicks advised that there was a potential security risk. I’ve updated the code to HTML-escape the parameter values. Thanks, acyclicks!


  1. Also, what the hell? Did Userscripts.org disappear? I had to go spelunking for the source of “Julius” on the Internet because I lost my own copy years ago. 

  2. I’ll leave it as an exercise to the reader to make a Greasemonkey script or browser extension out of this so you can enjoy it on any website you visit. 

Where Domain Names Go to Die

or: How the Internet Really Works

So I’m kind of a computer nerd. I know, you’d never have guessed it what with all my people skills, but I assure you it’s true. Because I’m a nerd I know what a domain name is, but I also know that most Muggles won’t know about this kind of garbage. A domain name, like www.google.com, is the address of a computer somewhere. We have domain names because computers’ real addresses, IP addresses, look like Stephen Hawking threw up onto his keyboard. When you visit a website, your computer looks up the domain name, translates it into an IP address, and then asks the computer at that address to give you the porn you wanted. A top-level domain is the last bit of the URL. Some of these are very common, like .com and .net, while some less common ones are .aero, .ninja, or .xxx. Then there are the country-specific top-level domains that (are supposed to) designate websites related to a country, like .au for Australia or .uk for the UK. These often get co-opted because they look cool, like .tv (Tuvalu), which gets used by TV companies because who the hell has ever heard of Tuvalu. .io is another common one, and that apparently belongs to the British Indian Ocean Territory. Who knew.

There’s no reason why domains like .com and .ninja shouldn’t be around forever. But what happens to those country domains when that country stops existing? What happened to .yu when Yugoslavia broke up? What happened to .zr when Zaire collapsed? There are people who paid good money for dwarfporn.yu and themanwithtwodongs.zr. What happens to those fine, upstanding folk?

It’s time to tell you how the Internet really works. When you first learned about the Internet, you probably got what I call the “Oompa Loompa talk”. They tell you that the Internet is not a computer in some government bunker being tended by a race of simple, Oompa Loompa-like creatures. That was, of course, a lie — that’s exactly what the Internet is. The Internet is owned by America and it is a big computer in a government cave somewhere. And yes, I wouldn’t bet that there aren’t Oompa Loompas guarding it. Actually, I ought to be more specific. The domain name system is owned by America — the computer that translates domain names into IP addresses is actually thirteen computers owned by the US government1. The Internet would still work without these thirteen computers sprinkled across the globe like the components to the Doomsday Machine, but you’d have to enter Google’s IP address instead of the much nicer www.google.com. The Internet, as it is used by its kabillions of users every day, is effectively run by the American government and its finger-puppets.

The agencies that run these servers determine what’s allowed to be a top-level domain and what’s not. They wave their magic wand when they want to create new and exotic top-level domains like .lightning (shut up, it’s real). They’re also the folks who phase out country domains when those countries get overthrown and renamed by their new leader, the great and glorious General Stompenface. Mercifully the process is not as arbitrary as you might think. If the US government had been in charge of determining who is and isn’t a legitimate country, then communist China wouldn’t have been a country until 1979. Our dark overlords decided to defer to a list of countries maintained by the International Standards Organization (ISO)2. When a country gets added or removed from that list, the overlords have to add or remove it from the thirteen domain name servers.

This brings us back to what got me curious like 17 years ago at the start of this post. What happens to those websites when a top-level domain gets removed? First the country gets removed from the ISO list. Then an ISO lackey gets on the red telephone, calls up the overlords, and in a strange language of their own invention composed mainly of squawks and howls, communicates that the list has changed. The overlords resolve to “decommission” the top-level domain and begin their dark business. In the case of Yugoslavian .yu domains, all .yu domain names had their equivalents reserved under the new Serbian .rs domain. .yu owners then had the opportunity to switch over and claim their new domains. When this was done the overlords began to shut off inactive .yu domains, while the active domain owners and their users had the unenviable task of migrating all their email addresses, login credentials, and mailing list registrations to the new domains. I haven’t been able to figure out whether .yu owners had to pay for the new .rs domains, but since the transition happened over two and a half years, most of those .yu domains probably expired on their own anyway.3

Yugoslavia’s transition seems to have been a happy one. By contrast the Soviet Union’s .su domain, which was created a whole fourteen months before the Soviet Union fell on its sword, is still accepting new registrations today despite the overlords grumbling about wanting to switch the thing off.

I guess the moral of this story is “Don’t live in a country that’s about to get taken over, renamed, and economically buggered by the new administration.” But then I think most of us knew that one already. The more interesting thing I found out after reading about all this jazz is that the Internet is basically run by America in a way that is completely over the head of the average user. Yes, it is technically still the decentralized system it was intended to be, but we seem to have hitched our wagon to thirteen very dubious stars.


  1. Specifically the thirteen servers are owned by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), who are run by the US Department of Commerce. The actual management is done by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which is under contract to the US Department of Commerce, and the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA), which was formerly under contract to the US Department of Defense. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — America owns the Internet. 

  2. ISO 3166-1

  3. The process is documented in several IANA reports, such as IANA Report on Deletion of the .zr Top-Level Domain and Removal of the .YU domain formerly representing Yugoslavia