Better Scrabble Through Chemistry

Shuffling tiles around on your rack is a bit like mixing beakers of stuff in the lab. Some combinations lead to explosions, while others simply smell bad. If you remember the ideas in Body Parts, you’ll be whipping up new formulas in no time.

What's that smell?
We never had a lab like this!

I’m not suggesting you get a Ph.D in biochemistry. You just need a guidebook for word-sleuthing. The key word is suffix. Inorganic chemistry has three useful suffixes you should keep an eye out for: ATE, IDE and ITE. These are your salts. Even if you slept through class, you’ll recognize common words like BORATE, CHLORIDE, SULFIDE and NITRITE. But, what if you want to expand your chemical base? (Pun intended for those who did not sleep through class.)

Spend some time with your favorite Book of Words and you’ll probably be disappointed with how difficult (or impossible) it is to find words based on suffixes. For advanced lab work, check out this totally free program: Zyzzyva. In the following screen shot, look at all of the chemical words I found!

The RITE Stuff!
Pattern Matching: Powerful Tool

If you really want to dive deep into the world of chemistry-related terms, organic chemistry is the way to go. Once you wrap your head around the nomenclature, the beauty of the carbon-based molecules will astound you. Along the way, your vocabulary will explode!

For starters, simply read any primer on organic chemistry . You’ll start to see patterns in the words and you can use Zyzzyva to find out which ones (if any) are acceptable for the version of Scrabble or Words With Friends that you play. Using the link above, I followed a second link to Hydrocarbon Nomenclature. Half-way down the page, I met some old friends:


And a bunch of other -ANEs.

After a bit of exploration, if you haven’t lost interest, you will discover building blocks like alkenes, alkynes, hydroxyls, aromatics and phenols. Then there are alcohols, esters and ethers. You’ll need a scorecard to keep track, since not all of these are playable words.

Luckily, the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) is available to help. Pay attention to the prefixes and suffixes. Plug those into Zyzzyva to see if any playable words emerge. Learn a few organic compounds a day and your game will literally come to life!

Lab Assignment

Partner up with a friend, put on your safety goggles and combine these roots and suffixes together to form words. You must not rearrange the tiles, and at least one word is possible for each rack.

Extra credit for sniffing out the three that are not chemistry-related.


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