Hasbro’s Em@il Games Scrabble does not come with a dictionary. Instead, checking words for validity is done by the server, and only when a player challenges a play. This was probably for a few reasons – reducing the client download size, allowing Hasbro to update it as needed, and as a safeguard to keep the word list out of public circulation.
This means I need to provide my own dictionary for Hasbro PBEM Proxy to support the game. It seemed a simple enough problem: just get a word list from somewhere, and hook it up. But which one? I started by using CSW21, the latest (at the time) list of competitively accepted words. Yet this bothered me as it seems anachronistic: the game released on Feb. 5, 1999, so shouldn’t the word list be equally contemporary?
Thus begins another great (and probably foolish) journey into software archaeology. “What dictionary were people using in 1999?” turns out to be a complicated question, due to the fact that different lists were used for casual vs tournament play, US vs UK, short vs long words, etc. and unification of these was not really a priority at the time. Plus, some of the word lists remain unavailable unless you were a paying member of NASPA or another Scrabble professional organization. Besides, even if I had the word lists, is there any certainty that those were the ones backing the Em@il Games service?
I decided to try a different approach. Presumably, Hasbro had provided the dictionary to the developers that they wanted to be used. It makes sense that they would use the same dictionary in other branded Scrabble products at the time. In 1996 Random Games and Hasbro released a version of Scrabble on CD-ROM, helmed by lead developer Brian Sheppard (who had independently created a top performing shareware Scrabble AI called “Maven” two years before, and been hired by Hasbro to run this project — after discontinuing his own version, of course!) Three years later, “Scrabble Version 2.0” came out, with a complete redesign of the UI and a higher resolution gameplay. This version did not run well on Windows XP, so in 2002 Hasbro released “Scrabble Complete”, a slight rebuild of 2.0 with XP support and a few new background images.
As these products neatly bracket the release of Em@il Games Scrabble, I sought to get the word lists from each, and see how they stacked up to dictionaries in use.Continue reading