Techniques for learning obscure words (Scrabble)

I wondered if anyone could advise on some techniques for learning words in Scrabble.

To give a bit of background on myself I’m an international Scrabble player and I study in the region of 15-20 hours a week just basically anagramming racks on a program called Zyzzyva. The program gives you a rack jumbled up and you solve the anagrams. You add words to something called a cardbox. The cardbox system assigns a cardbox to each rack, cardbox 0 means the rack will reappear in 1 day, cardbox 1 means 3-5 days and so on up to cardbox 15+ which is 250-350 days. If you miss an anagram or put in an invalid word (phony) the rack goes down to cardbox 0. If you get it right it goes up to the next cardbox. The principle being you don’t need reminding as often with racks you keep getting right. I have over 80,000 racks in the cardbox system - over 100,000 words.

The problem with this study method is basically whenever you have a rack come up you know there’s an anagram there, but in a game situation you don’t. For instance if ACHLMSTZ comes up the only plausible combination is SCHMALTZ - but in a game you could think ‘I know SHMALTZ and SCHMALZ are good but I don’t know about this one’. The actual anagramming part - which is tied into the process of remembering words - is trivial so it makes it harder to be sure. I have added racks where there are NO anagrams to help with this, particularly ones I keep playing phony words from (I tend to keep playing the same phony words because I’ve seen them before) - but still around 99% of the racks that come up will have anagrams. In a game things are skewed the other way, with the vast majority of things you’re looking at not having an answer.

So the main problems are words with multiple spellings (see above - if you think that’s bad DJELLABA has over a dozen different spellings) or soundalikes (eg ACINOSE ACINOUS and HALIDOM(E) HOLLIDAM). Words that can be pluralised/extended etc. in a less conventional way, for instance there are a few dozen words ending in EAU, some you can add an X to, some you can add an S to, some you can add both. And the ultimate nuisance ----ING words - whether you can add an S or not, they just do not stick whatsoever with conventional study because they’re fairly arbitrary and the definition with them is usually rubbish. For instance I can remember HOTTINGS to some extent because I know HOTTING means ‘attempting stunts in stolen powerful cars’ but the definition of SOTTING is ‘the act of sotting’ so remembering SOTTINGS is harder still as there’s no associative stuff.

[This thread was difficult to reconstruct during the forum rebuild, so the replies are pasted below in one comment.]


Josh 27 September, 2012 - 10:31

evil_budgie wrote:

So the main problems are words with multiple spellings (see above - if you think that’s bad DJELLABA has over a dozen different spellings) or soundalikes (eg ACINOSE ACINOUS and HALIDOM(E) HOLLIDAM).

Would having mnemonic images for the alphabet help?

If you’re memorizing that many words, maybe it would help to have images for combinations like: -ose and -ous.

For me, halidome would be someone named “Hali” on a dome. Hollidam might be a sharp holly leaf and a dam. If there are multiple spellings or confusions, you could place the words next to each other in a memory palace.

Acinose has the word “nose” in it.
Acinous could be encoded with a noose, or with a custom image for -ous suffixes.

Have you seen this video yet?
Dr. Yip Swee Chooi on Memorizing a 1774-page Chinese-English Dictionary


[one comment was deleted here]


evil_budgie 28 September, 2012 - 13:15

I’m very mathematically/analytically minded. I need an armoury of quick and simple techniques to use for the variety of difficulties I’ll face with the different words.

I’ve thought about having particular sounds for combinations of letters. Knowing the correct pronunciation for a word doesn’t matter at all and I often emphasise tricky words in a phonetically distinctive way in my head. For instance I have trouble with TIMEWORK - is it WORKTIME or TIMEWORK - there are a number of words that are composites of one syllable words which are plausible either way around. So I remember it as TIM-EWE-ORK. Only trouble is PILEWORK is a word and confuses things because it is structurally and phonetically similar.

Other similar things I have trouble with are remembering whether a word is —EED or —EDE. Like EXCEED and CONCEDE. There are lots of other combos, EI or IE, ENE or EEN (CARAGEEN and GADARENE I remember as a CAR A GEE UN and GAD A REN) and so on. A consistent way of pronouncing all the combinations of letters that I could learn or develop - that would help immensely. But it would be difficult to have them all sounding distinct from each other. But how something sounds is fundamental to my memory of the word.

I’ll have a look at the video.


evil_budgie 28 September, 2012 - 13:57

I am anagramming racks - but you’re using a mathematical process and memory to do it. It’s like if you did times tables you’d be working it out and your memory would help as well. Like people remember that 7x7 is 49 before they actually work it out, but 6x8 is less distinctive and you may work it out first and then your memory would go ‘yea that sounds right’.

But ultimately I need to know whether the words I’ve come up with are valid or not. The anagramming part goes out of the window if you have JOTTING sitting on the board and you’re wondering if you can add an S to it, or your opponent plays something and you need to know whether to challenge or not. You do remember alphagrams to some extent (ie a set of letters with an anagram in alphabetical order) - you get a feeling there’s something there, but not a very strong one. With my study method the anagramming part is interacting with the memorisation of the word(s), I suppose it could be considered as something like a weak associative property. I am more certain of words I’ve found and play than ones I’m seeing my opponent play - because I’m just seeing a word go down, I’m not anagramming as well.

Anyway I think it’s probably easier if I just give specific examples and see how other people would go about learning them. I’ve had a quick look at a lot of techniques that are mentioned on the site but I’m just struggling to see how they’d apply to what I’m doing - learning abstract words, with specific spellings and tens of thousands of them over a long period of time.

So how would people go about learning:

KAZACHKI, KAZACHOK, KAZATSKI, KAZATSKY, KAZATSKIES (all forms of a word meaning a Russian folk dance - supposedly)

Or as a separate example:

Many lists of words ending in INGS, separated alphabetically, by length, both or whatever such as:

LACINGS
LADINGS
LAKINGS
LASINGS
LAWINGS
LAYINGS
LIKINGS
LIMINGS
LININGS
LIVINGS
LOBINGS
LORINGS
LOSINGS
LOVINGS
LOWINGS
LUGINGS
LURINGS
LUTINGS

(all 7 letter INGS words beginning with L, I would want all 7-9 letter words ending in INGS)

I have thought of different ways of attacking the list of words, but it would be harder when it gets to 9 letters and then I’d be concerned about keeping the 70odd lists separate mentally.


Josh 29 September, 2012 - 09:45

evil_budgie wrote:

So how would people go about learning:

KAZACHKI, KAZACHOK, KAZATSKI, KAZATSKY, KAZATSKIES (all forms of a word meaning a Russian folk dance - supposedly)

I might look for patterns and then place them in a memory journey.
KAZACH KI (Aikido)
KAZACH OK (Oklahoma)

KAZAT SKI (ski)
KAZAT SKY (Someone named Sky)
KAZAT SKIES (Willie Nelson singing ‘Blue Skies’)

For the other list, maybe the same idea:

LAC INGS (lactating)
LAD INGS (lad)
LAK INGS (yak)
LAS INGS (Lassie or lasso)
LAW INGS (lawyer)
LAY INGS (potato chips)
LIK INGS (licking)
LIM INGS (limburger cheese)
Etc.

If you have trouble remembering syllables like that, maybe creating mnemonic images with the Ben System could help.

With something like the Ben System, you would have a set of fixed mnemonic image for many different syllables.

evil_budgie wrote:

I’d be concerned about keeping the 70odd lists separate mentally.

You could make 70 memory journeys. Then place the 70 memory journeys along a memory journey.

Josh Cohen wrote:

LAD INGS (lad)
LAS INGS (Lassie or lasso)
LAC INGS (lactating)
LAK INGS (yak)
LAW INGS (lawyer)
LAY INGS (potato chips)
LIK INGS (licking)
LIM INGS (limburger cheese)
Etc.

You could even use a story to reinforce the memory palace, or to place up to three words in a locus:

A lad lassos a lactating yak, and delivers it to a lawyer eating potato chips and licking limburger cheese. That’s eight words easily memorized.

Or make it weirder and mix up the order a bit. :slight_smile:

EDIT: if “limings” is pronounced like “lime”, maybe use a lime instead of limburger. It’s just a quick example. Change the images to ones that you like.