Today we talked to Saleem Ahmed (76), compiler of The Scrabble Word-Building Book (SWBB). He has now developed a new game called Letter-Getter©, which is a Scrabble Play, and is looking for someone to develop the app for this game. Saleem now lives in Honolulu and told us about his life and the important role Scrabble plays in it. Apart from writing books he has published several books on his profession as an agronomist.
Living and Working in Sukkur
I read in your book that you lived in a small village. How small was it and what work did you do there?
Sukkur, then a small rural town with probably under 200,000 people, now has a population approximating 500,000. I worked as an agronomist with a fertilizer marketing company and was involved in the pioneering research and development that led to Pakistan’s Green Revolution.
You write in your book that you play Scrabble with your wife and that she often wins when playing against you. After compiling the book with your wife and your daughters have you won more often?
Regarding playing Scrabble: Since my wife also has access to the Scrabble Word-Building Book, she still comes out ahead most of the time (sob, sob).
Playing Scrabble and Developing a Scrabble Play in Honolulu
Saleem’s wife was born in Hawaii. The multicultural family moved from Pakistan to Hawaii. Still, Scrabble is their family game.
Do you stick to your strategies for 2- and 3-letter words? Could you explain how you developed the strategies, what is important to keep in mind? And how do you use the Workbook to apply the strategies? This could be exciting news for novice players.
I am now retired and living in Honolulu. My focus in life now is interfaith dialog. We have an organization — All Believers Network — which explores the converging paths of religions. Its advisory council has individuals from 18 religions, including the three Abrahamic faiths and Eastern, South Asian, and Middle Eastern religions, plus some indigenous religions. All of us explore the converging paths, the similarities, of religions. Professionally, I grow and market South Asia’s neem tree (renowned for its therapeutic and pest control properties) and market its products for personal care, pet care, and plant care. This leaves little time for Scrabble. But I play two to three times monthly with a lady in a retirement home while my wife goes to a hula dancing club. Since we play Scrabble as a relaxing leisure-time activity which is also educational we allow, in fact encourage, the use of the Scrabble Word-Building Book. SWBB pages covering 2- and 3- letter words are probably the most often referred. Other strategies include holding back letter tiles such as ING and ION hoping to score big within the next two moves. Realizing that sometimes this strategy backfires. The 2- and 3-letter strategy was developed because some words such as AH, HA, AM, MA, AX, OX, XI, QI, AW, AY, AHA, BOX can often be used to score big, both horizontally and vertically in the same move and often at strategic positions on the board.
The Scrabble Word-Building Book (SWBB) is a large collection of 2- and 3-letter-words all listed alphabetically. The great thing about the book is that the 3-letter words you can make from lengthening 2-letter-words are marked in the list of 2-letter words. Here you can have a closer look at the Scrabble Word-Building Book.
Keeping in Line with Dictionaries
How do you keep your book in line with the OSPD?
I updated SWBB when the Official Scrabble Players’ Dictionary issued its 4th edition. However, Pocket Books has not shown any interest in publishing a revised edition to conform to OSPD 5th edition, although approximately 500,000 copies of SWBB have been sold thus far over the last several years. So I am interested in exploring partnership with some other publisher to update SWBB.
If you are not sure if you can play a word, have a look at our Scrabble Cheat. There you can easily verify if your word is valid and if it’s the best choice in your case.
What do you think about playing tournaments? Have you ever played in one?
I played in a few tournaments in the 1970s, but did not enjoy the “adversarial” and competitive environment. One of my opponent’s strategies was to block any potential opening for me, even if it got him few points. While that is what some champion players do, that is not my cup of tea. I enjoy playing with family and friends as I find this strengthens our “spiritual” bond as we climb higher on the learning curve together.
So, you are developing an app, that’s similar to Scrabble, so to say, a Scrabble Play app. Why did you start developing it? What was your idea for the app?
Several years ago, in one Scrabble game, I just kept on getting low-scoring letters while my opponent kept on getting the perfect blend of tiles. Needless to say, I lost miserably. That made me realize the importance of the “luck of the draw” in Scrabble”. It is not simply a game of skill. Our score depends significantly on two factors over which we have no control: the letter tiles in our hand and the word arrangement on the board at our turn. So I thought, “can we develop a game in which this ‘luck of the draw’ issue becomes irrelevant?” It took me several years and poring over hundreds of alternative strategies on that exciting journey of trying to find an answer – even while tossing in bed. Finally, Letter-Getter © was born. And you know what? Both my sons-in-law have beaten me in my own creation! So I command no special advantage.
Saleem is looking for a web developer who would be interested in developing Letter-Getter to play on mobile devices. Contact us if you would like to help and we will forward you to Saleem.