If it doesn't Scrabble, it doesnt count.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011
by Matthew
filed under Stuff Other People Made and About Us
Comments: 11

I’m in the lab all day, I Scrabble all night
I got a Bedazzler so my outfit’s tight
When it comes to panache I can’t be beat
I got the most style from below 14th street”

- Beastie Boys, “Shazam!”

About a month ago a press release appeared on the HarperCollins website noting that some new terms “from the digital world” were going to be added to the official Scrabble dictionary. Those words included: wiki, fansite, webzine, darknet, and best of all… scrobble.

Not being a habitual reader of lexicographical press releases, I missed this at Last.fm HQ until Dan in our sales team mentioned it in a note he was sending out to some people we work with. This little factoid got me more excited than when Matt, our data griot, decided to livetweet his first listen to the recent Lady Gaga album. You see, it is my firm belief that Scrabble and the music tech world have a lot in common. Hear me out.

Scrabble, like a lot of music, has an annoyingly complicated copyright history: Hasbro owns the rights to the game in the US and Canada, Mattel owns the rights in the rest of the world, and Electronic Arts own the rights to digital versions. It’s amazing you don’t need to be a lawyer to play the game.

Which explains what happened in 2008 when a pair of brothers created an online version of Scrabble (Scrabulous) that worked really well on Facebook. More than half a million new fans of the game were born, but the first response from Scrabble’s corporate masters was to shut it down and sue the pants off the two brothers who made it, rather than figure out how to work with them to bring the game to more people. Which is pretty much how the music industry has worked for the last decade.

But it’s not just lawsuits that Scrabble and music have in common:

- Stephen Malkmus and the guys from Pavement were well known for their Scrabble games on tour. Courtney Love was famous for wanting to play against Stephen and he was equally famous for beating her in tile-to-tile combat.

- Elvis Costello likes to call himself the “rock and roll Scrabble champion.” And this Etsy shop will sell you a Scrabble tile pendant with Declan MacManus’s face on it so you can show your allegiance.

- The Beastie Boys are Scrabble junkies, and Ad-Rock even goes looking for competition on the road, dropping in at local Scrabble club events.

- There are dozens of songs with Scrabble in their titles on Last.fm, including an excellent one about a Scrabble date gone bad from Milky Wimpshake.

The only bad thing about ‘scrobble’ making it into Scrabble is that it’s pretty tough to pull off in a real game; it’s eight letters and you’ll need the only two Bs in the bag. But it’s worth it. ‘Scrobble’ has three 3-point letters in it and it’s worth 14 points on its own… much more if you can hit a multiple-word-score or squeeze it in to an existing cluster.

Our motto is the same in Scrabble as it is for music: Make every play count.

Scrabble cat, a sometimes visitor to Last.fm HQ