You’re spending holiday time with extended family and your smug, know-it-all mother-in-law is seated across the table from you. She’s that English teacher who’s all too happy to correct even your slightest grammatical misfire. She’s the one who let you know your dishwashing techniques weren’t quite to standard. And now you’re both engaged in mortal, Scrabble combat. Fancying herself an erudite master of English usage, she lays down 5 tiles, with one landing on the square that triggers a double word score. Scarcely able to hide her oversized self-satisfaction, she proudly declares: “That will be 27 points.”
Do you love her? Probably. Can she be a condescending pain in the…? Definitely! Would it feel great to pull ahead, and win the game, by shocking her patronizing sensibilities with a 7-letter word and its 50-point premium? You bet it would! And today we’ll show you how to increase your odds of finding those 7-letter gems.
Quick, handy tips to help you improve your odds of getting a bingo.
DISCLAIMER: This is not a guide for the serious tournament player. We’re not going to spend a lot of time focusing on memorizing word lists (but we will provide a link to some brief, helpful lists at the end). We’re going to stay away from Scrabble’s tournament word list, the NWL. Instead, we’re going to outline some quick, handy tips to help you improve your odds of getting a *bingo.
All our advice is based on the online version of Scrabble’s official dictionary. It’s basically a stripped-down version of the NWL. Insensitive and otherwise nasty words have been edited out. It’s the guide you would want if playing at a church-social, or if playing against your mother-in-law. The good news: It was designed for Scrabble-play, it’s free, and it works well for the casual to semi-serious player who needs a resource for solving game-time disputes.
How many 7-letter words (bingos) are currently listed in our free, online dictionary? The answer: 25,217. That’s a lot of words. And unless you’re a Las Vegas card-counter with an eidetic memory, forget about memorizing them. Even mastering a stripped-down list, like the thousand-most-likely bingos, can be daunting. But don’t worry, here’s all you need to know to start racking up those 50-point premiums.
Learn from Wheel of Fortune
Ever wonder why contestants vying for Wheel of Fortune’s grand prize always start out with the same 6 letters: R, S, T, L, N, E? Turns out those letters are extremely flexible. They’re well represented across all the words in the English language, including the 25,217 from our dictionary’s list of 7-letter words. In fact, the Wheel of Fortune consonants (R, S, T, L, N), happen to be the 5 most common consonants found across our dictionary’s list of bingos. Here are all the consonants from our list of bingos in descending order (highest frequency to lowest frequency):
- S R N T L D C G P M H B Y F K W V Z K J Q
- If faced with an option to play either of two words with relatively equal point value, play the word with lower frequency letters and hoard your higher frequency letters to help you form bingos down the pike.
- Hold on to that “S.” It is the most frequently appearing consonant in our list of bingos. And if you have a bingo on your rack, having an “S” generally makes it easier to place it on the board. Unless you can use your “S” to score big, hold on to it!
Manage your mix of vowels and consonants.
Your mix of vowels (A, E, I, O, U) and consonants is important. Imagine having seven consonants and zero vowels. Good luck finding a bingo; there are only 3 bingos with 7 consonants: GLYCYLS, RHYTHMS and TSKTSKS. What about seven vowels? Forget it; there won’t be a bingo to be found. The highest vowel count you can have and still manage to squeeze out a bingo is 5; and there are only 39 bingos with *5 vowels.
What’s the sweet spot? Turns out 90% of our bingos have either 2 or 3 vowels, and it’s roughly a 50/50 split.
- Try to manage your tiles so that you always have 2 or 3 vowels.
- Whenever reasonable, play the words that leave you with a favorable mix of vowels and consonants.
What are the best vowel combos?
Okay, you know you want a favorable mix of vowels and consonants. You know what the high frequency consonants are and you know they’re good to have. But what are the best vowel combinations? Here are the top 10 in descending order, from highest frequency to lowest frequency:
- AE, EI, AEI, EO, AI, EU, AEE, EIO, EEI, AEO
Nearly half of our potential bingos (over 44%) have one of these combinations.
- “AE” is your best bet for a double vowel combo.
- “EI” is your second best bet for a double vowel combo.
- “AEI” is your best bet for a triple vowel combo.
- “E” is a red hot vowel.
- “A” is also pretty hot.
Putting it all together.
Let’s try it out. We’re aiming for 2 or 3 vowels mixed with high frequency consonants. If we take the highest frequency vowel combo (AE) and mix it with the 5 highest frequency consonants (S, R, N, T, L), 4 bingos show up: ANTLERS, RENTALS, SALTERN and STERNAL.
If we take the highest frequency triple-vowel combo (AEI) and mix it with the 4 highest frequency consonants (S, R, N, T), 9 bingos show up. 5 of them are commonly used words: STAINER, RETAINS, RETINAS, NASTIER, ANTSIER. And 4 are not so common: ANESTRI, RATINES, RETSINA and STEARIN.
Try it for yourself. Pair some of the high frequency vowel combos with a random mix of the first 6 or 7 high frequency consonants on our list. Look closely and you’ll find there are lots of bingos to be had.
Some parting words: don’t let bingo-greed cloud your judgment.
Bingos are thrilling. Scoring that 50-point premium feels great and it’s a real attention grabber, particularly when engaging in casual play. But don’t let bingo-greed cloud your judgment. Resist the temptation to simply hoard high frequency consonants and vowel-combos while searching for that next bingo.
When two playable words are of comparable value, play the one that gets rid of lower frequency tiles. Even if it scores a few less points, if it can lead to a more balanced rack it probably makes sense to play it. BUT BE MODERATE!
- Giving up points in search of a bingo can backfire. For example, if over the course of 7 plays, you give up an average of 8 points before hitting your bingo, then you’ll give up 56 standard points to earn 50 premium points. Not a good tradeoff!
- Don’t squander your blank tiles. Blanks can turbocharge your race toward bingo-glory. When it comes to blanks, you don’t want to use them unless you’re going to score big, either on a 7-letter bingo or on a high scoring word with fewer than 7 letters.
Appendix: Some Useful Lists
Here are a few, brief bingo-lists. They’re pretty short, and you don’t need to use them, but they might help you get started with spotting bingos. Given the distribution of tiles in a factory-packed Scrabble game, each list contains words with a high probability of being drawn.
Mine those tiles like you’re mining for gold. Look carefully at the combinations in front of you. Before you know it, you’ll find yourself in that blissful Scrabble state of bingo bonanza.
Now go out and grab those bingos!