Drew Hinshaw and Joe Parkinson in the Wall Street Journal:
Nigeria is beating the West at its own word game, using a strategy that sounds like Scrabble sacrilege.
By relentlessly studying short words, this country of 500 languages has risen to dominate English’s top lexical contest.
Last November, for the final of Scrabble’s 32-round World Championship in Australia, Nigeria’s winningest wordsmith, Wellington Jighere, defeated Britain’s Lewis Mackay, in a victory that led morning news broadcasts in his homeland half a world away.
It was the crowning achievement for a nation that boasts more top-200 Scrabble players than any other country, including the U.K., Nigeria’s former colonizer and one of the board game’s legacy powers.
“In other countries they see it as a game,” said Mr. Jighere, now a borderline celebrity and talent scout for one of the world’s few government-backed national programs. “Nigeria is one of the countries where Scrabble is seen as a sport.”
Once, almost all of Scrabble’s champions hailed from North America or Europe. Most stuck to a similar “long word” strategy—mastering thousands of seven- and eight-letter plays like QUIXOTRY, a 365-point-move in American Michael Cresta’s record-breaking 830 point win in 2006.
That seems smart Scrabble. A player who can unload all seven tiles gets an extra 50 points, in what is called a bingo.
Global competition and computer analytics have brought that sacred Scrabble shibboleth into question, exposing the hidden risks of big words.