That’s Yer (Pi)Lot: Scrabble

By | February 10, 2016

Blimey it’s been ages since I last did one of these, the best part of a year in fact.

Two pilots were recorded today, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. This write-up comes from the afternoon recording, there were large suggestions that this was still work in progress and they were still deciding things, also we’ll never know how it gets edited so please bear these things in mind when reading.

  • This is set for ITV afternoons from what I can gather.
  • So after Monday’s news it certainly raised an eyebrow when Jeff Stelling came out as the host. If both Scrabble and Alphabetical take off surely he won’t be hosting both? There may have been a different host this evening. Anyway Jeff was avuncular and professional throughout.
  • The set is minimalist but quite nice – the backdrop is a large videowall of various gradated shades of green with slightly darker line drawings of a large repeating diamond pattern. The stage is domianted by a giant LED (?) screen which shows the board at a slight incline. This looked really good on the studio monitors by the way, really pops out. In front of the board is a giant version of a tile rack, with seven screens to represent the tiles (you can’t really see these from the audience to be honest and you only really see it on screen when they do a wide shot). Host desk behind the board, team desks in the north-west and north-east corners.
  • This version of the show is played by two teams of two, a celeb and a civilian. Celebs this afternoon were Nina Wadia and Aled Jones. Civilian contestants seemed like normal reasonable people.
  • The show plays out like the traditional game you know and love with a few differences for telly. Both teams play from the same rack. Teams get 30 seconds to declare a word and start putting it on the board (they don’t have to finish within the time) using their touchscreens. Teams can challenge opponent’s words, forfeiting their go if they’re wrong (Jeff refers to the “Scrabble God” upstairs (in his ear) when this happens).
  • The biggest change is the bonus games. There are 14 special squares on the board, indicated with a picture. If your word uses a special square you get to play a bonus game for bonus points.
  • Some of these are quite good fun, such as What’s In A Name where you saw pictures of celebrities and had to use their initials to make the names of shops or whatever. Holey Vowels is like a Wheel of Fortune puzzle board with all the consonants removed. Word Worm was finding words in a small grid Trackword style, there was another one where you saw pictures and when you put them together they sound like something else, can you work out what they are? Each question in a bonus round is themed. Games repeat and you’re reminded of the rules each time, which struck me as being mildly annoying.
  • They’re also easy. Ridiculously easy. Each bonus game tasks the contestants to solve seven puzzles in 70 seconds and you can pass three times. Every bonus game was won, sometimes within 30 seconds, going to the wire basically once throughout. Each correct solve is worth five points, there is no bonus for completing (you’d think rounding it up to 50 would fit thematically, no?). Right now you might as well just award 35 points everytime someone crosses them.
  • While we’re having a moan, how come the contestant’s devices are less whizzy and useful than that of Challenge’s TV Scrabble fifteen years ago? Everyone seemed to be struggling to make things go where they needed to go.
  • Also the blanks should probably be filled for the audience at home for simplicity.
  • Teams initially get eight turns each, then a hooter goes off and it’s SPEED Scrabble, which is just like the regular turns except you only get twenty seconds to come up with a word and the points are doubled.
  • The problem here really is that it if the idea is to come across a bit more quickfire it certainly didn’t feel any speedier (perhaps they will cut quicker in the edit, dunno). One of the issues here is that the bonus games are still in play and unchanged (and undoubled) – if you’re going to keep the difficulty of these as is at this point, at least make them a bit more interesting. Double the points and halve the time maybe.
  • With one turn to go and the result basically in the bag for the winners, Stelling suddenly declared that the losers should still try because their points will get converted into pounds, which seemed to take everybody by surprise.
  • As an aside, today’s game started off quite dull with unfortunate tiles drawn, one team pulled ahead, the other caught up with good use of bonus squares then other team managed to pull away again with copious use of Qs. As proof of concept the bonus squares worked as an extra dimension to keep the game interesting today, although there’s every chance the winning team could be better with words AND dominate the bonus squares as well so you may still get 60 minute blow-outs.
  • The winner’s points are converted into cash and they will get the chance to win thousands extra playing Scrabble Scramble, and this is especially exciting as they get to stand at the south-west corner of the set to do so.
  • In Scrabble Scramble the team have two minutes to get from the centre to one of the triple word scores, earning money for each premium space used (Double letters are worth £50 (apart from some which are worth £500), triple letters £100, double words £500 and triple words £1,000). They do this by playing words onto the board as usual. If they don’t make it to a triple word in time they win nothing from Scrabble Scramble.
  • The best tactic is short words diagonally down, covering the £500 double words as far as possible. This makes the most money, unfortunately it’s a bit boring and feels rather lacking in finesse. Today’s winner was quite smart to get into a position where he had a letter that could end the game at any time and started racking up a bit of money doing the same tactic elsewhere.
  • Not only is this not very exciting but this was rather exacerbated by having to wrestle with the touchscreen and seemingly the game pausing after every word to be verified. I’m pretty sure my ZX Spectrum version was a bit more hi-octane.
  • Right now I struggle to see it fitting on ITV in honesty without putting rather more work in. Right now it doesn’t seem quite challenging or fun enough. You never know though.

6 thoughts on “That’s Yer (Pi)Lot: Scrabble

  1. Brig Bother Post author

    I’ll keep this separate as “funny recording story” as opposed to format review.

    It actually took rather longer than anticipated because it looks like somebody put the wrong graphic in a folder. Whilst the contestants were looking a set of letters, the rack and the giant board had one difference, whilst the contestants saw a W, we saw an X.

    Ergo when Aled Jones says “ah, we can make WAGON!” they plonk it on the board and as far as contestants and Jeff go it’s WAGON, but to everybody else it showed XAGON.

    Confusion and comedy, there.

  2. Jon

    Don’t understand why itv would pilot this when they have commissioned alphabet game…
    Also sound like this pilot was made by a non-quiz company… And sounds a bit shit tbh.

  3. Chris

    I’ve only just found this, mainly because I’ve never bothered to google it before. I was one of the contestants in the evening recording. All in all it was a fun game to play. Jeff was good to interact with (everyone was amazed before the show when I admitted I had no idea who he was), and Nina Wadia was great – just as competitive as me 🙂
    I liked the format and as a contestant it seemed to roll along quite quickly. The bonus games stopped it being too monotonous, and we did well on those.
    As you say, the main problem was the response of the touch screens. It was painful trying to drag letters from the tray to the board, and in the final game that was what all that stopped us completing the challenge.
    I was disappointed when it didn’t get picked up. I think if they had sorted out the tech problems it would have been a success.

    1. Brig Bother Post author

      Thanks Chris!

      Unfortunately if I had a pound for every contestant who played in a pilot show and declared it a great format I’d be able to retire. Unfortunately some games that are fun to play don’t quite come across as fun to watch, sadly – that endgame, as it stood, is likely to get tiresome quite quickly if it’s played with the correct strategy.


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