Column: The true ?x to our nation’s woes

As Republican presidential candidates crisscross the country, Americans are asking themselves one question: What do we do with our opening-round Scrabble tiles?

If you’re thinking about using all seven tiles and getting the 50-point bonus that comes with such a feat, think again.

Opening-round “bingos,” as they’re called, happen at most once every 10 games.

The goal for your first move should be to dump some of your worst tiles in an effort to build your rack for later turns.

Building your rack is all about getting letters that combine well with one another, which includes a good balance of consonants and vowels. In fact, the best seven letters you can have are the ones in the word RETAINS.

Try to “retain” as many of the letters in RETAINS as possible to increase your chances of playing a bingo later in the game.

Speaking of retaining, the Democratic Party has to make some serious changes if it plans to retain the Hispanic-American vote in 2012.

So, if the board is empty and you see ABNOSTX on your rack, your best move is to play BOX for 24 points. Hold on to ANST and you’re likely to score big the following move.

Keeping the letters of RETAINS isn’t everything, however. In Scrabble, scoring trumps all. So if your opening rack is ADEQSUV, go ahead and play QUADS for 50 points. Don’t worry about blowing your A and your S; the points are more important.

A great advantage of going first is the ability to claim a double letter bonus square right off the bat. If you can make your word five letters, you’ll be able to reach that bonus square. In the previous example, QUADS will give you 50 points only if the Q is placed on one of those double letter scores. One space to the right and it only gives you 30.

That’s one inch separating you from 20 points you can’t afford to lose.

Which brings me back to my original point: For next year’s election, it’s all about jobs, jobs, jobs.

Be wary of your tile placement, though. Experienced players feast on challengers who make foolish opening-round mistakes.

I’ll never forget when I opened with FORMED, only to watch my opponent tack on TRI to make TRIFORMED on the triple word score for 45 points. UNIFORMED also would have done the trick.

The possibilities are virtually endless: MONEY can be extended to form MONEYBAG, JOINS to CONJOINS, ZONES to CALZONES.

Or, for that matter, almost every five-letter verb, plus ING.

If you’re confident your opponent doesn’t know the extension, go ahead and play it, but if you’re not sure, try to avoid setting up the triple word bonus and settle for the lower score.

With all that said, sometimes the best opening round move is not playing anything at all.

Exchanging tiles is a strategy that is criminally underused by casual players, but the payoff is tremendous.

So register to vote today. Our livelihood depends on it.
And our nation is hanging in the balance.

Thanks for reading.

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