The more you know: Tisane, ingesta, digesta and other Scrabble anomalies

July 1, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
July 1, 2015

Time for a Scrabble rant!

This post revolves around a single high-scoring play in game 5 of the tournament that I played on Saturday, June 27. But before I recap what happened and explain why things were so screwy, I want to discuss a key part of the game.

A bingo, as faithful readers know, is a move that uses all seven letters on a player’s rack. A bingo yields the points scored that such a move would normally score plus a 50-point bonus. Competitive games among really good players tend to average at least one bingo. Typically, in tournaments, the player who bingos the most will win the most games.

Because of this, top players tend to study something that in the Scrabble world is called a stem: A collection of letters, usually six, that can form a bingo.

The best stem is AEINST, or tisane. There are two reasons for this. One is that those six letters are among the game’s most common, meaning that AEINST is quite likely to turn up on a player’s rack. The other is that tisane combines with most letters in the alphabet to make a bingo.

J (in the official North American Scrabble dictionary), Q and Y don’t combine with tisane to make a valid word. But the 23 other letters do. With an A, tisane forms TAENIAS or ENTASIA; with a B, BANTIES or BASINET; a C, ACETINS or CINEAST; and so on and so forth.

The letter that joins with tisane to form the most bingos is R, which makes the following nine words: ANESTRI, ANTSIER, NASTIER, RATINES, RETAINS, RETINAS, RETSINA, STAINER and STEARIN.

The second most prolific tisane partner is G, which makes seven words: EASTING, EATINGS, INGATES, SEATING, TEASING and…INGESTA.

Ingesta — which brings me back around to the events of my fifth game in Saturday’s tournament.

The game, against a local man named T., began with my opponent binging twice. His second play, MOISTURE, was a vertical along the center column; the E reached to the 14th row, meaning that the end of the word was adjacent to a valuable triple-word-score space.

Because T. had gotten off to such a hot start — he led 123-16 after taking his second turn — almost the only shot I had to get back in the game was to play an S on that triple-word-score spot. Ideally, I’d lay down a bingo, meaning that both long words, MOISTURES and whatever was on the bottom row, would get tripled up by the bonus.

T. opened the fifth turn by playing PIXEL 42, extending his already large lead to 205-46.

But. But! And now, I quote my game recap:

But I had a shot…

My rack at the moment was ADEGIST. I stared and stared and stared before realizing that these letters could made DIGESTA. Was that a valid word? I certainly thought so, for reasons that I’ll elaborate upon in a separate post. Was MOISTURES good? Well, if it wasn’t, I was totally screwed. And so I played DIGESTA/MOISTURES.

The letters in both words added up to 20 points. That jumped up to 60 points thanks to the triple-word-score bonus. And that further ballooned to 110 total points thanks to the 50-point bingo bonus. If that isn’t the highest-scoring play I’ve ever made in competition, it’s got to be among the top three. I’d cut my deficit to 205-56…

T. didn’t challenge either word in my 110-point play; unlike me, he hadn’t wondered whether or not MOISTURES was valid.

But I checked the play after the game, and I was surprised by what I found.

MOISTURES is good. DIGESTA is not.

Let me say that again: Digesta, which is a real word, is not a valid Scrabble play.

Ingesta, a relatively famous Scrabble bingo, is valid. Digesta is not.

Aerobia and carotids are valid words. Digesta is not.

Sweeting is a valid word. Digesta is not.

Hepatic is a valid word. Digesta is not.

Inlands is a valid word. Digesta is not.

Skeined and refallen are valid words. Digesta is not.

Nestlers is a valid word. Digesta is not.

Hareems, hemmers, merches, meshier, schmeer (a Yiddish word!) and thermes are valid words. Digesta is not.

Laveers, leavers and vealers are valid words. Digesta is not.

I’m shocked — shocked, I tell you! — to learn that digesta isn’t a valid Scrabble word. It blows my mind.

Oh, and by the way…

Digesta, a real word referring to something that is being digested, such as food in the stomach, is not valid.

But that combination of letters, ADEGIST, does make a valid bingo: agisted, That is, of course, the past tense of agist, a legal term meaning either to care for and feed cattle or horses or to to assess and charge land or its owner with a public burden, such as a tax.

Agisted is a valid word. Digesta is not.

The more you know…

OK, folks. Scrabble rant over!

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