Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chemistry Words, with Friends

A recent discussion on Twitter brought some salient sci-comm discussion: Why aren't more chemical terms acceptable for play in the smartphone app Words with Friends?

(Not Really)
Source: Fake Science Tumblr
Unfamiliar with the game? Words, much like Scrabble, prompts players to place lettered tiles to form words on a 15 x 15 grid. The game rewards you for playing unusual letters (Q, Z, each worth 10 points) and for building words across certain labeled spaces, which confer extra points to certain letters and longer words (In fact, critics and fans both remark that WWF seems to be more like a "math game" than erudite word selection).

So, you'd think that WWF would allow submission of any legal word, right? Well, since language constantly evolves, the designers limited choices to a public-domain word list, ENABLE, containing ~173,000 words. Quite a lot, really, until you compare that to SOWPODS, the tournament Scrabble players' list, weighing in at 267,000 (and counting!).

The ENABLE list, ranging from "aa" (lava) to "zyzzyvas" (a weevil), represents scientific fields from anthropology to zoology. Large 'blocks' of terms deal with nuclear energy, geology, physics, and biology. So, what about chemistry?

I spent a few minutes trawling the list, then picking the brains of my colleagues. With this (very) minor effort, we found just a handful of terms missing: ipso, meso, fluorous, and chiron. [Words we guessed might not be there, but were, included: carbocycle, solute, solvent, catalyst, nucleophile, polydisperse, synclinal, catechol, aglycon, zincate, chiral, orbital, glycine, alkali, ketone, and bromide.]

All in all, more chemical variety than I had expected. Readers, I've obviously not covered the gamut of chemical terms, so if you find ENABLE lacking, let me know in the comments. Or, better yet, let Zynga know!


  1. it definitely wouldn't let me play arene!!!

  2. Periodic table Scrabble could probably be developed into something interesting... Wish I'd thought of that one. (I invented a whole bunch of games way back when, including a chemistry game called It's Elementary (actually a couple different games (similar to Go Fish & dominos)) using a deck of element cards.)

  3. Haha... Just used benzol today... That worked

  4. Disclaimer: I don't have an i-anything, I use Android, and used to play this type of game on Palm devices.

    There is often not enough free space to form long words, use high value tiles/words on double/triple letter/word spots, or the words aren't in a dictionary such as the official scrabble™ dictionary.

    That said, I don't care much for the official scrabble™ dictionary. I have the 2nd edition of the unabridged Random House dictionary (not portable) but would happily use whatever's at hand/online. It's a game, not life.

  5. Enable is a great public domain dictionary and no cuss words. I was using the Moby dictionary for but now I see Enable is much better. Finding out what dictionary they use was hard, thanks!