May 19, 2010 8:29 AM   Subscribe

Is there any way to tell if your facebook scrabble opponent is cheating (using an online scrabble solver)? Is there any way to call them out? My wife is playing a friend of ours and doesn't like the way his skill level has risen lately.

She also doesn't like losing.
posted by bonobothegreat to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No, of course not. Don't play online games where cheating is so easy with people you think might cheat.
posted by 256 at 8:32 AM on May 19, 2010

1) No, unless you write a virus that will log their browser habits and report back to you.

2) Sure, just say "You're cheating." Keep in mind, this is the same thing as saying "I don't think you're smart enough to know these words."

You wife needs to get over it.
posted by InsanePenguin at 8:33 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Your wife should take this as an opportunity to improve her skills/step up her game.
posted by amethysts at 8:34 AM on May 19, 2010

yeah ... easy ... utilise an online scrablesolver yourself ... but with their "input" ... if their answers correlate 3 times or more with the solver-engine ... you got your answer.
posted by jannw at 8:37 AM on May 19, 2010

That approach won't work, since you don't know your opponent's letters. You would need a more complicated algorithm to determine if he was using a dictionary, something that probably isn't offered by online scrabble-solving apps.
posted by demiurge at 8:43 AM on May 19, 2010

As someone who has used these, and still lost spectacularly, I'd say let it go. The thing that would help me be a better player would be time and practice. I don't have either one of these to devote to online scrabble, so I've just developed a tolerance for losing, and an admiration for those who can play scrabble better than I do. Using word finders doesn't mean that you will win, since only practice can make you truly better. Perhaps your wife's opponent has been practicing more?
posted by pickypicky at 8:47 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

actually, demiurge. you can usually go back and look at the letters your opponent had every turn, after<>
but still, just because you find the plays in a scrabble solver doesn't mean your opponent wasn't able to find them on their own.

OP, whatever your wife does or finds, there's nothing to be gained by calling your friend a cheater. If she suspects him, she should just stop playing with him.
posted by 256 at 8:47 AM on May 19, 2010

I played online scrabble through yahoo for a few years. I got accused of cheating frequently. I was not. I was never able to figure out how to persuade my opponents that I wasn't cheating.

I do, however, think that a rapid increase in skill is not impossible. Perhaps this friend is playing a lot of scrabble with people other than your wife. Perhaps she's reading a book on how to play scrabble better.

At the end of the day, your wife should just stop playing with her friend if she finds it more annoying than challenging.
posted by sciencegeek at 8:48 AM on May 19, 2010

Find someone new to play against. Life is too short to worry about shit like this.
posted by nineRED at 8:51 AM on May 19, 2010

She could ask your friend if he's using an online Scrabble solver, if he's a fairly honest friend.

If she can't trust him to be honest about that, she could either:

1. Not play with him.
2. Take an approach to the game focusing on making the best moves she can make in each situation that she's in. This way, her ego will not be tied to winning or losing, which depends on luck, even with a non-cheater anyway, and it makes the game interesting whether or not she's playing someone far better or far worse than her.
posted by ignignokt at 8:53 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I don't know whether any such detection methods currently exist, but I must strenuously disagree with those who so casually dismiss it as impossible. Online chess servers have been detecting people using computer assistance for some time using a method like the one jannw describes (comparing played moves with computer-suggested moves) for some time—a bit more sophisticated in implementation, but that's the basic concept. This is possible because humans play chess differently then computers, even when playing at the same level. A 2200-rated human's moves can be distinguished from those of a 2200-rated computer, given enough moves. (Side note: chess servers often allow computer assistance or play as long as the account is specifically marked as such, and players can set their preferences to avoid playing computers or computer-assisted humans if they so desire. The violation lies only in using computer assistance on an account which is supposed to be human-only.)

It seems likely to me that differences between computer moves and human moves similarly exist in Scrabble. Like I said, I don't know whether such tools actually exist in the online Scrabble world, but it's certainly possible in concept.

That said, a rapid rise in playing ability is not indicative of computer assistance. Maybe he's new to the game and is in the stage where he's learning new strategies rapidly. Maybe he's practicing against other opponents as well (human or computer) and picking up new strategies from them. Maybe he's analyzing his games after the fact and learning where he could have done better. Maybe he's been studying Scrabble strategy and word lists. "Qi" may not be a word a Scrabble novice might come up with, but really, you only have to see someone else play it once to remember how useful a word it is in Scrabble.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Let it go or don't play him anymore. What's making her suspicious? Is he coming out with really obscure words and/or high scoring ones? Is it his vocab or his strategy that has markedly improved
Maybe he's been playing with other people & has learnt strategy?
I've played Scrabble/Lexulus/Scrabulous/Words With Friends with lots of people on line, many of them Mefites. I can't say I've never been suspicious about my opponents ethics, and a couple of people have even admitted that they do cheat. I no longer play with them.
I imagine I've laid down some kick arse words & opponents may have suspected I was cheating.
I don't. And I would never accuse someone of cheating.
Seriously people, Honour among Scrabble players!
Maybe probe him about his words - "wow - that's obscure, where did you learn that?" and see he can respond promptly. Give him leeway though - his answer might be "I've picked it up of fellow players" so he may be iffy on a definition.
So sorry, AFAIK there is no way to prove he is cheating without seeing him do it or maybe checking his browser cache/history for cheat sites.
posted by goshling at 9:01 AM on May 19, 2010

I play online scrabble and I notice from time to time a huge jump in my ability. (Note: I don't cheat). I can't really explain it beyond figuring that something clicks in my head every so often and I just start seeing more words. Also, I play people that are a lot better than me, so I am learning new words all the time.
posted by gaspode at 9:04 AM on May 19, 2010

Oh! And after reading goshling's answer I would also add that there is definitely a lot of words that I play because I know they are words but have absolutely no idea what they mean.
posted by gaspode at 9:06 AM on May 19, 2010

Ah, I just saw the "facebookscrabble" tag, so I have to retract or at least issue caveats reagarding a lot of my previous comment. The chess servers which detect computer assistance are dedicated sites/servers which have the detection built in, and the server can typically analyze dozens or hundreds of games. A handful of games against a single opponent is much less likely to contain enough data to determine with any degree of certainty whether computer assistance is being used.

Also, most games on the dedicated servers are real-time games, not the correspondence-style that is common for chess (and, I assume, Scrabble) common on Facebook, where there is much more time for humans to analyze positions, and legitimate human play is likely to more closely model computer play in the first place.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:10 AM on May 19, 2010

Thanks everyone. It sounds like it's nearly impossible to detect.

Just to clarify -I was only joking about her not liking to lose. She's very competitive but she's having fun.
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:11 AM on May 19, 2010

Just thought I'd clarify a bit more about strategic skills for future lifeforms studying this game.

Many novice players think the longer or cleverer the word the better. This is crap. It's all about placement.

The most important things to do are to avoid opening up the high scoring tiles for your opponents, and to to take advantage of them when you opponent opens them up for you. It's better to make a word worth 9 points on a triple word score than to score 20 points elsewhere, cos if you leave that triple W open, you opponent might blow you out of the water.

You need to know:
high scoring 2 letter words
archaic words
greek alphabet
hebrew alphabet
suffixes & prefixes to extend existing words

There should be memorised. If you look them up while playing, you're cheating.

When you have a rack of I I E E O A A, just laugh at the world.

Enjoy the game, give him the benefit of the doubt.
Then kick his butt
posted by goshling at 9:20 AM on May 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

Make sure you're not playing against one of my family members. We took up facebook scrabble a while ago and I was spectacularly losing then one day on the phone they casually mentioned that it was war. They expected cheating and had been cheating the whole time. It was part of the point for them.

Of course your wife's friend is probably a normal honest person but there you go.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2010

My philosophy is that one of the differences between board-game Scrabble and computer Scrabble is the availability of the internet at your fingertips. Same applies to other traditional games with online versions. That people are going to use the full extent of their resources while playing in that medium should be a foregone conclusion, something to embrace instead of getting upset about. It's not "cheating," it's "using every advantage of the gameplay system." As long as your wife refuses to use a solver, she's handicapping herself unnecessarily.

Disclaimers: I don't actually play Scrabble online, personally. I think there should be some games designated "solvers allowed" and others as "solvers forbidden" at the outset. Using tools shouldn't be considered off-limits in every situation, but there should be a place where all the players can agree before playing that they won't do that. The problem your wife is having is apparently that this element goes unstated and assumptions are made. You know what happens when you assume...
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 9:27 AM on May 19, 2010

As long as your wife refuses to use a solver, she's handicapping herself unnecessarily

As a life long Scrabble player, I call bullshit on this. You play by the standard rules, but over distance. This gives me a huge advantage over real time games. In a real time game, I get fatigued and flake out towards the end. Playing over time & space allows us all to play a move when we're ready. I've played games that have lasted MONTHS. If you've got all the time in the world to consider your next move, I think it's offensive to include a dictionary.

She should not stoop to cheating cos "everyone does it". Not everyone does it.
posted by goshling at 9:52 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Why not ask, politely? "Wow, you've gotten really good over the past few weeks/months, what's your secret?"

If they don't think using a solver is a big deal, they'll probably admit to it, and then your wife and her opponent can discuss whether or not that is kosher for games in the future. If they aren't using one or are ashamed of it and feel like they are cheating but don't want to reveal it, then they'll have a different response.

I've played games online where we both used solvers and still had fun; it was just an accepted part of the game. Of course, I've played in-person games where we both have free access to the dictionary at all times, so I'm not exactly hard core.
posted by kyleg at 10:29 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

is it possible to invite the friend over for an offline game of scrabble?
posted by ttyn at 11:36 AM on May 19, 2010

Why don't you invite the friend over to eat dinner and play scrabble sometime?
posted by gregr at 11:59 AM on May 19, 2010

Another possibility: Perhaps this friend has developed healthier life habits that make his mind sharper. For example: maybe he used to like having a couple of drinks to unwind at the end of the day while playing his online games, but decided to stop drinking. Or maybe he used to play when he was really tired before bed, but lately has been getting more sleep. I enjoy traditional in-person scrabble with my spouse and my game improves dramatically if I choose tea over wine as a refreshment, or if I'm wide awake.
posted by cuddles.mcsnuggy at 12:29 PM on May 19, 2010

I just accept that my brother and cousin use solvers while playing and take extra pride when I beat them. Scrabble and its ilk are won not by long words but high value letters and words placed strategically on the board. Look for ways to hit multiple multipliers, look to keep your opponent from doing so. Learn to use two letter words to overlap a number of good words. After playing for a while you learn some bs words like zax and gox, but a game filled with those tells you that the other player is either using a solver or has been playing for quite some time.
posted by advicepig at 2:43 PM on May 19, 2010

I don't know whether any such detection methods currently exist, but I must strenuously disagree with those who so casually dismiss it as impossible. Online chess servers have been detecting people using computer assistance for some time [...] It seems likely to me that differences between computer moves and human moves similarly exist in Scrabble.

A chess computer takes into account the entire board state, searches through the possible future game state tree, and chooses the move leading down the tree branch most likely to be favourable.

On the other hand, a scrabble computer takes a collection of letters, finds all anagrams (plus one letter already on the board), then produces a list of the highest scoring words. (actually I'm speculating here, never having used a scrabble computer, but inputting the entire board state would be inconvenient)

In other words, the chess program takes in a big input (the entire board state) and produces a sequence of outputs from a large set of potential outputs (there are many possible 5-move sequences in chess).

On the other hand, a scrabble program takes in a small input (tiles the user has) and produces a single output from a limited set of potential outputs (there are only so many words you can make with the user's scrabble tiles)

As such, I think a scrabble computer would leave a much less distinctive fingerprint than a chess computer.

That's not to say you couldn't detect a naive scrabble cheat (you'd expect non-cheaters to use more widely-known words preferentially to obscure words, for example) but if server-side software could decide how human-like a word was, cheater-side software could too.

Why not invite your friend round for dinner, and challenge him to a game of scrabble in person?
posted by Mike1024 at 2:49 PM on May 19, 2010

I suspected an opponent (who I did not know) was cheating and so I ran a test:

I went to scrabble solver and each time after they moved I would set up the board and take the tiles they placed and put them in my tile queue and run the solver. I would look at the suggestions for the tiles and if it was in the top two I would mark that as a potential cheat. It turned out that my opponent was able to select the top word that the computer solved; which finds the highest scoring word every time. I would say that the probability of that is really, really low. Especially if the word is 7 letters long and the archaic spelling of an already obscure English word.

In that instance I just finished the game and left with the knowledge that he is playing a game that does nothing for him mentally. To me, cheating in scrabble is the equivalent of studying geometry by making different sized squares on your desktop with the mouse selection whilst staring blankly at the screen. If you cheat, then you are clicking pictures of letters and moving them, which is actually well below putting round or square pegs into their respective holes.
posted by occidental at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Just as a point of reference, I was CONVINCED that my SO was using some kind of online Scrabble dictionary when we played each other on Facebook. He came up with the most random words ever, but somehow they were still valid in the Scrabble dictionary: "poovey" and "hogg" are the ones I remember (and they're still part of an in-joke phrase that we use).

But then we played as a group in person, and he did the same thing. I finally had to accept that maybe he's just a mad Scrabble genius.

A lot of the skill, incidentally, comes from trying every possible combo of letter for maximum point gain, even if it looks like it might be a nonsense word. Scrabble is actually very much a math-based game and the people I've known who are best at it are always musicians, programmers or mathematicians - people who are good with numbers and pattern recognition.
posted by lhall at 12:04 PM on May 20, 2010

What jhall just said above reminded me of the wonderful documentary about crosswords, Wordplay. From what I recall, it mentions how people such as mathematicians and musicians tend to be great at crosswords, because of pattern recognition. Most of the Scrabble people I know are also crossword people, so you might get a kick out of Wordplay. It's a wonderful wonderful movie! As well as following a crossword convention, they interview many celebs on crossword strategy.
posted by goshling at 5:24 AM on May 22, 2010

Just to wrap this up...

My wife has figured out that it was the abuse of the facebook scrabble (built in) dictionary tool that was giving him a temporary advantage. Now that she's using it, things have evened out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 10:57 AM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

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