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How to Play Literati
Playing Literati Online at Yahoo Games
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If you enjoy word games, but you can't always find a Scrabble partner, the Literati rooms at Yahoo Games may be the answer to your prayers. It's free to play - the only requirements are a Yahoo ID and a Java-enabled browser. The latest version of Java can be found at Java.com.

What is Literati?
Literati is a word game that is very similar to Scrabble. Players use a set of 7 letter tiles to construct intersecting words on a board, collecting points based on letter values and bonus squares.

Literati vs. Scrabble
The most noticeable differences are the game board and the tile values. Both boards are 15x15, but the bonus squares (or, in the case of Literati, intersections) are in different places. Letter tile point values in Literati range only from 0-5, where Scrabble has letters worth as many as 10 points.

Literati Screenshot
Screenshot of Dave getting crushed at a game of Literati on Yahoo Games.

Getting Started
Once you've logging onto Yahoo and arrived at the Literati section, you will notice that rooms are grouped into categories based on skill level. Select a skill level, then choose a room. This will bring up a lobby window very much like a chat room from which you can join, watch, or start a game. The game itself, shown in the above screenshot, runs in a third window, giving you constant access to the lobby. Games can be public or private, and can accommodate up to 5 players. If you start a game you can control the game options, set time limits, rate your play, and even boot players.

The interface is intuitive and easy to use. Placing tiles on the board is a simple drag and drop operation. When you are finished you click "submit" and your word it is automatically checked by a dictionary before being permanently positioned on the board. If it is not a valid word, the tiles are returned to your tray and you must try again or pass. There is an optional "challenge" mode, which lets players challenge each other's words in Scrabble fashion. You can also juggle tiles in your tray to help you make words. Letters for wild tiles (white) are selected with the keyboard.

Cheating
As is the case with many online games, it's very difficult to ensure that the person you are playing against isn't cheating. Scrabble solvers and anagram generators are readily available online, so it's a simple matter to keep a solver running in another window while you play. A Scrabble solver takes a set of letters and produces all the words that can be made with those letters. It's rather like running a chess program while playing chess with someone online and entering all the moves into the program, then using the computer's moves as your own.

Strategy Basics
First and foremost, you must play for points and bonuses rather than go for otherwise impressive words. Long words look great on the board, but unless they use every tile in your tray (a 35 point bonus), they can score low for lack of board position.

There are essentially two ways to approach a game of Literati or Scrabble. Offensive players concentrate on words with high point scores, even if they happen to open up opportunities for other players. Defensive players put more thought into using words that are difficult to build on and attempting to limit their opponent's chances of reaching bonus squares.

A common rule of thumb is to try and keep a roughly equal number of vowels and consonants in your tray. This is referred to as "balancing the rack." Some players also caution against hoarding valuable letters in hopes of finding a big scoring opportunity, because it tends to leave you with an excessive number of consonants. Letters still in your rack at the end of the game are deducted from your score - more of a concern in Scrabble than in Literati.

If you really want to excel at Literati and compete with the top ranking players on Yahoo, memorizing words will go a long way. There are, for example, 29 acceptable words in the English language that have the letter 'Q' but don't have the letter 'U.' Similarly, there are just 12 acceptable 3 letter words that contain a 'Z.' Although it may seem a bit dull to some of us, these are the sorts of things that word game champions think about.

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