I’ve been Scrabbling by email lately. In today’s game my partner started out by playing
H E X
and I responded with
A H W E E X
At this point my opponent might well have continued with another three-letter word to make a tidy square block such as:
Y A H E W E S E X
In actuality she did something quite different. She played a seven-letter “bingo,” using all her letters to earn a 50-point bonus; as a result I’m hopelessly far behind in the scoring. But let us say no more about the tawdry details of winning and losing; there’s a puzzle here. Looking at that three-by-three block of letters and words, it occurs to me there must surely be legally reachable configurations of a Scrabble board that have no legal continuation. Scrabble rules say that, except for the first move, letters can be added to the board only on squares adjacent to existing letters, and all sequences of two or more letters (both vertically and horizontally) must be dictionary words. The rules say nothing about the situation where continued play is impossible.
I’m sure there must be many stymied positions, where no words can be formed, regardless of what letters you have on your rack. Or so I assert; but, the fact is, I haven’t been able to find even one such configuration. A cursory examination of the list of all allowed two-letter words argues that no two-by-two block of letters can be stymied. What about two-by-three or three-by-three blocks? Somebody must have settled these questions, but my Googling has failed to find the answer. What is the smallest stymied position? (I don’t require that a solution be a rectangular block of letters, but having stray letters dangling off the edges of a block makes it easier rather than harder to form words.)