Numberplate Scrabble

My family and I have been playing Numberplate Scrabble intermittently ever since I invented the game while driving my young daughter to school through inner-Melbourne suburbs.

It was one way of getting some fun out of the trip, and I’m sure it had some educational benefit at the time. I’m sharing it here for posterity (I hope Posterity is suitably grateful) and more particularly because a friend of mine was interested when I described it today. Here goes:

The Simplest Rules

1. Take the three letters in any numberplate you spot and use them in a word.

You can add as many other letters as you like, and you can re-arrange the letters if you need to, but your word should be a dictionary word (as in the board game). That is, no foreign words, and no words that need a capital letter.

2. That’s it. There is no Rule 2.

The Complete Rules

I will use bold font for the examples, and I will use CAPITAL letters for the letters in the numberplate and lower case for the added letters.

This has been called a “Golf Scrabble” game, because the object is to get the lowest possible score. (There are lots of other Scrabble variations – check out Wikipedia’s page about them).

Scoring goes like this:

1. Point out the chosen numberplate to any other players.

2. Score one point for each letter you add: Starting with EGS EGgS score = 1 bEGinS score = 3

3. Score five points if you rearrange the letters: If the numberplate is GES, EGgS scores 1 + 5 = 6, while aGES scores only 1 and wins.

4. You get one bonus point if you don’t add letters between the three you start with. That is, take one point off your score. Starting from EGS again, bEGS scores 1 – 1 = 0 (wow!) and beats EGgS which scores 1.

5. If you’re playing competitively (yes, that can happen) and end up with a tie – bAGS against hAGS, for example – the most creative word wins. (Yes, I know that’s subjective. If in doubt, be nice.) (In fact, be nice all the time. This is something we’re doing for fun, okay?)

Local rules

My “complete rules” developed gradually out of the very simple idea we began with and I think they make the game reasonably challenging without making it too frustrating. They are not meant to limit anyone, though.

  • If you want to make it really easy, perhaps you should only have to use two of the three letters on the numberplate.
  • If you all want to make it bilingual, that’s fine – so long as all the players are bilingual, of course.
  • If you want to make it really hard, perhaps your word should have to have two of each letter on the numberplate, so EGS becomes EEGGSS and diSEnGaGES wins with a score of … 5 (for rearranging) + 4 = 9. Unless you can beat it, of course. 🙂


I shared this page on social media and quickly found that I wasn’t the only person to have invented the game. (I wasn’t very surprised.)

One reader told me she knew two medical students who played it as a way of reinforcing all the specialised terminology they had to learn: all the answers had to be medical terms.

Longafterword (2023)

The Queensland government has had the effrontery to mess up a perfectly good game by introducing numberplates with only two letters, replacing the third letter with an extra number.

My feeling is that the game is too easy with only two letters, but go ahead and keep playing that way if you like. A better option, I think, is to ‘leet’ the new number to turn it into a letter and then proceed as before.

Leets (read about them on Wikipedia if they’re new to you) are not entirely standardised but this list reflects common practice:

0 = O
1 = I
2 = Z or Q
3 = E
4 = A
5 = S
6 = G
7 = T
8 = B
9 = G (g)

So (e.g.) 964 GT3 will become 964 GTE and there’s an easy one-point answer, GaTE.

For an extra challenge, leet the first three numbers as well so that (e.g.) 964 GT3 would become GGA GTE. Hmm. I foresee some high AGGreGaTE scores there (sorry!).

Trialling it, I found it’s a lot harder – often too hard to solve in your head while you’re waiting for the lights to change.