NASPA Zyzzyva FAQ

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The NASPA Zyzzyva FAQ, as with everything Zyzzyva-related, was originally written by Michael Thelen and then transferred to NASPA in 2014.

If you have a question that is not answered on this page, please send it to zyzzyva-users@yahoogroups.com. There are many users on that list who generally respond quickly and helpfully to most questions.

Why is the program called Zyzzyva?

Michael Thelen writes: I wanted to pick a fun word that was somewhat unique. I knew "zyzzyva" was one of the most improbable words to be played in a SCRABBLE game, and I liked the sound of it. Later on, after I had picked the name, I realized that since "zyzzyva" was also the last word in alphabetical order (it has since been replaced by "zzz"), I could call Zyzzyva "the last word" in word study. I wish I could say I was smart enough to come up with that slogan from the start.

Why is Zyzzyva available for free?

Michael Thelen writes: I created Zyzzyva because I wanted a program for studying SCRABBLE words. There are several programs available, but all of them either lack features I wanted or do not run on Linux. I therefore took it upon myself to create the program I wanted, and Zyzzyva is the result.

NASPA adds: We appreciate Michael’s efforts in developing Zyzzyva and are committed to continuing to make it freely available to the SCRABBLE community. For licensing reasons, however, and the need to support proprietary word lists, Zyzzyva is now closed-source.

When I try to claim or activate a license, I do not get prompted to log into NASPA. How do I resolve this issue?

Make sure that you are connected to the Internet. If so, Norton Antivirus or a similar utility may be blocking Zyzzyva from accessing the Internet. To resolve the issue, you will need to turn off the firewall within Norton. Once you claim or activate your Zyzzyva license, you can turn the firewall back on.

How can I transfer my Zyzzyva data from one computer to another?

You can transfer all your data to a new computer by copying your data directory. You can find out where your Zyzzyva data directory is by opening the Preferences window in Zyzzyva and looking at the Data Directory setting. Make a copy of this directory, and move it to wherever you like, on the new computer. Then, after you install Zyzzyva on the new computer, open the Preferences window and change the Data Directory setting to point to wherever you put your data directory from the original computer.

The transfer should work regardless of the operating systems used on the two computers. For example, you should be able to transfer your data directory from a Windows computer to a Mac, or vice versa.

How can I change the location of my data directory?

Here are general instructions for changing the location of your data directory, including how to find your directory in the file browser if it is a hidden directory called ".zyzzyva". Since Zyzzyva 2.1.0, the default data directory has no longer been a hidden directory called ".zyzzyva", but instead a regular directory called "Zyzzyva". However, if you have used a previous version, your data directory may still be called ".zyzzyva". Below are instructions if you want to change it. Be sure to follow these directions closely because manually manipulating the Zyzzyva data directory can be potentially dangerous to your data if you're not careful. You should probably read the full instructions before taking any action so you're familiar with what steps are required.

  1. Open Zyzzyva and find out what your data directory is. It can be found by clicking the Preferences button (with a wrench and screwdriver), and looking at the Data Directory setting in the General section. Copy and paste or write down this location.
  2. IMPORTANT: Close Zyzzyva. We don't want Zyzzyva mucking around with your data directory while you're moving it.
  3. Find the location of your data directory in the file browser. You will need to enable viewing hidden directories, or else the ".zyzzyva" directory will not be visible.
    • On Windows:
      • Choose Tools->Folder Options from the menu.
      • Open the View tab.
      • Enable the "Show hidden files and folders" option under "Hidden files and folders", under "Files and Folders".
    • On Mac OS X:
    • On Linux:
      • Open a console and "cd" to the directory above your data directory. Use "ls -A" to verify that the ".zyzzyva" directory exists.
  4. Optional but a very good idea: Make a copy of the ".zyzzyva" directory by right-clicking it and choosing "Copy" and then "Paste" (on Windows), or "Duplicate" (on Mac OS X). This will act as a backup in case anything goes wrong.
  5. Rename or move the ".zyzzyva" directory to whatever you like. We suggest simply renaming it to "Zyzzyva" (without the dot). Remember where you moved it and what you renamed it to.
  6. Open Zyzzyva again. It will probably complain about missing databases, but tell it NO, do not create databases.
  7. Open the Preferences window again, and click the Browse button next to the Data Directory setting. Use the file browser to find the new location of your data directory.
  8. Restart Zyzzyva, just to be sure it is using the new data directory. If it doesn't complain about missing databases, everything should be okay. If it does complain about databases, retrace the above steps to figure out where you went wrong.

Can I keep my Zyzzyva data on a USB thumb drive?

Absolutely. This may be a good option for anyone wanting to use Zyzzyva on multiple computers without having to copy data directories back and forth. Simply copy your data directory onto the USB drive (using the process described in #How can I transfer my Zyzzyva data from one computer to another?). Then open the Preferences window and change the Data Directory setting to point to the data directory on the USB drive.

How do I print a list of words?

Unfortunately there's no print functionality built into Zyzzyva yet. The best you can do for right now is right-click (Control-click on a Mac) on any word list (e.g., Search results) and save it in plain text format. Then manipulate the list and print it from a text editor program, like Notepad or Wordpad on Windows.

How does the Cardbox system work?

The basic idea is that you must first tell Zyzzyva which words you'd like it to keep track of. You generally do this by performing a search, then right-clicking the search results and choosing "Add to Cardbox". Then Zyzzyva keeps track of those words and automatically quizzes you on the ones it thinks you need to see each day. When you miss a word frequently, Zyzzyva will show it to you more often. A more detailed explanation is given in the Help documentation.

How do I remove all my cardbox data?

Do the following:

  • Open a Search tab.
  • Do a search that will find all possible words in your cardbox. Probably something like "Length: Min 2, Max 9".
  • Right-click the search results and choose "Remove list from Cardbox".


All your cardbox data will be removed from the system, but your historical quiz data will be retained.

When viewing search results, what are the '-' marks at the beginning or end of certain words?

Those marks denote "inner hooks" - they mean that either the first or last letter of the word can be dropped to form another valid word, depending on where the hyphen appears. If the hyphen appears at the beginning of the word, then the first letter can be dropped. If the hyphen appears at the end of the word, then the last letter can be dropped.

How does Zyzzyva calculate the probability of a word?

There isn't a handy formula, but it's basically a straight calculation of the number of possible combinations to get a particular set of letters from a full bag, including blanks. Separate combination values are calculated for drawing zero, one, or two blanks, and then the numbers of combinations are added together to get the total number of ways of drawing a word.

Are you sure the probability calculation is accurate? It seems unintuitive to me.

Yep, it really is correct. The calculation of probability is notorious for violating human intuition. One useful guideline to remember is that doubled or tripled letters make a particular letter combination much more improbable than you might think. That's because the number of ways to draw two identical letters out of the bag is generally much lower than the number of ways to draw two different letters out of the bag.

Are you really sure about the probabilities? I need to see more examples.

Consider BAILERS versus BELIERS. BAILERS is a fair amount more probable than BELIERS because of the doubled Es. However, it seems intuitive to say, "If BEILRS has been drawn from a full bag, then there are 9 As and 11 Es in the remaining pool. The E is the more likely draw, which means BELIERS should be more probable than BAILERS."

While it is true that drawing a single E is more likely than drawing a single A, the math for calculating the probability of a word is more complicated than that. You can't just start calculating with the assumption that BEILRS has been drawn; those letters themselves factor into the calculation, and they are not independent events. In this case, we can reduce the difference between BAILERS and BELIERS to the difference between drawing AE or EE when drawing two tiles from the bag.

If you draw two tiles out of a full bag, the probability of drawing two Es is much lower than the probability of drawing an A and an E. That is because there are 9 x 12 = 108 ways to draw an A and an E if you draw two tiles. But there are only (12 x 11) / 2 = 66 ways to draw two Es if you draw two tiles. This number of combinations is called "12 choose 2", and is explained in more detail in this Wikipedia article about combinations.

To reduce this to a simple example where it's easy to enumerate all the possibilities, consider a 4-tile bag containing only AAEE. I'll label the tiles A1, A2, E1, E2 for convenience. There are 6 possible ways to draw two unordered tiles:

A1 A2 = AA A1 E1 = AE A1 E2 = AE A2 E1 = AE A2 E2 = AE E1 E2 = EE

As you can see, AE is drawn 4/6 times, while AA is drawn only 1/6, and EE is drawn only 1/6 as well. Even though A and E are equally likely to be drawn if you are only drawing one tile, if you're drawing two tiles it is much more likely to draw one of each than to draw duplicates.

As another example, consider a bag where E is more likely than A, as is the case in the full SCRABBLE bag. Consider a 6-tile bag containing AAEEEE, with tiles labeled A1, A2, E1, E2, E3, E4. There are 15 possible ways to draw two unordered tiles:

A1 A2 = AA A1 E1 = AE A1 E2 = AE A1 E3 = AE A1 E4 = AE A2 E1 = AE A2 E2 = AE A2 E3 = AE A2 E4 = AE E1 E2 = EE E1 E3 = EE E1 E4 = EE E2 E3 = EE E2 E4 = EE E3 E4 = EE

AA occurs 1/15 times, AE occurs 8/15 times, EE occurs 6/15 times. Even though E is twice as likely as A, AE is still more likely than EE! This is the same basic principle that also causes words with duplicate letters to be drawn with lower probability from a full SCRABBLE bag.

Complicating the math even further is the fact that Zyzzyva calculates probabilities using a full 100-tile bag including two blanks. That may account for differences (usually minor) with other probabilities you may have seen calculated elsewhere, many of which use a 98-tile bag with no blanks.

Why did Zyzzyva mark all my answers as missed when I actually got them all correct?

Zyzzyva only marks all responses as missed if you actually entered all the correct responses, but also provided an incorrect response. The reason for marking all responses as missed is because (currently) Zyzzyva has no other way of marking the question as missed without marking at least one response as missed. So instead of picking a random response to mark as missed, it marks them all.

This only happens if you have the 'Mark question as missed after an incorrect response' setting activated, but not 'End question after an incorrect response'. Technically, it could also happen if you have the 'End question after an incorrect response' setting activated, but not 'End question after all correct responses', and the incorrect response is the last one you give.

I love Zyzzyva so much that I would like to send you giant piles of money. How can I do that?

Michael Thelen originally wrote: That is so nice of you! I'm always very happy to receive donations of any amount.

NASPA writes: If you are feeling philanthropic, why not consider a donation to our Foundation for Youth Literacy?

How do I use my word list licence on more than one device?

NASPA word list licences are valid for simultaneous use on at least ten different devices. If you need to use yours on more, please contact us at info@scrabbleplayers.org.

When will the current version of Zyzzyva be available for my platform?

As of 2016-08-23, Zyzzyva Release 3.1.0 is available for Windows, OS X, and Linux. When NASPA bought Zyzzyva, the iOS version was already two iOS updates obsolete, and the necessary changes are not trivial. Further information on the effort to port Zyzzyva to the iOS and Android platforms is available here.

Where can I find lexicons to use with Zyzzyva?

It depends on the lexicon, but you should in general ask the copyright holder for the lexicon that you are interested in for permission to use an electronic copy of the list. If you need help formatting it for use with Zyzzyva, please feel free to contact us. If you are a NASPA member, you can unlock OTCWL2016, OTCWL2014, SSWL2016, SSWL2015, and OSPD5 for free with authentication.