A phoney word in a game of Scrabble is basically a non-valid word, either played or considered being played. Why? To fool the other player and go from losing to winning. It's perfectly acceptable in Scrabble play, but only if you don't get caught. If the other player challenges your play, then you'll be forced to remove it and your turn will be skipped. That right there—not fun.
Bluffing is a dangerous game, but if done well it could be an important strategy in your arsenal. Spelling out blatant lies on the board can only be done with a good poker face though, so make sure you know what you're doing. Most diehard Scrabble players (including myself) want nothing to do with fake words and will hate you for it, so watch out.
But should the other player even challenge? Only if they're sure. Three-time winner of the National Scrabble Championship, Joe Edley, once said that if you're not 90-100 percent sure, you shouldn't challenge. Why? Because it could be a legit word. Your opponent will keep their score and your turn will be skipped. One turn skipped could mean losing the game.
There's always an alternative to putting down phoney words, and that's playing words that look like phoneys to the inexperienced player, but really aren't. Study up on obscure words and force your opponent to challenge you. They'll lose their turn, and you'll rake in the points. Aside from obscure words, look into foreign words that are acceptable in Scrabble. The other players will fight with you about "no foreign" words on the board, and you'll stick to your guns and tell them to challenge you.
Here are a few words that seem incorrectly spelled, but really aren't:
APATITE, COALA, CIGARET, CYDER, DORNOCK, DROWND, FANTOM, GOODBY, GREWSOME, KREEP, PEEPUL, PENCEL, PENSIL, RABBET
And here are a few of my favorite words that can be spelled in many different ways.
GENIE(S), JINN(S), JIN(S), JINNI(S), JINNEE, DJIN(S), DJINN(S), DJINNI, DJINNY
HAJ, HAJES, HAJJ, HAJJES, HADJ, HADJES, HADJEE(S), HADJI(S), HAJI(S), HAJJI(S)
Do you have any favorite phoney-looking words that you like to play?
You're losing 72 to 161. On your rack you have the letters AE?IISS. What legal move, phoney word or phoney-looking word could you play for 76 points to get you back in the game?
SPOILER ALERT: Comments below may reveal answers.
Puzzle made with cross-tables.
BONUS CHALLENGE: Can you spot the phoney word in the picture at the top of this article?
And here's the answer for last week's Scrabble Challenge #9:
Q: You're losing the game 381 to 395 and have two letters left (EN). Your opponent also has two letters left (AL). Accounting for the final score adjustment, try coming back to win the game.
A: You're losing by 14 points, but your opponent has 2 points left on his rack. If you go out, you get those points times 2, which means 4 points. So, that means there's a 10-point difference to tie if you use both of your letters, or you can get 11 points to win the game. There are two 11-point moves to win: 3L spelling EN (also UTE and AN) or 9N spelling EN (also PUNTED).