Clocks for Scrabble

By Richard Buck

Birdseye MapleOak
My hand-crafted analog game timers with digital precision
are now Sold Out. Click here for currently available timers.

Until the early 1990's traditional mechanical chess clocks were the standard timers used for club and tournament Scrabble games. Around that time electronic digital timers began to take over, being seen as more accurate and precise. But an analog display doesn't necessarily have to be less accurate or precise. Quartz electronic timing circuits can output to either a digital or analog display with high accuracy and one second precision. Higher precision to 1/10 second or even less is possible with either digital or analog displays, but would not be meaningful for a Scrabble game timer.

When I looked for an analog chess clock with functional full sweep second hands I couldn't find one, so I decided to make my own.

The main problems were:

  • Obtaining suitable quartz movements. Quartz analog clock movements are inherently very accurate, reliable, cheap, and widely available, but are generally intended for ordinary clocks that run continuously. Very few of them are capable of accurate start and stop timing. The ones I ended up using had to be modified. I had to purchase 4 movements to provide all the parts for each clock. Click here for a picture of a quartz movement before and after my modifications.

  • How to set the hands. The movements come with a knob on the back that sets the minute and hour hands, but not the second hand. The solution was to provide access for setting the hands manually from the front of the clock. This has the added advantage of allowing an ergonomically designed cabinet with a sloping dial face, without having to provide rear access to the setting knobs. The hour hands are left off since they are not needed for Scrabble game timing.

  • A few players were enthusiastic about this design when I introduced it in 1995, at a time when most tournament Scrabble players were still accustomed to using analog chess clocks. Although only 16 of these clocks have been made, their owners include two former North American Scrabble Champions (can you pick them out on my gallery page?) and the average NSA rating of owners is around 1700 (about 95th percentile among all rated tournament players).

    Scrabble Players Picture Gallery
    (Pictures of players using my clocks)

    Unfortunately I no longer feel that I can recommend this design to new players for tournament use, because digital timers have become so prevalent that many of today's tournament players are no longer comfortable with using an analog clock, even though its accuracy and precision is for practical purposes equal to that of the digital models (and is also equally preferable under tournament rules). These clocks also require a little more care to set properly than most digital models - there are 4 hands to set, and the minute and second hands must be properly synchronized.

    The digital timers shown in the table at the bottom of this page will be more familiar and acceptable to most of your tournament opponents, relatively foolproof to set and read, and less expensive than my clocks.

    Sold Out

    I have no clocks remaining in stock, and currently no plans to make more of them.

    A New Analog Alternative

    The Analog SamTimer

    The "Analog SamTimer" is now available from the NSA Word Gear catalog. If this had been available in 1994-1995 I would have most likely bought one and might never have designed and built my own clocks. At $29 it is the best value I've seen in a Scrabble game timer that displays times to the second. With electronic quartz controlled timing it is for practical purposes as accurate and precise as any of the digital models listed below. Although there are now a few other similar chess clocks with second hands, I haven't seen any close to this price, and this is the only one being marketed for Scrabble.

    It does have the following minor disadvantages compared to my clocks above:

    I formerly recommended the Analog SamTimer for club purchases, but because of the last two disadvantages listed above, and because digital timers have become so strongly preferred, I would now go with the Pocket SamTimer, at $49 with available discount, if you can afford it.

    Digital Electronic Game Timers for Scrabble

    When selecting a timer for club and tournament games you might want to consider the likely preferences of your opponents as well as your own. The following are listed in approximate order of preference for tournament Scrabble.

    USD prices are shown as a rough guide, but will vary and discounts are often available. For the most complete and up to date information, follow the links and/or do an internet search.

    Except where otherwise indicated I have personally used these clocks, and I would be comfortable using any of them in a tournament game, with the possible exception of the G8. If you choose a clock that isn't mentioned here, try to at least be sure it is reasonably easy to set to 25 minutes per side and will display times in minutes and seconds counting down to zero, then continue to run and display minutes and seconds in overtime, counting up from zero.

    SamTimer SamTimer, the original and most popular digital timer for Scrabble, has become the de facto standard for tournament and club play. It has many timing modes for other games in addition to Scrabble. Options include different pushbutton color choices, or metal touch buttons that may be of particular value to some disabled players. $109
    Mini SamTimer. My personal favorite. Compact overall size, large clear display, full programmability and optional central elapsed turn time display with hold and courtesy draw indicators. Also available with metal touch buttons as above. $99
    Adjudicator 3500 Adjudicator 3500 is similar in appearance to the above SamTimer models, an in-between size, more limited programming options. $83
    Adjudicator 3000 Adjudicator 3000 is the same as the 3500 except for different, lower profile, lighted pushbuttons, and is available in two colors, light gray or black. $122
    Pocket SamTimer. A lower priced alternative from SamTimer. Not as small as the name might seem to imply. Also has hold, courtesy draw and elapsed turn time indicators. Now available in a variety of pastel colors $59
    Game Time II Excalibur GameTime II is a less expensive plastic unit with most of the Scrabble-specific functions of the above models. These are frequently found on Ebay, but avoid the older model which is less well suited to Scrabble. $40
    DGT-XL is another multi-featured electronic timer, originally for chess, but now including a Scrabble mode (option 21). Looks nice, but I haven't yet actually seen or tried one. It has a large full length rocker arm on top instead of individual pushbuttons. $80
    2Timer 2Timer is also designed with all of the timing functions for Scrabble, including both 20 second hold and 60 second courtesy draw indicators. I have seen this but have not tried it. It is larger than any of the above models. $80
    Duel Timer. A chess clock with a 25 minute countdown+countup mode that works for Scrabble. Nice looking solid wood and brass construction. Three sizes/models with different push button types. $89 to $129
    Phileon 2T-Phileon. This clock has had favorable mention on the UK-Scrabble discussion group, but I have never seen one and cannot find a source with USA prices. 45 Euro (about $55 US)
    The G8 Game Timer is less suitable for tournament Scrabble, but might be an appropriate choice to accompany a travel set, or for more casual game play. It is the only timer I know of that can time more than 2 players (up to 8, but only 2 are displayed at any given time). I have not seen this either but have heard good reports of it from satisfied owners. $25

    I'd be interested to hear from anyone with questions or comments on any of these clocks in particular, game timers in general, amateur clockmaking, or anything on this website.

    Updated December 14, 2004

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