I suck at Scattergories. I've played the game dozens of times, and as far as I can remember I have never gotten anything other than last place. Usually the gap between me and the next lowest score is large. I just finished a full 16-round game with a final score of 51. Only 24 words were crossed out due to others having them; 1 or 2 words tops were crossed out due to challenge. That's an average of just 4.7 words that I filled in per 12-word list. I believe that putting something down for each line is the most important aspect of the game, so clearly I'm doing something wrong.

Here are my strategies for filling up the slots on each list:

  • Think of any and all words starting with the letter and find a category that they might fit in, selecting the most obscure category to avoid overlapping with another player.
  • Think of any and all words associated with the category on the list, and see if any of them start with the letter. Usually this involves visualizing the category. For example, with “things in a junk drawer” I visualize my own junk drawer, name each item, and check the first letter for a match.
  • Read the list, the instructions, and any text in the room for words that start with the letter. Any that do, find a category for them if possible.
  • Sound out in my head the letter followed by a common next letter, waiting for my brain to fill in a word. For example, the letter is “S,” so in my head I say “sh...” and “se...” until words like “shout” and “seer” pop up. Then, find a category for that word.
  • Write the first letter to see if my brain will auto-complete a word simply by muscle memory.

You might be tempted to comment, “it's a party game, just have fun with it.” Since I'm not particularly competitive, that's basically what I have done in my dozens of attempts. However, at this point the pattern of suckage is hard to ignore, and I'm quite curious what key aspect of the game I must be missing.

  • Hope that "song titles" comes up with the letter D, and break out "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da" by The Police. 8 points right there. Commented Jul 10, 2016 at 9:08

1 Answer 1


I think your techniques are sound if, first, you've read the categories so they are in the forefront of your subconscious when you consider the letters.

Scattergories is a bit similar to 'Boggle' (Parker Bros.) and 'dig-it!' (Cadaco), in that words one's opponents also use are not scored, but different from Scrabble (Hasbro) in that...well, everyone knows Scrabble. But all these games primarily rely on vocabulary and imaginative thinking (neither of which is improved by your techniques).

Anecdote Alert: My Scrabble play dramatically improved once I got the Scrabble Player's Dictionary (SPD); which I read (past-tense) daily. My other dictionaries didn't have many that are found in the SPD and I never would have known of them otherwise. During gameplay, I let others use the SPD to find words and to challenge mine, I don't use it except for challenges.

I would suggest you do something to increase your Scattergory vocabulary. Because of the aforementioned "duplicates don't count" mechanic the words/terms you'll want are those that don't normally come to mind.

People tend to be predictable in how they think and what they think about. Your goal should be to think differently, outside the mainstream (but not so far you can't defend a challenge), and increasing your Scattergory vocabulary will help do that.

Each day, pick a category (the ones that are most difficult for you), search the internet for a "list of ____", print it out, and scan it 2-3+ times during that day. Don't try to memorize it, just say the words aloud, imagine what it looks like, think about which ones others may not know so well, and you're done. Keep your list nearby during game play in case you're challenged.

For some categories, "lists" may not be practical because they would be too long. (My game is in storage so I'm going to guess...)

IE. "Movie Stars"/"TV Stars", look up ie. "movie/TV stars of the 1940's";

"Boy's Name", look up "boys' names of [pick a country that uses the same/similar alphabet or translates well]...the Old Testament of the Bible works well if the other players are Christian (not Jewish), Greek and Gaelic names might work if one uses the English (not Greek/Gaelic) form, etc.

"Things in a kitchen", also break larger things down to their component parts but make sure those components aren't too ambiguous, ie. "pilot light", "heating coil", "drawer knob", "pot lid", "garbage bag", "dog dish", "sponge", "coffee filters".

If an item appears on a list you don't know, look it up, learn it, and not just for the game but for the sake of learning.

All I'll say about "having fun" and "being competitive" is that games are all about challenging oneself and enjoying the "striving to do better next time". The other players are there for companionship, laughter, randomizing the game, and "fog of war" (FoW).

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