On the blank tile

There is a very well-known board game in which contestants put words on a grid that interlock, and they score points and play against one another. Each player has seven tiles, each with a little black letter on it, except for a couple of blank tiles that can be used by players as any letter at all–wild cards, so to speak. The playing board is a colorful grid marked with special squares such as “double letter” or “triple word” and players win by using both the grid and their letters to the greatest advantage, which is all very straight-forward, but just like chess, knowing the rules and developing a strategy are two different things. The blank tiles, which show up sporadically, are a strategic mystery in almost every sense. What point value, for example, constitutes using a blank? Thirty, forty, fifty? Or do you only use it for a seven letter bingo which brings in an extra forty or fifty points? The blank tile is a kind of promise for things to come, a bonanza of points yet to be achieved, an investment in the future. Yet, the blank tile is also a mystery because it doesn’t have a value at all–no points are associated with playing the blank. Even a lowly “a” will get you one point any day of the week, but the blank must derive its value from the other tiles being played. The blank tile brings no value of its own, so while it might be a “z” in “zeta”, that particular “zeta” won’t be worth more than 3 or 4 points. So the blank tile continues to be blank in many ways, unwilling to give up its chameleonic identity, blending with the other tiles as players plot their next moves.