In our combinatorics unit in pre-Calculus, we tend to look at every problem as a letter rearrangement problem. This lets us move beyond permutations and combinations to model any problem involving duplicates. I wanted to build a game that had the students quickly calculate the number of arrangements for a given set of letters, so I came up with Letter Scramble.

The idea behind the game is that students have a set of goal cards with the number of arrangements they want to reach, and a hand of letter cards. On each player’s turn they can play a letter card to change the arrangement, and thus change the total possible number of arrangements. (They can also skip their turn to draw more goal cards, a la Ticket to Ride.)

I calculated all the possible answers you could get using 7 different letters and up to 8 slots, including if some of those slots are blank (and thus make disjoint groups), then determined which of those answers repeat at least once, and assigned them scores based on that.

One interesting thing about the gameplay is it promoted relational thinking. Instead of calculating each problem from scratch, you can based it on the previous answer you calculated. (So, for example, if the board read AABBCD, that would be 6!/(2!2!) = 180. But if you change that to AABBBD, one of the denominator’s 2! changes to 3!, which is the same as dividing by 3, so it’s equal to 60. No need to calculate 6!/(2!3!) directly.

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