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Scrabble History

The Mysteries of 60 Years of Scrabble Revealed

Because we have passed the 60th anniversary of its creation, it seems fitting to look back over the years and remember some of the important and not so important events concerning the game of Scrabble.

One bit of information that deserves attention is the number of places where the game of Scrabble is played. The game appears in approximately 30 different languages, making it available to almost everyone.

With that many people having access to Scrabble, it is easy to understand why there are at least 30,000 games started every hour of the day. While one in every three American homes has some form of Scrabble game, over 50% of the families in Great Britain have their own games. Many of these families belong to the more than 4,000 Scrabble clubs located around the world.

With the millions of Scrabble sets sold around the globe, it is easy to understand that not all the pieces are in the sets. In fact, conservative estimates contend that there are more than a million missing tiles spanning the four corners of the world.

As we consider numbers in their more appropriate way of how they represent scores, we might consider the highest one play score that can be made on the first play of the game. The Russian word "muzjiks" will render 128 points if the letters are placed properly on the unfettered board.

How much can be scored on any one play in Scrabble? We owe the highest single turn score in tournament play to Dr. Karl Khoshnaw for "caziques," for which he garnered 392 points. Dr. Khoshnaw passed away in 2006, but he still holds the record. The highest score for a single game belongs to Philip Appleby from the United Kingdom who achieved a total of 1049 points in 1989.

One of the limitations of the game of Scrabble is that its design is for the American language and a 26-letter alphabet. It doesn't seem to be that detrimental for there are work-around ways to play in Chinese and Japanese. They play in English but have a rulebook written in their own language. As another addition to the language situation, Scrabble serves around the world as a means to teach English.

Odd and Unusual Facts and Events

  1. Scrabble is perhaps bigger in the United Kingdom than it is in its birthplace of America. This might have something to do with the fact that Prince Charles' birthday was in the same year as the birth of Scrabble. In honor of the 60th birthday for them both, a portrait of the Prince was created using Scrabble tiles.
  2. Alfred Butts, the inventor of Scrabble, was not a huge success at all of his endeavors. Attempting to follow up on the monumental game invention, he created another game that had similarities to Scrabble. He named it "Alfred's Other Game." The obvious reason you never heard of it is it vanished because it wasn't accepted.
  3. There are more than 120 two-letter words that are legal in Scrabble. In all these words, there is only one letter that is not used. It begins a word that relates to a win. Can you guess it? It is the letter V for victory.
  4. The very first World Championship of Scrabble was held in London in 1991. The Brits were so thrilled to host the affair that they prepared very well for the event. A slight problem did arise when it was time to begin and there were no tiles to play with.
  5. The largest game ever recorded took place in 1998. The location was Wembley Stadium on the 50th anniversary of Arthur Butt's creation of the game. This is noted in the Guinness Book of Records. Each tile took two men to lift and move because they were six feet square.
  6. Over the long tenure of the game's production, there have been many tiles created that add up to enough in quantity to circumvent the earth approximately eight times if they were laid end to end.
  7. Schrabbelan is a Dutch word that marks the root of the American word Scrabble. In its native language, it means to scrape or claw. It probably was brought to North America by the early Dutch settlers.

If you are an old hand at the game, you may already know some of the mysterious facts and odd events associated with Scrabble. Who knows what strange and intriguing additions will be made in the next sixty years of Scrabble history.

The Architect of Criss-Cross Words

On April 13, 1899, Alfred Mosher Butts was born to Allison Butts and Elizabeth Mosher in Poughkeepsie, New York. She was a schoolteacher and he was a lawyer. Alfred spent his entire young life in the same area and became an amateur artist after his graduation from Poughkeepsie High in 1917.

Alfred was educated as an architect, but like many other professionals, he found himself unemployed during the Great Depression. For whatever reason, he decided to create a board game while he was not working, and he determined that all games of his day were either move games (checkers and chess), word games, or number games (bingo or dice). His plan was to create something that played upon vocabulary expertise and mixed in some element of chance.

Crossword puzzles were a distinct influence in the game of Lexico (or Lexiko) that Butts designed. He studied the newspapers to estimate how often each letter of the alphabet occurred in a percentage relationship with other letters.

His conclusions were that "E" was the most often used letter and vowels in general appeared more often than consonants. After deciding that the letters would represent points, Alfred devised a point system where the least used letters received higher point values.

Before marketing his game, Butts decided to rename it to "Criss-Cross Words," which identified it more with crossword puzzles. His design for the board itself has remained steadfast throughout the decades. Using his drafting equipment and architectural skills, Alfred fashioned his game board and made reproductions with a blueprint machine.

Checkerboards proved to be the ideal backing for the overlay. Tiles were hand cut and lettered to be the same size as the squares on the board. Butts used balsa wood in 1/4 inch thickness to make the tiles.

Every game manufacturer that Alfred approached was just as enthusiastic as the other one, and each rejected his idea completely. During this process, James Brunot became a friend and partner to Alfred, and together they fine-tuned the game.

Brunot bought the rights of the game and assigned it its permanent name of Scrabble. The Brunots trademarked it in 1948 and used an old schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut as the factory for the game's production.

Success did not come quickly for the entrepreneurs even though they worked hard and were able to produce up to twelve games per hour with the help of their friends. In 1949, the enterprise lost approximately $450 even though 2400 games came off the production line.

The legend goes that the president of Macy's Department Store happened upon the game while vacationing. He liked it well enough to place an order and began marketing it in his store. Within a brief time, the Brunots could not produce Scrabble sets fast enough for the demand.

All the stores that wanted them had to wait for the supply to catch up to the demand. The mom and pop production facility was no longer able to satisfy the Scrabble hungry nation.

In 1952, the Brunots worked out a licensing agreement with Selchow and Righter Company who had been in the game business for 85 years. Even with their established factories for production, the company had to hire more employees to meet the demand for Scrabble. Twenty years later, Brunot sold the Scrabble trademark to Selchow and Righter.

Eventually COLECO Industries bought Selchow and Righter in 1986, but their fortunes took a downward turn, and bankruptcy came three years later. This set the stage for Hasbro to acquire the assets and they still own them today.

Between one and two million Scrabble sets are sold in North America each year, and worldwide the numbers total more than 150 million. It is said that Alfred Butts played his game of Criss-Cross Words all his life until his death at age 93.

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