The history of one of the most popular board games started in New York.
The history of one of the most popular board games started in New York. Rob Williams

Scrabbling to discover the history and joy of word play

WHILE our politicians seem to be running away from playing Scrabble games with some of our newer Australians, (read the latest here) I thought I would delve into the history of one of the most famous board-games in English-speaking history.

Scrabble was invented by Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect from Poughkeepsie, New York.

He decided to invent a board game as you do when you don't have a job to go to.

As he looked at what games were entertaining people he worked out that they fell into three categories:

1. Number games, such as dice and bingo;

2. Move games, such as chess and checkers;

3. Word games, such as anagrams.

With this in mind and incorporating both chance and skill, Mr Butts combined features of anagrams and the crossword puzzle.

 

 

Alfred Mosher Butts invented the Scrabble board game.
Alfred Mosher Butts invented the Scrabble board game. Scrabble Association

The first name he gave this new game was Lexiko, then later changed it to Criss Cross Words.

The values given to each of the letters in the game came about after Mr Butts studied the front page of The New York Times and calculating the letter frequency.

His original tile distribution has remained valid for almost three generatiosn and billions of games played.

The game was finally trademarked SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game in 1948.

Game manufacturers at the time unanimously rejected the new board game but then Mr Butts met James Brunot, a game-loving entrepreneur who also loved the idea of Scrabble.

They made a few refinements on rules and design and also named it Scrabble and went from there.

The going was slow in the first four years of production.

In 1949 the Brunot and Butts made 2,400 games but lost $450.

It wasn't until (as the legend goes) the early 1950s when the president of Macy's department store discovered the game on his holidays and ordered some for his store.

Within a year, everyone "had to have one" to the point that Scrabble games were being rationed to stores around the country.

Today one hundred million sets of the game have been sold world-wide.

Between one and two million are sold each year in North America.

Championships are also held worldwide.

Alfred Mosher Butts enjoyed playing Scrabble with family and friends to the end of his life. He passed away in April 1993 at the age of 93.

Reference: 'History of Scrabble' Scrabble Association (www.scrabble-assoc.com)



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