July 6, 2010

Board Games That Don't Bore Me: Scrabble

SCRABBLE is a fun, thinking person's word game. You either like the challenge, or you don't. To me, it's that plain and simple. Of course, having a "thing" for letters, words, and wordplay doesn't hurt, either! Another factor that appeals to me about this game (and this shouldn't come as any surprise to my regular readers), is the sense of order which is created as each player places their letter tiles on the big board's symmetrical grid. And, yes... I do prefer the raised-grid version of the playing board. Otherwise, your letter tiles go all wonky, and where's the order in that??! I'll tell you. Nowhere.

Even though I've played it for many years, I've never managed to score a Bingo. You know, that's when you play a word that uses all seven letters on the rack, and it earns you a bonus 50 points. I have witnessed my mother-in-law do this, however. Aaand more than once! Seriously, she kicks major SCRABBLE-butt!

Speaking of butts... Did you know that SCRABBLE was invented by an out-of-work architect named Alfred Mosher Butts? Funny last name, but obviously a pretty smart guy. Attempting to create a game that would use both chance and skill, Butts combined features of anagrams and the crossword puzzle. He first called it LEXIKO, but then changed it to CRISS CROSS WORDS. To decide on letter distribution, Butts studied the front page of The New York Times and did painstaking calculations of letter frequency. His basic cryptographic analysis of our language and his original tile distribution have remained valid for more than 50 years and billions of games played! (Now, if that alone doesn't make him a smarty-pants...)

Alfred M. Butts, sittin' pretty
atop Alphabet City.

(Is that a leisure suit?!)

CRISS CROSS WORDS, an early version
of SCRABBLE, featured a game board
made of architectural blueprint paper
glued over an old chess board.

(THAT'S ingenuity for you!)

At first, all established game manufacturers rejected Butts' invention for commercial development. Then, Butts met game-loving entrepreneur, James Brunot, who completely loved the concept. Together, they made some refinements to the rules and design, and most significantly, changed the name to SCRABBLE, a real word which means "to grope frantically." The game was finally trademarked as SCRABBLE Brand Crossword Game in 1948, but the first four years were pretty hard. The Brunots rented an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, where with friends they turned out 12 games an hour, stamping letters on wooden tiles one at a time. After a bit, boards, boxes, and tiles were made elsewhere and sent to the factory for assembly and shipping. By 1949, the Brunots had made 2,400 sets on their own and lost $450. As is typical of the game business, the SCRABBLE game gained slow but steady popularity among a comparative handful of consumers. Then in the early 1950s, legend has it that the president of Macy's discovered the game on vacation 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.

In 1952, the Brunots realized they could no longer make the games fast enough to meet the growing demand. So they licensed the well-known game manufacturer, Long Island-based Selchow & Righter Company, to market and distribute the games in the U.S. and Canada.

Is all of this just totally boring to y'all? I like nitty-gritty details, so I tend to get carried away... Seriously, let me know in a comment whether you enjoy detailed posts like this occasionally, or if you'd rather I just "SHUT UP, already!"

Well, long story a bit shorter... In 1986, Hasbro purchased SCRABBLE and has owned it ever since. The End. No, not really. It wasn't "The End" for Alfred M. Butts until he passed away in April of 1993 at the age of 93! Of course, he did enjoy spending the later half of his long life playing SCRABBLE with family and friends. I wonder if during his very last game he was able to go out with a Bingo on his rack like:

I1 A1 M3 D2 E1 A1 D2

Super-Duper-Pricey-Fun-Time SCRABBLE!

For only $600 you can have this deluxe version that
includes a wood-framed board w/raised grid and
turn-table base, 100 letter tiles individually minted
and encrusted with 24k gold, and, of course, spacious
drawers to store them in.

(I want! I want!)

Tiles with style!

Here are the 24k gold encrusted letter tiles. A bit
garish, yes, but also very shiny and quite golden.

I'd better go now. It's my turn to make a word, and I see the perfect opportunity to use a Triple Word Score space...

~All photos via Google Images. History and information via the National Scrabble Association.~


  1. I just left a long comment but I did something wrong and it hasn't appeared. It basically said: write whatever and however you want to write (it's YOUR blog); mentioned that must have found it interesting as I don't always read long blog posts; and didn't know what a leisure suit exactly entailed. Sigh - need to copy every comment before I click things in future(just in case).

  2. I love your clever transitions, like, "Speaking of butts..." and the like. This is a really fun post, and I agree with MoonDoggie that it's YOUR blog and you should write it the way YOU want. I really enjoyed the background about them making the boards by hand at first, in an abandoned schoolhouse. And I'm sorry, but that gold-plated Scrabble is NOT in my budget for your birthday this year. But I'll keep it in mind. ;)

  3. I do enjoy your detailed and interesting posts - and I learned some things I didn't know, so I especially like that. I haven't played Scrabble in SO long! Back in about 1979, my then-boyfriend got us a Scrabble game, the one on a turntable. Years later, I realized I couldn't find it anywhere and figured he must have taken it without my knowledge when we broke up. I was really irritated about it! Years later, after Mother died - I found it in her stuff! I knew it was mine - I must have loaned it to her years before, and didn't remember. So now I have it back - and I really should play it some time! (Oh - and yeah, sorry I blamed the old boyfriend! Not fair.)

  4. I wonder what the commenting problem is, MoonDoggie? It seems like it must be happening on your end because I haven't heard tell of anyone else having the same issue. Of course, that doesn't necessarily guarantee anything... How friggin' frustrating!

    Btw, I took it as quite a compliment that you read my long blog post, despite the fact that you usually don't like reading such long ones. I must be doing "something" right! :)

  5. I'm glad that you enjoy my writing and "clever transitions" as you do, Tommy! And so nice to receive such positive feedback.

    It's sorta like icing on top of the BIG cake for this party I call 'Pop Circus'!

  6. NEVER shut up Anthony, your posts are always so factual and fun. With of course a huge amount of your priceless humor thrown in for good measure. I am so sorry but not being a thoughtful blog-friend. I took time away in parts of May & June for two of my children's graduations.Ever since it seems like I can't keep up. I just may need to sit, relax & pull out the ole' Scrabble board. Hope you are well my friend & enjoying your summer so far?

    If I win the lotto I'm buying you that snazzy, super duper Scrabble board; raised of course! xx

  7. Heidi, your poor, old boyfriend... What did he ever DO to deserve so many YEARS of such undeserved BLAME and ANIMOSITY from you?? Ha, ha! Just kiddin'!

    All that wasted turmoil over a Scrabble game, too... Wow. Oh, well. Live and learn, right? You should probably break out the tiles, soon, in your old boyfriend's honor. ;)

  8. Hey, Dumbwit Deb!

    It's real nice to see ya 'round these parts, again, but you certainly DON'T have to apologize for being away a spell. In fact, I haven't been the best and/or most attentive blogger buddy, myself! I can't even remember when I stopped over to your place, last?

    We do the best we can, and that's ALL we CAN do... Immortal words of wisdom, I know.

    Thanks, Deb, for your support and very kind words, as always! :)

  9. i do love playing scrabble..scrabble is so very educational and at the same time it can enhance your memory..


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