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What is the History of the Board Game Scrabble?

Scrabble is based off a newspaper crossword puzzle.
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  • Written By: Sheri Cyprus
  • Edited By: Sara Z. Potter
  • Last Modified Date: 22 June 2014
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Scrabble is a brand name crossword-style board game invented by Poughkeepsie, New Yorker, Alfred Mosher Butts. The game was first named Lexiko, then Criss Cross Words, before being trademarked 16 December 1948 as the Scrabble Brand Crossword Game. Scrabble continues to be a favorite game around the world and over one million Scrabble games are sold worldwide each year.

Butts was an unemployed architect at the time he invented the word game that would later become Scrabble. He analyzed all kinds of games and puzzles and discovered three main categories. He found number-centered games such as bingo, move-centered games such as chess, and word-centered games such as the crossword puzzle.

Butts also methodically analyzed a front page of The New York Times to gain an understanding of how often each letter is used. This was important to Butts as he wanted the game to have random letter distribution, but still be challenging. For example, he cut the amount of letter "S" tiles down to four because he thought the game would be too simple with any more than that.

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Butts received many rejections when he went to game companies to get his game developed. Finally, an entrepreneur named James Brunot helped Butts manufacture his game. Brunot came up with the name Scrabble, meaning to "reach or grope with the hands in a frenzied manner." Brunot had family and friends help him stamp the letter tiles by hand to produce the games; first in his living room in Dodgington, Connecticut, and then in an old rented schoolhouse nearby. Brunot lost $450 (USD) as the game seemed to be taking a while to catch on.

When the chairman of Macy's, Jack Strauss, was on vacation in the early 1950s, he played Scrabble and ordered some games for his store. Soon, the supply could not keep up with the demand for the game. In 1952, Brunot had an established game manufacturer called Selchow and Richter produce Scrabble to meet the growing demand. Brunot sold Selchow and Richter the trademark to the game in 1972. Coleco bought the trademark in 1986 and then Hasbro and its games division, Milton Bradley, bought the rights to Scrabble in 1989.

More than one hundred million Scrabble games have been sold around the world. Scrabble is available in Spanish, French, and twenty six other languages. Deluxe, Travel, CD-ROM, and Junior versions for children also sell well. The world's first Scrabble Championship was held in London in 1991 and the second in 1993 in New York City. Scrabble Championships continue to be held both nationally and internationally.

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Discuss this Article

wander
Post 13

This article has been great in helping me teach the kids at my school a bit about the history of Scrabble. I teach ESL and one of my classes favorite things to do is play Scrabble when we have a few free minutes.

I think that Alfred Butts really stumbled onto a great way to teach kids vocabulary without them even knowing they were learning anything. What I do with my ESL kids is let them have access to a dictionary while they play. They can use a word from the dictionary but they have to use that new word in a sentence correctly. This is as a bit of a penalty for not being able to place down tiles on their own.

manykitties2
Post 12

It is really interesting to see the early history of the Scrabble game laid out. Even in my lifetime there have been a lot of variations on the classic game, from the travel version to the new apps that are currently available through your smartphone.

I recently downloaded the Scrabble app and it is amazing what they have done with a simple board game. I can play with people from around the world, or face the computer for a one-on-one match. What I like most about the Scrabble app is the ability to set the level of your opponent. I am not the best Scrabble player right now, so having a beginner level is really helpful.

andee
Post 11

Scrabble is one game I have always enjoyed playing. It is much more fun if you play it with others, but you can even play the game yourself if you want to.

When I got my recent cell phone, there was a free Scrabble game that was included. Of course it wasn't free very long before they told me I would need to purchase the full version if I wanted to continue playing.

By this time I was hooked on it, so of course I had to buy the Scrabble game for my phone. Whenever I have some time to kill, I open up my phone and play a game of Scrabble.

myharley
Post 10

A Scrabble game is always a staple in my game closet. Our family loves to get together and play games, and it just wouldn't seem right if we didn't have a Scrabble game around.

We have had some Scrabble games that get pretty intense. I think one of the reasons my kids are such good spellers is because they played so much Scrabble while they were growing up.

My son called me the other day and told me he even went online to get some scrabble tips so he could beat me the next time we played.

Maybe I better go read up on some tips of my own so he won't get the best of me. I would hate to lose my Scrabble championship.

Esther11
Post 9

The way that the inventor of Scrabble, Alfred Butts, set about to make Scrabble is very interesting. He did it in a very step by step way. Since he was trained as an architect, I can understand why he did it this way.

He thought about number games, games where you moved things around, and word games to figure out a game that had all three.

He figured out what the most common letters in English were to make the right number of letter tiles.

I'm glad he didn't give up when he was trying to market it. It finally paid off.

Misscoco
Post 8

@ BabaB - Call me old fashioned, but I agree with you that it's sad that some of the good traditional board games are being replaced by video and online games.

Even the game of Scrabble can be played by one person online now. Just like you said, it's fun for everyone to play video games some of the time.

But, I think parents should encourage their children to play games like Scrabble with family and friends. It might seem boring to the kids at first, but they'll soon start enjoying the people interaction Scrabble provides.

BabaB
Post 7

Scrabble is really a neat game. I played it as a child and with my own children. It helps you to focus, and to think fast. The game keeps you communicating with the other players. It keeps you on your toes, looking to see if your component has spelled a word wrong, or if they used a non-word - which is always funny.

I wonder how popular this game is today. Scrabble has a lot of competition with video games. I know video games are exciting and addictive, and are great for occasional play.

But, isn't it more fun to play a game like Scrabble and enjoy the stimulation of the game, as well as, interaction with other people?

cloudel
Post 6

I miss playing Scrabble. I used to play it with my parents all the time, and they were good at it, so it was challenging. I think the game helped me with spatial relationships as well as spelling.

My brother and I live several states away from my parents now. I wish that I could play Scrabble with him, but he has dyslexia, so forming words is difficult for him. He tried to play it once, but it made him angry and frustrated.

So, whenever I see my parents on holidays, we always play Scrabble together. I get my fix then, and I know they enjoy it as well.

lighth0se33
Post 5

This story just goes to show the importance of persistence. Just think, if he had given up on his idea within a year or two, he would have forfeited his riches, and I wouldn’t have all those memories of playing Scrabble as a child with my family!

I remember playing it a lot during the week that I had chicken pox. My mother was trying to keep my mind off of it, so she played it with me over and over. It kept my interest. I have always had a love of words, so this game was perfect for me.

Potterspop
Post 4

My children have been brought up with this game, and travel Scrabble accompanies us on all car, train and plane journeys. We've got a couple of different versions, as some are more compact but better suited to a fairly stable mode of transport.

The game is great for increasing their vocabulary, as well as helping with spelling. But most of all it allows for genuine family time communication. I dread the day they start using some form of Scrabble software to play.

yumdelish
Post 3

@Windchime - My brother, who is the king of trivia, tells me that Butts sold the entire package to Brunot. This meant the new owner was free to tweak it and sell it on, keeping all profits from that point.

I don't know how much the idea was bought for, or if Butts ever went on to invent another game, but it was Bruton who took the risks and made Scrabble what it is today.

Windchime
Post 2

I had no idea you could buy Scrabble sets in so many different languages! Considering how many have now been sold I hope the original inventor made a good profit!

Was Alfred Butts still involved with the product when it became a major hit?

Valencia
Post 1

I'm a serious Scrabble online fiend but I had no idea of the history behind the game. I can only say that I'm glad James Brunot stuck with it in those shaky initial stages.

Trying to imagine my day without a few games is impossible. I usually have around fifteen or twenty on the go at any one time! Although I started out playing against friends and family, these days most of my opponents are strangers.

The beauty of Internet Scrabble is you can get to a game whenever you have time. It's the modern way of doing everything I suppose. Now I'm thinking about it, perhaps I should get a regular board game and play in real time too!

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