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How Did Scrabble Tiles Get Their Values?

Scrabble tiles were meticulously assigned values based on letter frequency in English words, ensuring a balanced game. Alfred Butts, the game's creator, analyzed front-page newspaper letter distributions to calculate each tile's score. Intrigued by the strategic depth these values add? Discover how they shape your favorite word game and possibly enhance your next play. What strategies will you unlock?

If you had run into Alfred Mosher Butts during the Great Depression, you probably would have found him with his head in a newspaper. Butts wasn't necessarily reading; more likely, he was counting letters. Butts was busy coming up with the board game that would come to be known as Scrabble, and to make sure his tiles reflected the letters' frequency of use in American English, he scoured The Saturday Evening Post, The New York Times, and The New York Herald Tribune, counting letters.

Butts then spent more than a decade trying to get a game publisher interested. Finally, a New York man named James Brunot came along, helping to set the rules and come up with the name "Scrabble."

Scrabble inventor Alfred Mosher Butts based the number and value of Scrabble tiles on the letters’ frequency in newspapers.
Scrabble inventor Alfred Mosher Butts based the number and value of Scrabble tiles on the letters’ frequency in newspapers.

From there, Butts, Brunot, and some friends worked tirelessly in an abandoned schoolhouse to put out 12 games an hour. Their red-letter day came in 1952, when Macy's Chairman Jack Straus fell for Scrabble and wanted it for his chain. In no time, Butts et al. were struggling to keep up with demand, pumping out 2,000 boards a week. In 1954 alone, Scrabble sales hit the 4 million mark. The game has remained a big seller ever since, with sales continuing in 121 countries and more than 30 languages. That's how you spell success.

Board game brilliance:

  • The first non-coffee item to be sold by Starbucks was the board game Cranium.

  • The creators of Boggle put the letters F and K on the same cube to prevent anyone from being able to spell a certain swear word.

  • The world record for the longest game of Monopoly is 70 days.

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    • Scrabble inventor Alfred Mosher Butts based the number and value of Scrabble tiles on the letters’ frequency in newspapers.
      Scrabble inventor Alfred Mosher Butts based the number and value of Scrabble tiles on the letters’ frequency in newspapers.