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How Is the Invention of Scrabble Commemorated in New York City?

No one seemed to know who installed the unique street sign for 35th Avenue in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, back in 1995. But the sign commemorating the birthplace of Scrabble, near where former architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the game in the 1930s, was a source of community pride for years. Just like on Scrabble tiles, there were point values below each of the sign's letters. Then, sometime in 2008, it mysteriously disappeared. When local voters elected Daniel Dromm to the New York City Council in 2009, one of his campaign promises was to get a replacement sign installed. After clearing some bureaucratic hurdles, the Scrabble sign was finally approved, and now proudly stands at the corner of 35th Avenue and 81st Street in Jackson Heights, subtly informing passersby that it would be worth a minimum of 14 points in the game.

Why Scrabble finally took off:

  • Butts originally called the game Criss-Crosswords. He manufactured a few sets himself, but wasn’t able to sell the idea to major game manufacturers in the late 1930s.

  • James Brunot of Newtown, Conn., bought the rights to the game in 1948 and agreed to pay Butts a royalty on every sale. He changed the name to Scrabble, altered the board slightly, and simplified the rules.

  • In 1952, Macy’s president Jack Straus played the game on vacation and was hooked. He placed a large order, but Brunot could not keep up with the sudden demand. Brunot then sold the game to established game maker Selchow and Righter.

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