My Favourite Board Games

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Scrabble Factoids

Scrabble, like Monopoly, commercially came about during the depression years, but it was only till 1952 that it became a classic board game.

Alfred Mosher Butts was its creator. He was unemployed architect at the time, and thought of creating a game as he had nothing else to do.

The basis of Scrabble was "letter distribution". This concept focuses on the popularity of a letter used in words of a given language. Butts noticed that some letters are used more often than others in the English language, and assigned a lesser value to the most popular letters, and a higher score value to less popular letters.

First, Butts created a variation to anagrams, with scoring points for each letter. However, Butts himself thought that the game was... well... boring. Then he came up with the idea of placing the letters in a crossword like board, and added the touch of making other words using the words already formed on the board.

The game was taking shape.

Then he added what I think was the touch of brilliance: he added squares on the board that were worth more than normal squares (double score letter, double score word, etc). The year was 1935.

The concept worked for him, and he submitted his game to the major game makers in the USA. However, again... like in the case of Monopoly, they all rejected the game suggesting that it was too intellectual, and that the game would not take off.

It seems that narrowmindedness was prevalent during the depression years in the game makers circle. They had very restricted views of what a successful game should be, and discarded anything that departed from that pigeon hole. Shame!

Butts left his game in the back burner, as he managed to get a job as an architect shortly thereafter.

It was not till 1948 that the game started to take off, but only until a friend of his saw the game's commercial potential. That friend, wasJ James Brunot: Ex Executive Director of the USA's President's War Relief Control.

Both, Butts and Brunot decided to go the "solo" way: they manufactured and distributed their own games.

The first year they ran at a loss of about $450.00 (back in 1948 that was not small bucks), but they did not give up, and the game took off in popularity. The sales grew exponentially each year.

Oh how I wish to lay my hands in one of the first Scrabble sets! If you have a spare one and want to make a kid happy, send me an email to discuss delivery address. ;-)

I'll continue with more Scrabble factoids in my next entry.


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