Origins of ordinary things: Scrabble

Scrabble is a word game where two to four players score points by placing tiles on the game board forming a word that’s defined in the dictionary.

The board game was invented in 1938, by American architect Alfred Mosher Butts who entwined the elements of anagrams and the classic crossword puzzle into a scoring word game. The first few sets were made by himself and unsuccessfully sold to any major game manufacturers of the day. This is according to

Ironically, Alfred Butts didn’t like to spell, according to New England Historical Society. It took him seven years to come up with the right balance of numbered letters. After determining what he believed were the most enduring games in history — board games, numbers games like dice or cards and letter games like crossword puzzles — he combined all three. He then chose the frequency and the distribution of the tiles by counting letters on the pages of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post.

For more than a decade he tweaked and tinkered with the rules while trying — and continually failing — to attract a corporate sponsor. The Patent Office rejected his application not once, but twice, and on top of that, he couldn’t settle on a name. At first he simply called his creation “it” before switching to “Lexiko,” then “Criss-Cross Words”, according to TIME.

Butts soon met a game loving business man name James Brunot. Together they refined the game design and dubbed the game Scrabble. Brunot’s contributions were significant: he came up with the iconic color scheme (pastel pink, baby-blue, indigo and bright red), devised the 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles to make a word. The first Scrabble factory was an abandoned schoolhouse in rural Connecticut, where Brunot and several other friends manufactured 12 games an hour.

In 1971, Brunot and Butts sold the game’s rights to a company called Selchow & Righter. Butts received a total of $265,000 in royalties; Brunot got nearly $1.5 million. Scrabble has been translated into 22 languages, from Arabic to Afrikaans.

The world’s largest game of Scrabble took place in Britain’s Wembley Stadium to mark the game’s 50th anniversary in 1998. Each tile measured an enormous 6ft square and took two strong men to lift. The game is recorded in the Guinness Book of Records.

The World Record for the most number of games being played simultaneously by one player is held by Malaysian player Ganesh Asirvatham who played 25 games at once. These took place over two and a half hours and he won 21 of the games

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