Love of Words, Lack of Work Inspired Scrabble Creator

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Alfred Butts, from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., invented Scrabble, one of the most popular board games ever, when he was looking for a job.

Butts, an architect, was, like many other people in America at the time, out of work in the 1930s. A big fan of crossword puzzles, Butts set out to create a game that
would require players to use skill while also depending on chance. His original name for his creation was LEXIKO.

Butts studied newspapers to gauge how often the letters of the alphabet were used in common language, then decided how many of each letter to include in the 100 tiles that make up the game. He based his board on the type of crossword puzzle that appeared in newspapers.

By this time, he had changed the name to CRISS CROSS WORDS. Armed with what he was sure was a success, Butts went to a few American game-makers. The response was unanimous: no thanks.

Undaunted, Butts kept on looking for someone to buy his game. Everything changed when he met a man named James Brunot.

Brunot so loved the idea that he offered money and time to make it a success. Brunot and Butts changed a few things, including some rules and, of course, the name. The game and name were trademarked in 1948.

Sensing something big, Brunot rented an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Conn., and, with his wife, roped a group of friends into helping create the boards and tiles. At first, they stamped letters on the wooden tiles one at a time. The number of sets made in 1949 was 2,400. Not many sold.

Scrabble became popular in the 1950s through a variety of factors. One story has it that the president of Macy's department store became so enamored of the game that he ordered it stocked in every one of his stores nationwide. Awareness of the game also spread through word of mouth. By the 1960s, orders were flooding in. Brunot and Butts sold the licensing to Selchow & Righter Company, a well-known game manufacturer, and production really took off. The rights to the game have since been bought by Hasbro (in North America) and Mattel (everywhere else).

Today, Scrabble is more popular than ever. It is the second-fastest selling board game in the U.S. (behind Monopoly). It is the basis for computer games, mobile phone games, T-shirts, and even furniture. Every
year, tens of thousands of students take part in an American championship. Every other year, even more people strive for the right to participate in the World Scrabble Championship.

Butts, the inventor of the game, died in 1993, having seen his dream of a crossword puzzle board game come true and bring joy (and challenge) to millions of people's lives.

Scrabble Stats

  • More than 1 million: Number of board games sold every year in North America
  • More than 100 million: Number of board games sold all-time worldwide
  • 120,000: Number of words allowed (not counting Trickster)
  • 830: Highest score ever recorded by an individual in a game
  • 1320: Highest score ever recorded by two people in a game
  • 552: Highest losing score ever recorded by an individual in a game (582 won it)

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David White