The History Of Scrabble

Scrabble: A Game Of Hastily Scraping And Groping

Scrabble Definition

Verb: scrabbled, scrabbling, scrabbles

Intransitive Verb:
1. To scrape or grope about frenetically with the hands.
2. To struggle by or as if by scraping or groping.
3. To climb with scrambling, disorderly haste; clamber.
4. To make hasty, disordered markings; scribble.

Transitive Verb:
1. To make or obtain by scraping together hastily.
2. To scribble on or over.

1. The act or an instance of scrabbling.
2. A scribble; a doodle.

Source: The Free Dictionary

In the realm of ideas everything depends on enthusiasm...
In the real world all rests on perseverance.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A Brief History of Scrabble: A Story Of Idea, Innovation, And Perseverence

To Lexiko And Beyond

Plato said that necessity is the mother of invention. Mark Twain said that necessity is the mother of taking chances. They may have been referring to Alfred Mosher Butts. In 1931, during the great depression, 32 year old Alfred was unemployed. He was an architect by training. Alfred may have been without work, but he was not without an idea, and what an idea it was. He had always had a keen interest in word games, like anagrams, crosswords and cryptograms, and by 1933, he had developed a game called Lexiko. This game was the precursor to what is now one of the greatest board games in history, the game of Scrabble.

Well, I wasn't doing anything, Butts remembered. That's the trouble. I didn't have anything to do; I didn't have a job. So I thought I'd invent a game. -- Alfred Mosher Butts

The First Lexiko

Summary: 100 letters, letter frequency determined, no letter point values, racks, no board

Lexiko was played with letters in racks, but there was no board and no letter point values. Lexiko had 100 tiles. Alfred analysed the frequency of letters in newspaper text to determine the frequency of letters in the tile letter set. In this way, he matched the frequency of letters in Lexiko roughly to that of the English language. Simple and inexpensive technique, very effective. Scrabble today also uses 100 tiles with the same letter distribution.

Basically, players would select 9 letters randomly, and the winner was first to make a word of a certain length. If a word could not be made, unwanted letters could be returned to the pool, and replacement letters drawn. It would be interesting to see a copy of the original rule set, but so few copies were sold, they may not even exist anymore. Butts tried to find a publisher for the game, but it was rejected by Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and Simon & Schuster. By August 1934, he managed to sell 84 sets of Lexiko, spending $147.00 and bringing in $127.03. Not a win situation. Something had to change.

Man Of Letters.

Things don't go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.
Charles Jones, Life is Tremendous

Scrabble Letter Distribution And Point Values

The game of scrabble is played with 100 tiles. Two of these are blank tiles and can be played as any letter but they have no point value. The other 98 tiles are letter tiles and each is worth something. The letter distribution and values are outlined in the table below. Alfred Butts determined the letter frequency in a game of Scrabble by analysing the frequency of letters in newspapers. This roughly mirrors the frequency of letters in the English language.

LetterCountPoint ValueEnglish Language
Letter Frequency
A9 tiles1 point each8.167%
B2 tiles3 points each1.492%
C2 tiles3 points each2.782%
D4 tiles2 points each4.253%
E12 tiles1 point each12.702%
F2 tiles4 points each2.228%
G3 tiles2 points each2.015%
H2 tiles4 points each6.094%
I9 tiles1 point each6.966%
J1 tile8 points each0.153%
K1 tile5 points each0.772%
L4 tiles1 point each4.025%
M2 tiles3 points each2.406%
N6 tiles1 point each6.749%
O8 tiles1 point each7.507%
P2 tiles3 points each1.929%
Q1 tile10 points each0.095%
R6 tiles1 point each5.987%
S4 tiles1 point each6.327%
T6 tiles1 point each9.056%
U4 tiles1 point each2.758%
V2 tiles4 points each0.978%
W2 tiles4 points each2.360%
X1 tile8 points each0.150%
Y2 tiles4 points each1.974%
Z1 tile10 points each0.074%
blank tiles2 tilesno value

Relative frequencies of letters in the English language.

Lexiko Innovation: Letters with point values.

Summary: 100 letters, letter frequency determined, letter point values, racks, no board

By giving the letters point values, suddenly the game did not end when a long word was played. Word scores could be determined by adding up the letters, and lesser words could be played and counted. Butts's friends liked it, but there was still no interest from the game publishers.

It Was An Innovation On Lexiko

Summary: 100 letters, letter point values, letter frequency determined, racks, a grid game board with premium squares, and intersecting game play

Alfred Butts decided that the game needed a board, a grid board, like chess or checkers. This board had premium squares, where letter values and/or word values were amplified. On this board, word play occurred with words intersecting each other, like a crossword, and you could get points not only for the word you play, but also for crossing words that are created or extended by your play.

This was It. He changed the name of the game to It. Still the game manufacturers showed no interest. It was too complicated, too serious, too high-browed, too slow, not pictorially interesting enough and not glamorous enough. Sometimes, it is not what it is, but who it is. The right person.

When ideas fail, words come in very handy.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

It became Criss-Cross Words

Alfred changed the name of it to Criss-Cross Words. In 1939, a social worker named Neva Deardorff introduced Alfred to a high powered social work administrator, Jim Brunot. Deardorff was a fan of the game, and thought Brunot might want to market it. Brunot also became a fan of the game, but with the outset of World War II, little effort was put into it, but he kept playing it. After the war, Deardorff urged Brunot and his business partner Lester Twitchell to market it. In 1946 or 1947, plans were made to resurrect, rename, and launch the game. One possible name was Logo-Loco. Another was Scrabble. They went with Scrabble. The game was launched in 1949 by Brunots' production and marketing company in Connecticut.

1949 - 2250 sets sold - No profit
1950 - 4800 sets sold - No profit
1951 - 8500 sets sold - No profit

Sales in early 1952 were slow. In the summer of 1952, Jack Strauss, the chairman of the board for Macy's department store in New York City, played Scrabble with some friends. He discovered that his store did not stock the game. Macy's put in a big order, and promoted the game heavily. By 1954, Brunots company had sold 4 1/2 million scrabble games. Not bad for something that began as an idea. Suddenly the game publishers were interested. Selchow and Righter came to an agreement with Brunots company to manufacture and market the standard scrabble set in the USA. Brunot retained the rights on deluxe editions and international versions. It was introduced into Great Britain in 1954, and has been successfully marketed there ever since by J.W. Spear & Sons Limited. It was introduced into Australia in 1953, manufactured and marketed by T. R. Urban. In 1971, Brunot sold off all rights to Scrabble in the USA to Selchow and Righter. Australian rights were sold to T. R. Urban, and British Rights sold to J.W. Spear & Sons Limited.

It would be very interesting to know how much money was made by all of those involved in the history of Scrabble. How did Alfred do? It was his idea, in 1931, during the great depression, that started this world-wide phenomenon now known as Scrabble.

Reference: The Complete Book Of Scrabble, by Gyles Brandeth, 1980

Current Scrabble Ownership

SCRABBLE® is a registered trademark. All intellectual property rights in and to the game are owned in the U.S.A and Canada by Hasbro Inc., and throughout the rest of the world by J.W. Spear & Sons Limited of Maidenhead, Berkshire, England, a subsidiary of Mattel Inc. Mattel and Spear are not affiliated with Hasbro.

Alfred Butts recalls the origins of Scrabble:

For some reason, I thought I might try to invent a game. Perhaps the reason was that Mahjongg came out about that time. It was a right popular game. I was studying games, and it seemed to me there were three different types. There was moving men on a board, like checkers and chess. There was playing with numbers, which is playing cards. There was also one playing with words. Its strange to say today, you look back and you'll find in those days, there was only one word game, and that was Anagrams. Well here's my chance. I'll see if I can't improve on Anagrams. The only score was the number of words. The one that made the most words won the game. Well the thing to do here is to add a score on each letter, then you could get a score for each word, and the one with the highest score of course would be the winner. Well how to assign the score for each letter, that came from cryptograms, and cryptograms depend on the frequency of letters in the English language. I used different words all the time and got a different frequency, and from that frequency I assigned a value to each letter. 'Q' and 'X' being very well with a high count of 10, going down to 'E' and other vowels, scoring only 1. Mahjongg came in a little carton, but didn't have any racks with it to keep the tiles in. You had to buy the racks separately. Well I could do better than that, I'll find a rack for my game, so I went over to the lumberyard on third avenue, and I found a moulding, which was a very fine little rack for my letters, and bought those mouldings for my racks. Now you look at the Scrabble board today and you'll find almost exactly the same thing. They could make anything they wanted to, but they used the same profile that I did for my ...

See Alfred Butts recall the origins of Scrabble, video here.

He Made Living On The Alphabet
Living On A Letter At 91

Excerpt from Alfred Butts Remembered by John D Williams, Co-Author of Everything SCRABBLE

My last memory of Alfred Mosher Butts is from June 1991. I was in a nursing-home parking lot a few miles outside of Poughkeepsie, NY. Just before we left the car, my host, Alfred’s great-nephew Robert Butts, opened the glove compartment of his car and pulled out a giant bag of M&Ms. Alfred is ninety-one years old, he said, and I think these things keep him going.

Whatever it takes, I told him, hoping I’m eating M&Ms at ninety-one.

How ironic, I thought, that the man who invented the SCRABBLE game, Alfred Mosher Butts, was surviving on a candy named after a letter of the alphabet.

Alfred Mosher Butts
April 13, 1899 - April 4, 1993

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Bee Gees - Words

The Box Tops - The Letter

Man who speaks only the ends of words (Monty Python)

Woody and Tinny Words (Monty Python)

Literary Football (Monty Python)

Problem with words, Thripshaw's Disease (Monty Python)

The Man Who Talks in Anagrams (Monty Python)

Crossword (The Two Ronnies)

The Confusing Library (The Two Ronnies)

SPAM: The origin of the word (Monty Python)

Beekeeping (John Cleese and Rowan Atkinson)

Words Don't Come Easy (F. R. David)

Word Crimes (Weird Al Yankovic)

What Are Words (Chris Medina)

Please Read The Letter (Robert Plant, Alison Krauss)

Take A Letter Maria (R.B. Greaves)

A local ordinance in Atwoodville, Connecticut prohibits anyone from playing Scrabble while waiting for a politician to speak.

Maybe in order to understand mankind we have to look at that word itself. MANKIND. Basically, it's made up of two separate words 'mank' and 'ind.' What do these words mean? It's a mystery and that's why so is mankind.
Jack Handy