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July 6, 2010 > Scrabble


By Suzanne Ortt
Photos By Doris Nikolaidis

Do you like words, crosswords, and anagrams? Chances are that Scrabble, one of the most popular board games in the U.S. as well as around the world, is for you. It provides fun, socialization, and brain exercise.

Scrabble was born in the midst of the Great Depression, Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed New York architect, had an idea. He wanted to invent a game that would combine vocabulary skills and the element of chance. Studiously researching available games, Butts found these categories: number games, including dice and bingo; move games, such as chess and checkers; and word games, exemplified by anagrams. He leaned toward word games.

Continuing his investigation, Butts studied the front pages of the NY Times. He recorded the frequency of the letters of our alphabet, discovering that vowels (a e i o u) were used significantly more than consonants, with "e" being the most dominant. Butts assigned different point values to each letter, then chose how many of each letter would be in the game. The letter "s" was problematic. Although frequently used, Butts put only four in the game. He wanted to limit the use of plurals in order to increase the challenge

In the beginning, the game was called "Lexico" and had tiles but no board. Next, it became known as "It." Then, it was called "Criss Cross Words" and the board was added. Games were hand drawn, reproduced by blueprinting and glued onto folding checkerboards. The letters were also produced by hand and reproduced by blueprinting, glued to 1/4 inch balsa wood. Then the tiles were cut to fit the board squares.

Its evolution was rocky. No publisher could be found, so Butts' friend, James Brunot and his wife started making the games. Their warehouse was an abandoned school in Dodgington, Connecticut. In 1948, the two produced over 2,000 games and changed the name to "Scrabble."

According to legend, in 1952 a Macy's executive played the game while on vacation and wanted his toy department to carry it. Other toy stores followed suit, and the popularity of Scrabble began. The first publisher was Selchow & Righter, but an erratic history followed until Hasbro began distributing it in 1987.

The main objective is to create words. Each player has seven tiles and can build on other words, similar to crossword format. Currently Scrabble Dictionaries are commonly used, but purists may want to use standard dictionaries, such as Webster's or Oxford English Dictionary. One classic word "eryngoes" means any of a genus of plants of the umbel family, with flowers in dense heads and usually stiff, spiny leaves. For a nontraditional word, check out "za" in the Scrabble Dictionary. It means pizza.

Scrabble is played by all ages, and coffee houses and cafes frequently have Scrabble boards available. Game varieties include Scrabble Upwords and Junior Scrabble alongside the classic version.

Teachers even recognize Scrabble as a teaching tool. The game is a pleasurable, unique way to learn spelling, vocabulary, math, and spatial relationship skills. Hasbro teamed with schools to launch the National School Scrabble Program, and since 1992, over 500,000 students have participated. Schools can call (888) 836-7025 for details.

Scrabble is challenging and humorous at times, a pleasant way for all to exercise the brain. If you are a beginner or have not played for years, try the monthly Scrabble Game Nights at the Fremont Main Library. All levels are welcome and the library will provide game boards and a Scrabble Dictionary. Instructions are available for first timers. Get a head start and memorize these words: ayin, milia, serin, wried. You will be glad you did.

Monthly Scrabble Game Nights:
Monday, July 12. (Held every second Monday of the month)
7 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Fremont Main Library
2400 Stevenson Blvd., Fremont
(510) 745-1401

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