Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Have You Played Scrabble Lately?

I had occasion recently to play a couple of games of Scrabble. Of course, it piqued my interest and I went hunting. Here is some of what I found.

Even though it’s a word game, the real story behind SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game is numbers. One hundred million sets sold world-wide. Between one and two million sold each year in North America. And, of keen interest to legions of passionate players, over 120,000 words that may be used in their scoring arsenal.

The story of the game’s evolution from underground craze to cultural icon is as American as, well, the SCRABBLE game. Alfred Mosher Butts, an out-of-work architect from Poughkeepsie, New York, decided to invent a board game. Analyzing games, he found they fell into three categories: number games, such as dice and bingo; move games, such as chess and checkers and word games, such as anagrams. Attempting to create a game that would use both chance and skill, Butts combined features of anagrams and the crossword puzzle. First called LEXIKO, the game was later called CRISS CROSS WORDS. To decide on letter distribution, Butts studied the front page of The New York Times and did painstaking calculations of letter frequency. His basic cryptographic analysis of our language and his original tile distribution have remained valid for almost three generations and billions of games played.

Established game manufacturers were unanimous in rejecting Butts’ invention for commercial development. Then Butts met James Brunot, a game-loving entrepreneur who became enamored of the concept. Together, they made some refinements on rules and design and, most importantly, came up with the name “SCRABBLE,” a real word which means “to grope frantically.” The game was trademarked SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game in 1948. The Brunots rented an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, where with friends they turned out 12 games an hour, stamping letters on wooden tiles one at a time. Later, boards, boxes and tiles were made elsewhere and sent to the factory for assembly and shipping.

CRISS CROSS WORDS, an early version of the SCRABBLE game, featured a gameboard made of architectural blueprint paper glued onto an old chess board.

The first four years were a struggle. In 1949 the Brunots made 2,400 sets and lost $450. As so often happens in the game business, the SCRABBLE game gained slow but steady popularity among a comparative handful of consumers. Then in the early 1950s, as legend has it, the president of MACY’S discovered the game on vacation and ordered some for his store. Within a year, everyone “had to have one” to the point that SCRABBLE games were being rationed to stores around the country.

In 1952, the Brunots realized they could no longer make the games fast enough to meet the growing interest. They licensed Long Island-based Selchow & Righter Company, a well-known game manufacturer founded in 1867, to market and distribute the games in the United States and Canada.

Even Selchow & Righter had to step up production to meet the overwhelming demand for the SCRABBLE game. As stories about it appeared in national newspapers, magazines and on television, it seemed that everybody had to have a set immediately. In 1972, Selchow & Righter purchased the trademark from Brunot, thereby giving the company the exclusive rights to all SCRABBLE® Brand products and entertainment services in the United States and Canada.

In 1986, Selchow & Righter was sold to COLECO Industries, who had become famous as the manufacturers of the Cabbage Patch Dolls. Three years later, COLECO declared bankruptcy, and its primary assets — most notably the SCRABBLE game and ParchesiTM — were purchased by Hasbro, Inc., owner of Milton Bradley Company, the nation’s leading game company.

Today the game is found in one of every three American homes, ranging from a Junior edition to a CD-ROM with many versions in between including: Standard, Deluxe with turntable, Deluxe Travel, Spanish and French.

Competitive SCRABBLE game play is widely popular much in the manner of chess and bridge. Every year, a National SCRABBLE® Championship is held in a major US city, and on alternate years the World SCRABBLE® Championship is hosted between Hasbro and Mattel. In addition, the National SCRABBLE® Association sanctions over 180 tournaments and more than 200 clubs in the US and Canada.

The next generation of SCRABBLE players is steadily growing with over a half million kids playing the game in more than 18,000 schools nationwide through the School SCRABBLE Program. Hundreds of these students currently compete in state and regional championships across the country. The first annual National School SCRABBLE® Championship was held in Boston on April 26, 2003. Classrooms can also subscribe to the School SCRABBLE® News which includes a teacher edition complete with tested ideas and a lesson plan designed to meet nationally mandated educational goals, and a student issue chock full of feature stories and puzzles.

Alfred Mosher Butts enjoyed playing the SCRABBLE game with family and friends to the end of his life. He passed away in April 1993 at the age of 93

Strange Words Used in Scrabble Defined

From Qi to Kat, Advanced Scrabble Words Given Meaning

When one first plays scrabble, many of the words a more skilled opponent uses seem questionable. Here are a selection of those words that come into question.

Any scrabble player knows that having a strong vocabulary is essential for victory. But often the words used in game are archaic, or one may encounter words that are rarely, if ever, used in the English language. Words like qi, qat, suq, and xi can be big point-earners on the scrabble board, but use them in a conversation and the response is likely to be a blank stare.

So, for anyone who has ever played a game of scrabble, especially online, and been flummoxed by some of the words used: A list of commonly used scrabble words and their definitions, as defined by

2 Letter Scrabble Words, Defined

Aa (noun)- “basaltic lava having a rough surface.”

Ai (noun)- “a three-toed sloth, Bradypus tridactylus, inhabiting forests of southern Venezuela, the Guianas, and northern Brazil, having a diet apparently restricted to the leaves of the trumpet-tree, and sounding a high-pitched cry when disturbed.”

Qi(noun)- a derivative of Ch’i, “The vital force believed in Taoism and other Chinese thought to be inherent in all things. The unimpeded circulation of chi and a balance of its negative and positive forms in the body are held to be essential to good health in traditional Chinese medicine.”

Xi (noun)- “the 14th letter of the Greek alphabet.”
3 Letter Scrabble Words, Defined

Suq (noun)- “A market, or part of a market, in an Arab city.”

Kat (noun)- “An evergreen shrub, Catha edulis, of Arabia and Africa, the leaves of which are used as a narcotic when chewed or made into a beverage.”

An alternate spelling of Kat is Qat. Both work.

4 or More Letter Scrabble Words, Defined

Ogive (noun)- “1. Architecture. a. a diagonal vaulting rib. b. a pointed arch. 2. Statistics. the distribution curve of a frequency distribution. 3. Rocketry. the curved nose of a missile or rocket.

Teiid (noun)- “any of a large group of chiefly tropical New World lizards of the family Teiidae, as the racerunner, caiman lizard, or whiptail, characterized by large rectangular scales on the belly and a long tail.”

Maqui (noun)- “an evergreen shrub, Aristotelia chilensis, of Chile, having toothed, oblong leaves, greenish-white flowers, and purple berries, grown as an ornamental in S California.”

Jupon (noun)- “a close-fitting tunic, usually padded and bearing heraldic arms, worn over armor.”

Naos (noun, plural)- “a temple.”

Baobabs (noun)- “any large tree belonging to the genus Adansonia, of the bombax family, esp. A. digitata, which is native to tropical Africa, has an exceedingly thick trunk, and bears a gourdlike fruit.”

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