Scrabble: could Alfred Butts have imagined the flick action?
This week April 13th, marked the 111th birthday of Alfred Mosher Butts who created the board game Scrabble in 1938. He was an unemployed architect at the time who invented it to pass idle time during the Depression while living in Jackson Heights (Queens) NY. The game was originally called Lexiko and then Criss Cross Word.
After trying and failing once, Butts finally sold the rights to the game to an entrepreneur, James Brunot, who trademarked the game in 1948 with a new name, Scrabble. The following year he made 2,400 game sets but lost $450. It eventually gained popularity in the following years so much so that Brunot could no longer keep up with the demand. He licensed the game to Slechow and Righter in 1952 to market and distribute the game. Wikipedia reports that 150 million sets have been sold worldwide and one to two million sets are sold each year in the US alone.
I have fond memories of playing Scrabble with my dad and brother every weekend after lunch when I was young. I have often wondered why there are so many letter E’s but not Z’s or Q’s. I found that Butts studied the front page of New York Times to determine how frequently each letter was used. He included only four S’s so that the easy move of making the word plural would not be used too often.
72 years after its invention and with the evolution of technology beyond the comprehension of most people alive in those times, the game has been played on electronic media many times over. It has been written and rewritten in many programming languages for the desktop, web (Facebook) and mobile platforms. The most fun iteration I have come across is the latest iPad version of the board game with an accompanying free app called Tile Rack for the iPhone by EAGames. You can play with an online player or a Facebook friend. You and a friend (who also has an iPhone — who doesn’t? ..oh wait, Talia doesn’t) use your iPhone/iPod Touch as a tile rack while the game board is on the iPad! You flick the tile from your iPhone and it lands on the board; then you move it with your finger to the place you want on the board! But in the end it is the memories of the time spent playing it with your family and friends that you remember, not the totally awesome ‘flick’ action.