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Scrabble: could Alfred Butts have imagined the flick action?

April 15, 2010

scrabble_logo.jpgThis 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.

-by Noerah

5 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2010 7:51 am

    Happy birthday Alfred Butts. You are my favourite architect. For the new flick action ipad version of the world’s best game I would almost buy an iphone.

    • April 15, 2010 9:13 am

      Okay so as soon as I get the 3G iPad when it comes out end of this month, you can buy the iPhone!!

  2. April 15, 2010 2:32 pm

    Hey, I never thought about downloading this app! I refuse to play with Jeff, because he is AWESOME, and maybe if I play alone I can get better. My mother-in-law plays online… but I think this looks better. Thanks, I would have never thought about this!

    • April 15, 2010 7:36 pm

      This particular one requires an iPad and I don’t think you are thinking of buying one anytime soon. But iPhone has many scrabble games. The way one that my brother uses works is that you play with many people online at the same time and the games go on for days.

      • April 17, 2010 7:12 am

        Yes, I noticed this… But I did go and play with an iPad last week – and it would be perfect in the kitchen! If they would give you the little slip proof halos they were sitting on at the Apple store… My friend Sasa asked, and they said no one had ever asked about that!

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