Scrabble is a board-and-tile game in which two to four players compete in forming words with lettered tiles on a 225-square board – words spelled out by letters on the tiles interlock like words in a crossword puzzle.
Scrabble was conceived during the Great Depression by an unemployed New York architect named Alfred Mosher Butts, who figured Americans could use a bit of distraction during the bleak economic times. After determining what he believed were the most enduring games in history — board games, numbers games like dice or cards and letter games like crossword puzzles — he combined all three. He then chose the frequency and the distribution of the tiles by counting letters on the pages of the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post. For more than a decade he tweaked and tinkered with the rules while trying — and continually failing — to attract a corporate sponsor. The Patent Office rejected his application not once, but twice, and on top of that, he couldn’t settle on a name. At first he simply called his creation “it” before switching to “Lexiko,” then “Criss-Cross Words.”
In 1948, James Brunot, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, and one of the few owners of the original Criss-Crosswords game, bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Although he left most of the game (including the distribution of letters) unchanged, Brunot slightly rearranged the “premium” squares of the board and simplified the rules; he also renamed the game Scrabble, a real word which means “to scratch frantically”.
In 1949, Brunot and his family made sets in a converted former schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, Connecticut, a section of Newtown. They made 2,400 sets that year but lost money.
Then in 1952, legend has it, that Jack Straus, president of Macy’s discovered the game while on vacation and ordered some for his store. Within a year, the Scrabble game was a ‘must-have’ hit, to the point that Scrabble games were being rationed to stores around the country!
In 1952, the Brunots licensed Selchow & Righter Company, a well-known game manufacturer, to market and distribute the games in the United States and Canada. Selchow & Righter stepped up production to meet the overwhelming demand for the Scrabble game.
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. One of the game’s first shrewd moves…
Scrabble has been translated into 22 languages, from Arabic to Afrikaans. Oddly, the game is sold outside the US by Hasbro’s rival, Mattel Inc. By the early 1990s, thanks to its acquisitions of Milton Bradley (maker of Life, Yahtzee and Candy Land) and Parker Brothers (Monopoly, Risk and Trivial Pursuit), Hasbro owned more than half of the $1.1 billion US games market. But in 1993, Mattel outbid Hasbro, paying $90 million for the international rights to the game.
The first world scrabble championship was held in London in 1991 and was played in English. The winner was Peter Morris (USA, b. 1962), who collected a first prize of $10,000.
A Scrabble board measuring with a surface area of 30 m (323 ft) was created to celebrate the 50th birthday of the game and was played on 13 October 1998 in Wembley Stadium, London, UK, by teams comprising UK scrabble champions helping the Army v. the Navy. The letter tiles made from reinforced fibreglass measured 1.5 m (16 ft) and had to be manoeuvred by two people at a time.
Scrabble was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004.
The highest score in a Scrabble club – Michael Cresta (USA) scored a club record of 830 points – against his opponent’s 490 – at the No.8 Scrabble Club in Lexington, Massachussets, USA on 12 October 2006. He played with the wordlist from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary (OSPD). The highest score in a game using the Official Scrabble Words book, which governs play in the UK, is 793 by Peter Preston (UK) in 1999.
The highest losing score in Scrabble – The most games of scrabble played simultaneously was 521 by 1,042 participants from 65 secondary schools and organisations, at an event arranged by Northland Secondary School, Mattel SouthEast Asia Pte Ltd and Schools Scrabble Club in Singapore on 14 March 2006. The event took place at Northland Secondary School, Singapore.