Scrabble is one of the most popular board games around. It’s a word game in which two to four players use individual lettered tiles to form words on a game board marked with a 15×15 grid. The lettered tiles are each worth a certain number of points, and the points are added up to get the player’s score for that round. There are also squares on the board that double or triple the points of the tile placed there.
The game was invented by an architect, Alfred Mosher Butts, in 1938. He wanted to make a new game, and analyzed what kinds of games were available. He discovered they fell pretty much into three categories:
- number games, such as bingo, dice;and dominoes;
- move games, such as chess and checkers; and
- word games, such as anagrams.
Butts decided to make a game combining chance and skill, so he used features of crossword puzzles and anagrams to make his game.
To make his new game, he combined parts of doing anagrams and partly how you work a crossword puzzle. 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 English, along with the original tile distribution he worked out to match the letter frequency continue to be valid after all these years.
His first word game was called Lexiko. Later he decided to make a variation with the board and crossword-type game play and named it “Criss-Crosswords”. It featured a game board made of architectural blueprint paper glued onto an old chess board.
Although Butts made a few sets of the game himself, he didn’t have much luck selling the game, and no major game manufacturer would buy his invention. Later, around 1948, he met James Brunot. He owned one of the original Criss-Crosswords games, and bought the rights to manufacture the game from Butts in exchange for a royalty on the sale of the games. Although he left most of the game the same, he did change the rules to make it easier to play. He also slightly rearranged the premium squares and changed the name to Scrabble.
The game was not an instant success. Butts and his family made 2,400 sets of the game that first year, and lost money doing it. However, the game steadily grew in popularity. Then in the early 1950s, the president of Macy’s tried the game while on vacation and liked it so much, he ordered it to sell in his store. That was the tipping point, and within a year, Scrabble was so popular the games were being rationed to stores around the country.