“Let’s Play”

(top five images) The board games my family love to play. (next row) The inventor of Scrabble, Alfred Butts. (more on Alfred below); “GEAR” I’ve played this word a thousand times. (next six images) Young and old can play this game at home, in tournaments. I love those two bottom pictures of “Street Scrabble” from a tournament in Seattle. (bottom row) An easy 19 raw points. Actually, it’s possible to get as many as 60 points with this name! Email me if you know where on the board you’d have to be or if you just want me to tell you.


When the thermometer drops like it has these past few weeks, and my motivation to go outside drops too, I like to call the whole family together, head to the closet and pull out one of our favorite board games. Usually we like to make a cozy fire, serve up some hot cocoa (or “adult beverages” depending on the time of day), put out the snacks and head off on some good spirited competition.  Our favorites include (Monopoly – Jackie usually wins, Ticket to Ride – Michelle and Jennifer usually win, Taboo – Katie and Nathan crush us all and while playing Taboo or Scattergories NO ONE WANTS TO BE MY PARTNER!  Jackie has to because she married me!) … and finally  Scrabble – Colleen wins 90% of the time because she is “majoring in words”! Actually, she doesn’t just win she destroys us! I still think this game is one of my favorites! So, I was poking around on the internet this week and discovered that this day in history is when Scrabble formally debuted as a board game.  So, in good KHT fashion, and honoring our coveted PIA (Pain In The @%$) mindset (I’m often found saying “oooh, this is a real pia/hard tile rack to solve”), I dove in and found some fascinating history, rules and fun tips about Scrabble – enjoy, and thanks Wikipedia, howstuffworks.com and onthisday.com for the tidbits.


  1. Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by placing tiles bearing a single letter onto a board divided into a 15×15 grid of squares. The tiles must form words which, in crossword fashion, read left to right in rows or downwards in columns, and be defined in a standard dictionary or lexicon.
  2. The name is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada; outside the United States and Canada, it is a trademark of Mattel. The game is sold in 121 countries and is available in 29 languages; approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide.
  3. In 1938, American architect Alfred Mosher Butts, we talked about him more here, created the game as a variation on an earlier word game he invented called Lexiko. The two games had the same set of letter tiles, whose distributions and point values Butts worked out by performing a frequency analysis of letters from various sources, including The New York Times. The new game, which he called “Criss-Crosswords,” added the 15×15 game board and the crossword-style game play. He manufactured a few sets himself, but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day.
  4. In official club and tournament games, play is between two players or, occasionally, between two teams each of which collaborates on a single rack (the selected letters in play). The board is marked with “premium” squares, which multiply the number of points awarded: eight dark red “triple-word” squares, 17 pale red “double-word” squares, of which one, the center square (H8), is marked with a star or other symbol; 12 dark blue “triple-letter” squares, and 24 pale blue “double-letter” squares (colors may vary).
  5. In an English-language set, the game contains 100 tiles, 98 of which are marked with a letter and a point value ranging from 1 to 10. The number of points of each lettered tile is based on the letter’s frequency in standard English writing; commonly used letters such as vowels are worth one point, while less common letters score higher, with Q and Z each worth 10 points. The game also has two blank tiles that are unmarked and carry no point value. The blank tiles can be used as substitutes for any letter; once laid on the board, however, the choice is fixed. Other language sets use different letter set distributions with different point values. The capital letter is printed in black at the center of the tile face and the letter’s point value printed in a smaller font at the bottom right corner.
  6. 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. Though he left most of the game unchanged, Brunot slightly rearranged the “premium” squares of the board and simplified the rules, and changed the name of the game to “Scrabble”, a real word which means “to scratch frantically.
  7. In 1949, Brunot and his family made 2,400 sets in a converted former schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, a section of Newtown, but still lost money.  According to legend, Scrabble‘s big break came in 1952 when Jack Straus, president of Macy’s, played the game on vacation. Upon returning from vacation, he was surprised to find that his store did not carry the game. He placed a large order and within a year, “everyone had to have one.”
  8. In 1952, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold the manufacturing rights to Long Island-based Selchow and Righter, one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game. In its second year as a Selchow and Righter-built product, nearly four million sets were sold. Over the years, distribution grew worldwide, through purchase trademarks by Mattel and Hasbro.
  9. Players decide the order in which they play. The normal approach is for players to each draw one tile at a time, and place seven tiles on their “rack”, concealed from the other players.  The player who picks the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first, with blank tiles taking precedence over the letter ‘A’.
  10. There are around 4,000 Scrabble clubs around the world.
  11. The first played word must be at least two letters long, and cover H8 (the center square). Thereafter, any move is made by using one or more tiles to place a word on the board. This word may or may not use one or more tiles already on the board, but must join with the cluster of tiles already on the board.  On each turn, the player has three options: Pass, forfeiting the turn and scoring nothing; Exchange one or more tiles for an equal number from the remaining tiles, scoring nothing, (an option available only if at least seven tiles remain); Play at least one tile on the board, adding the value of all words formed to the player’s cumulative score
  12. Numerous records exist, based on points, length of words and multiplier squares.  To find the tops ones, I suggest you google Top Scrabble Scores.  For example, two men set three records for sanctioned Scrabble in North America: the most points in a game by one player (830), the most total points in a game (1,320), and the most points on a single turn (365, for the play of QUIXOTRY).
  13. If a player has made a play and has not yet drawn a tile, any opponent may choose to challenge any or all words formed by the play. The player challenged must then look up the words in question using the selected source a specified word source and if any one of them is found to be unacceptable, the play is removed from the board, the player returns the newly played tiles to his or her rack and the turn is forfeited.
  14. The penalty for a successfully challenged play is nearly universal: the offending player removes the tiles played and forfeits his or her turn. “Double Challenge”, is when an unsuccessfully challenging player must forfeit the next turn. Because loss of a turn generally constitutes the greatest risk for an unsuccessful challenge, it provides the greatest incentive for a player to “bluff”, or play a “phony” – a plausible word that they know or suspect to be unacceptable, hoping his or her opponent will not call him on it. Or a player can put down a legal word that appears to be a phony hoping the other player will incorrectly challenge it and lose their turn.  I must admit that I have been known to play a word or two or three that might be considered “suspect”!
  15. Under North American tournament rules, the game ends when either: one player plays every tile on his or her rack, and there are no tiles remaining in the pile (regardless of the tiles on his or her opponent’s rack); at least six successive scoreless turns have occurred and either player decides to end the game; either player uses more than 10 minutes of overtime.
  16. An introduction to tournament Scrabble and its players can be found in the book Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis. In the process of writing, Fatsis himself progressed into a high-rated tournament player.  The Scrabble Player’s Handbook, edited by Stewart Holden and written by an international group of tournament players, gives the information a serious player needs to advance to successful tournament play.
  17. For the top 20 “must know” big point words, like “za” (accepted for pizza), “muzjinks” (West Indie tribes), and “faqir” (Sufi sect monks) go to: https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/leisure/brain-games/20-words-to-learn-for-scrabble2.htm.  Just reading the list made me laugh out loud…”syzygy” – really??



Antediluvian or Xanthosis?

(top row l) Scrabble really is a fun casual game. (top row r) One of a many many package designs; A tournament in progress. (row two l to r) A more serious side of the game, 2013 National SCRABBLE Champion Nigel Richards (New Zealand) receives a winning check of $10,000; In September of 2016, British man, Brett Smitheram, 37, from Chingford in east London, wins the World Scrabble Championship with an obscure word for a parasitic wasp, Braconid. (rows three, four & five) People all over the world use Scrabble tiles to express their feelings. (bottom row l to r) People love Scrabble so much, there’s an industry making products out of the tiles or inspired by them; The game’s inventor, Alfred Mosher Butts, sitting in hundreds of tiles. Thanks, Al!


Isn’t it funny how we’ve learned to write, word after word, sentence after sentence and then, all of a sudden, stop, wondering if we are spelling a word correctly (sorry Sister Mary. I do, and often use my computer or cell phone to check my best guess attempts. (recieve / receive!) It got me to thinking about an old board game I loved as a kid, named Scrabble. Jackie and my daughters and son in law play this often! – Unfortunately for me, Colleen almost never loses! So, I went online to get a little history on the game, and found that the game was patented in June nearly 80 years ago. I found the history info intriguing and worth sharing. Enjoy, and special thanks to scrabble-assoc.com for the details.

  1. 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.
  2. – Attempting to create a game that would use both chance and skill, Butts combined features of anagrams and the crossword puzzle to create Scrabble, a real word which means “to grope frantically (first called LEXIKO and CRISS CROSS WORDS).
  3. 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.
  4. Established game manufacturers were unanimous in rejecting Butts’ invention for commercial development. When Butts met James Brunot, a game-loving entrepreneur, he became enamored of the concept. Together, they made some refinements on rules and design and, most importantly, came up with the name “SCRABBLE”, and trademarked the game in 1948.
  5. For production 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. Even Selchow & Righter had to step up production to meet the overwhelming demand for the game. As stories about it appeared in national newspapers, magazines and on television, it seemed that everybody had to have a set immediately.
  10. 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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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. I have the turntable edition – and yes you can spin too fast!
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. Experts estimate over 120,000 words that may be used in your scoring arsenal.
  20. Antediluvian (an-ti-də-ˈlü-vē-ən) means “of or relating to the period before the flood described in the Bible” and Xanthosis (zānthō’sĭs) is “a yellowish discoloration JUNE 23 2017of degenerating tissues, especially seen in malignant neoplasms.” (now you know)