“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??



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