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Scrabble Day

The popular board game Scrabble is celebrated today, on the birthday of its creator, Alfred Butts. Butts lost his architectural job in 1931, during the Great Depression, and began brainstorming with the goal of creating a game. He organized board games into three categories: strategy games, numbers games, and word games. Realizing most games weren't word games, he set out to make one that everyone could enjoy. He wanted to combine chance and skill, and was influenced by crossword puzzles and anagrams. In his new game, which he called Lexico, words were built by drawing and discarding from letter tiles. Nine letter tiles were held at a time and there was no game board. Between 1934 and 1938, he made Lexiko sets by hand. He tried to license them to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers but was rejected.

He then tweaked the game so that words could be built like a crossword puzzle, and began calling this version Criss-Cross Words. He included common letters more frequently, but made them worth fewer points than rare letters; he only put in four S's, though, as he didn't want easy points to be made by making words plural. He added two blank tiles and lowered the number of letters each person had from nine to seven. Butts sold Criss-Cross Words from his home for $2 a game and drew all the pieces by hand using his architectural draft equipment. He stopped producing the game sometime in the 1940s.

In 1947, Alfred Butts was contacted by James Brunot, who paid Butts a small royalty and put the game back into production in the summer of 1948. Brunot changed the name of the game to Scrabble, which means "to scrape or grope frenetically with the hands." Brunot and his wife Helen began making the games in their home and stamped the letters on each wooden tile. In 1949, they made 2,251 Scrabble games for a loss of $450. Shortly thereafter, a fortuitous event is said to have occurred: an executive of Macy's department store came across the game while on vacation. It is believed this is what made business begin to boom in 1952. Production was moved from their home to an abandoned schoolhouse, and then to a woodworking shop. With the help of others, the Brunots were making 6,000 Scrabble games a week but still couldn't keep up with demand. By the fall of 1952, 37,000 Scrabble games had been sold.

The Brunots licensed the game to Selchow & Righter, which began producing the standard set for three dollars, and marketing and distributing it. They sold 800,000 units of the game in 1953, and in its peak year in 1954, 4 million Scrabble sets were sold. In 1972, Selchow and Righter purchased the rights to the game, and in 1986 they in turn sold them to Coleco. Three years later they were purchased by Hasbro, which owns Milton Bradley. Today there are many versions of the game, such as the junior, electric scoring, standard, deluxe, and travel versions. Hasbro now sells between 1.5 and 2 million sets of the game each year, and the game is in 3 out of 5 American homes.

The National Scrabble Association was founded in 1978 and is now known as the North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA). They hold the North American Scrabble Championship in the United States. This tournament usually lasts 5 days and has about 500 players who compete in 31 rounds. There also is is a World Scrabble Championship, as well as a National School Scrabble Tournament for younger players. Many NASPA members also participate in weekly competitions, keeping Alfred Butts' dream of a word game that many will enjoy alive and well.

How to Observe Scrabble Day

Celebrate the day by playing Scrabble! You may want to get an official Scrabble dictionary so you know which words are acceptable. If you want to get even more involved, you could join a NASPA sanctioned club, or sign up for the North American Scrabble Championship. Younger Scrabble players could sign up for the North American School Scrabble Championship.

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