Synopsis of Toy

You’d have a tough time finding a board game that is as internationally popular as Scrabble. This classic game has become popular enough to sell over 100 million sets worldwide. Fifty years after becoming a hit, it still sells 2 million units a year in the United States. Why does it remain so popular? Simply put, a lot of thought went into the creation of this seemingly simple-looking board game. The end result was a game whose complexity offers the limitless challenges necessary to make it a timeless classic.

Scrabble was invented when an unemployed architect named Alfred M. Butts decided to create a board game during the Great Depression. He did an informal study of popular games and broke them down into three categories: number games (bingo), move games (chess, checkers), and word games (crosswords, anagrams). Butts decided to borrow elements for all three to create a board game that would crossbreed the word game with the element of chance used in number and move games.

The resulting game, which Butts first called Lexiko, applied elements of anagrams and crosswords to a board game format. Players drew seven tiles from a pool of 100 tiles and used them to form words on the square grid that made up the game board. Butts decided how many of each letter would be appear in the tiles by studying the front page of the New York Times to see how often each letter appeared. Thus, letters that appeared less frequently got greater score values.

The game started with the first player building a word of at least two letters using the center tile. After that, the next player would build his own word using one of the letters of the first word, or by adding extra letters to change that word into a new one. Extra points could be racked up by building a word on double or triple score tiles. To keep people from racking up easy scores by pluralizing other player’s words, Butts allowed only 4 ‘s’ tiles in the entire game. After players made a word, they added however many letter tiles were needed to bring their count up to seven again.

Players could also “challenge” a word if they didn’t believe it to be proper. In these cases, a dictionary would be consulted to make the decision. The game would go on until all the letters had been drawn and either a player used his last letter or all possible plays had been done. At this point, everyone tallied up word scores and the person with the highest total was the winner. These rules made Scrabble a very sound and challenging game and, as a result, these rules remain the same today.

After finalizing the game, Butts renamed the game Criss-Cross Words and began shopping it around. Surprisingly, it was not an instant success and would have to wait many years before becoming a phenomenon. The game’s public profile began to heat up in 1948 when Butts joined forces with businessman James Brunot. Together, they refined the design and rules of the game. Most importantly, they settled on a new name: Scrabble. This word, which means “to grope frantically,” would become a part of the international lexicon when Scrabble became a success.

The newly-renamed Scrabble was first manufactured in an old Connecticut schoolhouse at the rate of 12 games an hour. The game’s inventors got their first taste of success in the early 1950’s when the president of Macy’s Department Store discovered the delights of Scrabble while on vacation and began selling them through Macy’s in 1952. By the next year, Scrabble had become an American craze, thanks in part to a nationally-seen newspaper article about the game. To keep up with the demand, Brunot and Butts licensed Scrabble to board game manufactures Selchow and Righter.

By the early 1970’s, Scrabble was a family institution and was also popular in schools for its educational value. Selchow and Righter purchased the rights for the game in 1972. By this time, it was becoming popular in foreign-language versions in countries like France and India. As a result, national Scrabble organizations began to pop up around the world during the 1970’s. National Scrabble Championships began in the U.S in 1978. By the early 1990s, there was also an English language World Scrabble Championship. This ongoing popularity is proof that the world will never get enough of the language-oriented challenges presented by Scrabble.

Release History of Toy

1931 - Lexico
1948 - Scrabble

Sub Categories of Toys

board games

Toy and Game Manufacturer

Brunot & Butts, Selchow & Righter, Milton Bradley

Other Toy Links