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Archive for Sunday, January 9, 2005

Scrabble can offer habit-forming fun

January 9, 2005

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Scrabble, anyone? "Oh, I'm not very good at spelling," you may say.

Surprisingly, the inventor of Scrabble admitted, "I'm really a terrible speller. Maybe you shouldn't advertise that fact," the father of the famous and popular game said when he visited a Scrabble tournament in 1983.

Scrabble is to word games as bridge is to card games. It can be played for mere fun or "for blood," whatever the contestants' mood or skill. The basic rules are simple: There are 100 tiles, 98 with letters and two blank. Choose seven and spell a word, playing as many tiles possible either vertically or horizontally. Of course, there are other rules that help increase your score.

The history of Scrabble is fascinating. When Alfred Mosher Butts was laid off his job as an architect in New York in 1931, he had time on his hands and decided to invent a game. He called his first attempt Lexico -- square tiles of wood with letters on them. He approached game manufacturers, including Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley, only to receive rejections. He changed the name and tried to sell it himself, but found it extremely difficult to profit from his venture.

He finally turned to a friend, James Brunot, and Brunot's wife who both decided a board was needed on which to place the tiles, and changed the game's name to Scrabble whose meaning is to grope or struggle. The Brunots also overhauled the rules, and finally presented the game to their friends in its final form.

Meanwhile, Butts had been rehired by the architectural firm and was not dependent on sales of the game as a living. He eventually agreed -- not without royalties -- to have the Brunots produce the game on their own. It gradually gained popularity, and in 1952 the chairman of Macy's learned of Scrabble and placed a large order. Suddenly, demand soared and a million copies were in circulation, 3.8 million by 1954. Sales in 1996 totaled $39 million.

Since being copyrighted in 1948, Scrabble has been sold and re-sold by various companies.

Butts died at the age of 93 in 1993. Although he did not become wealthy from his invention, Scrabble players continue to appreciate his creation. Scrabble is available in 31 languages and is represented in at least 120 countries. The National Scrabble Assn. represents more than 10,000 Scrabble players in the United States and Canada.

You and a friend can enjoy the intimacy of a game of Scrabble, or you may consider having Scrabble be the focus of a party. Ordinarily a maximum of four can play a game, but there are players who bend the rules and include six or eight at one setting. If playing for sheer enjoyment, don't worry too much about scores. It's only a game, you know. However, those who play seriously may reach 400 points at the end of a grueling game.

So, if you're bored or tired of other games, try your hand at Scrabble. You may be surprised to find it's habit-forming. Have fun!

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