The Joy of Scrabble.

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I watched the movie Akeelah and the Bee, which is a 2006 American drama film about Akeelah played by Keke Palmer, an 11-year-old girl who participates in the Scripps National Spelling Bee and eventually wins the competition. Akeelah’s mother in the movie was played by Angela Bassett (one of my favorite actresses) and her coach, Dr. Joshua Larabee (Laurence Fishburne). Prior to viewing the Akeelah and the Bee movie, I had been playing Scrabble sparingly but after seeing the movie, I fell in love with the board game called Scrabble. The game was a natural fit for me as I am incurably curious and always looking for an opportunity to get better.

I have been playing Scrabble since 2003 and it is one of my favorite activities for relaxing. Playing Scrabble is an opportunity to socialize, improve your vocabulary, and ultimately become better at a game. Until recently, I had always thought I was a great Scrabble player as I was not playing with really strong or competitive players. I recently joined a Scrabble club that meets once every week and that has changed my perspective on the game forever. The players in the club are professional players and some of them play three to five bingos per game. Going to the Scrabble club weekly has been a continuous lesson in humility and an eye-opener.

There are 171,476 words in the Oxford English Dictionary. The average educated adult knows about 20,000 of those words. The average top-level Scrabble player knows about 120,000 words. 1


In Is That a Word?: From AA to ZZZ, the Weird and Wonderful Language of SCRABBLE 2, author David Bukszpan writes a brief history of the game of Scrabble.

Alfred Mosher Butts

A thirty-three-year-old architect with diverse interests and an obsessive personality thought Americans could use a new game to help pass the hard times. Alfred Mosher Butts started by writing a three-page “History of Games” in which he made three classifications: “men-on-a-board games” like chess and backgammon, numbers games using dice or cards, and games involving letters and words. Studying the overall landscape of the games industry in the United States, Butts determined that the category that showed the most promise for innovation was word games, of which the prevailing model at the time was a game called Anagrams.

Selchow & Righter

Selchow & Righter, the first established game company to produce Scrabble, was already producing a game called Anagrams when it bought the rights to Scrabble. Anagrams involved players overturning tiles, evenly distributed across the alphabet, one at a time to create words. (Today, Anagrams is most often played with Scrabble tiles, but it is also available for purchase as a game called Snatch It.)

Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug,”

Butts’s breakthrough in improving Anagrams came when he read Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Gold Bug,” in which a character tries to crack a code of symbols to find a hidden treasure. The code is solved by comparing the frequency of certain symbols with their frequency in the English language, starting with that most recurrent of letters, e. Butts realized that a game that took into account the proportion of different letters in English words, instead of simply producing an equal number of each letter (akin to playing cards), would make game play easier, yet still incorporate a strong factor of the luck of the draw.

Lexiko: Lexiko, the first iteration of Scrabble

And so Butts launched into the creation of Lexiko, the first iteration of Scrabble. It’s often said that Butts created the letter distribution by dissecting the front page of the New York Times; actually he used pages from the Times, the New York Herald Tribune, and the Saturday Evening Post. Butts sold the first copies of Lexiko in 1933.

Criss-Cross Words

The game grew in popularity so that Butts had to moil to keep up with Christmas orders, but when he tried selling the game to a large biz, Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, and the publishing house Simon and Schuster all passed. In 1938, he changed the name of the game from Lexiko to Criss-Cross Words.

Lawyers Offer

Butts eventually gave up his search for a buyer, but in 1947 a lawyer made him an offer and bought the rights; Butts would receive a small royalty. (Butts lived out his life collecting checks large enough to live comfortably, but far smaller than one might expect for creating a game that would become—and remain—so incredibly popular.) The lawyer tinkered with the board, farmed out much of the production, and changed the name to Scrabble. The name was chosen in small part for its meaning (to grope about frantically), in large part for its evocation of the word scramble, and certainly not least because there was no similar trademarked name.

Macy’s chairman Jack Straus

Sales continued to rise until 1952, when legend has it that Macy’s chairman Jack Straus played Scrabble during his vacation on Long Island. He quickly became totally taken with it but was surprised to learn that his store didn’t carry the game. He submitted a large order and other stores soon followed suit. By the end of the year, two thousand sets were being sold a week.

Queen of England

 A year later, the Queen of England was spotted buying a set in New York and sales so skyrocketed that the Herald Tribune wrote that 1953 could be memorable for “any number of notable events, from the inauguration of a Republican president to the growth of Scrabble.


Nearly four million sets were sold in 1954, and sales have remained strong ever since, as the American rights were first sold to Selchow & Righter, then transferred to Coleco, and most recent to Hasbro. It’s estimated that worldwide sales are still around three or four million sets per year, with the recent increase in the popularity of online play creating a fresh surge in traditional sets. Scrabble has now sold more than 150 million sets worldwide and can be found in a third of American homes.


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All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.

Lifelong Learner | Entrepreneur | Digital Strategist at Reputiva LLC | Marathoner | Bibliophile |

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