One of the board games that we play at home is Scrabble. My six year old loved it, though he is more interested in keeping scores (we let him as it helps with his additions) and we play his tiles for him. To keep him happy keeping scores we let him win most of the time. According to my dad, he and my mom used to play it almost every evening when we were tiny little kids. In those days, remember, there was no television. I remembered the old set we had at home had some missing letters and these were replaced by cutouts from boxes thus enabling us to identify which letters they were. In 1975, I took part in a televised Scrabble competition and our school came second. That was the one and only time I think Scrabble competition was ever televised on RTB.
At the toys and games corner in all the Hua Ho department stores, I was surprised to see that there were many Scrabble versions and that it remained popular even in Brunei despite the expensive prices. In fact throughout the world, I read that despite television and the millions of channels nowadays, Scrabble remains one of the most popular games in history. About 3 million sets are sold each year in 23 different languages. At the US Scrabble Championships more than 800 players competed to win the US$25,000 first prize and US$10,000 second prize. Their devotion towards the game has to be admired as training for the championships can take years as well as countless hours devoted to memorizing thousands of words that ordinary human beings might never even consider using them in a sentence.
Apparently Scrabble was created by a New Yorker named Alfred Mosher Butts. He invented the game after being laid off from his architecture firm during the Great Depression in 1930s. He realised that there were not many games based on letters (there were a lot of numbers based games or dice and other board games). His first attempt was called Lexiko and even though he continually improved on this game by studying words from the crossword puzzles of the newspapers and dictionaries, the big games manufacturer Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley rejected it.
He did not give up and continued to improve the game by adding a board, assigning point values to each letter, reducing the number of tiles, modifying the squares to double or triple the value of the letter and the words and trying various spots for the starting game. He renamed it Criss-Cross Words but still the game manufacturers remained unconvinced.
By then, he was rehired by his old firm and was no longer interested in continuing with the game although he kept on improving the game and continued to sell it in small quantities. After the second world war, he sold the rights to a James Brunot in exchange for royalties. Brunot made several adjustments like the 50 point rule for using all the tiles, changing the colour and most importantly coming up with the new name Scrabble. But sales still fail to materialise until 1952 when Macy's (Macy's is one of the largest department store in US, just in case you don't know) placed a huge order and more than 1 million sets were sold in 1953 and 3.8 million sets the next year. Unfortunately Alfred Butts who died in 1993 never made a fortune from the invention of Scrabble.
I thought the ending was a bit sad as I would consider Scrabble as one of the games that I have loved to enjoy ever since I knew how to play it until now and if it wasn't for the devotion of Alfred Butts, I would have not been able to play it. When I am old and bent (I am getting there already), hopefully the game will continue to help keep my brain active and alive.