The History of Scrabble

At Book Riot: DLW, TWS, BINGO: A HISTORY OF SCRABBLE.

This caught my eye because I like Scrabble, a low-key, mildly entertaining game that is a nice way to spend some time every now and then. My brother and I often play it when he’s visiting, often without keeping score. Sometimes we play a version where every word must sound correct, but be misspelled. Many possible variants.

By the way, I now play Wordle, Quordle, and Octordle most days — and I like Octordle best, which I didn’t expect. I know someone commented here about playing these games every day and I’m now in that camp as well.

But back to Scrabble!

An edition of Scrabble is likely to be in your home or in your neighbor’s home, as one in three Americans own it. 

REALLY? What do you think, can that possibly be true? I vote: False. I bet that one in three Americans who took some specific poll or survey own a game of Scrabble, and I bet that’s not remotely one in three homes overall. Maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it.

To pass time, Butts wrote a paper in 1931 identifying the three most common types of games: board games, number games (usually with cards or dice), and letter games. The most popular games at the time were board and number games, though the game Anagrams was a popular example of a letter game. During this time, he happened to be reading a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Gold Bug,” and in it, he noticed a line that showed the English letter distribution — in other words, a line that had the most common letters in the most common distribution. He realized then that a game like Anagrams would be much more fun if letters more common in the English language were also more common in the game.

Ah, a literary connection to Poe! I had no idea.

Lots more at the link — click through if you like Scrabble and are now intrigued about the history of this game.

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10 thoughts on “The History of Scrabble”

  1. 1 in 3 American homes (note the subtle but important difference) comes from wikipedia, of course, which footnotes an unsourced History Channel webpage. Google says there’s 123.6 million American households, which would make 41.2 million Scrabble sets. That… actually, that doesn’t seem too out of line for number of sets sold in the U.S., especially allowing for some journalistic rounding.

    Scrabble is practically a different game when you get competitive about it — memorizing the 1100 or so two- and three-letter words is an entry requirement. I much prefer the low-key version.

  2. I do the Wordle and the Waffle daily: https://wafflegame.net/

    I also permanently have two digital mini-Scrabble (Wordfeud) games going, one in Dutch with a friend and one in English with my youngest aunt. The English one is a lot more fun, both because there are a lot more words allowed but also because we don’t play to block eachother’s options, we like to make long or specially- interesting words, and are very relaxed about it.

    The Dutch Scrabble rules that Wordfeud uses are very strict and limiting, it makes the game a lot less fun.

  3. I do think Scrabble is more fun when everyone sort of cooperates to create cool and/or longer words. I guess I can be competitive in other realms, but not really with Scrabble.

  4. It is probably not too far off. We still have two of those 1950s-era sets in the family; they were very well made. And there have been over 150m sold worldwide. So there are a lot in circulation. (Presumably Hasbro has a good idea of how many there are. (It is probably a mistake to count travel and luxury scrabble as counting towards reach, though.)

  5. Wordle never caught my fancy, though I play occasionally. I do the NYT Xword and spelling bee instead. I just love clever XWord clues, and the tricky Thursday puzzle.

  6. Scrabble is low-key? Um, not when my brother plays it. I don’t care so much about the final score as whether I can figure out the most awesome/ longest word, but he gets really competitive. It is, however, a very fun game. We own two boards ourselves, so the numbers may be skewed a bit by those who, like our family, keep multiples.

  7. I like the speed versions sold as Bananagram or Take Two or Snatch, where you each make your own little crossword on the table in front of you, and the first person to use up all their letters says “Take Two” and everyone has to take two more letters from the pile. Winner is the first to finish when all the letters in the middle are gone. Best strategy involves being willing to rearrange part or all of your crossword in order to incorporate new letters in new words.

    I turned it into a meditative solitaire game for myself over Covid, competing with myself to get the longest and most interesting words. (Rachel helpfully provided some new ‘K’ words with takin and … oh, no, I can’t remember what the other animal was!)

  8. I don’t know what the K animal names might have been, Kim, but a Kea is the famously curious and destructive New Zealand parrot, a Kob is a kind of antelope — several kinds, really — of course a Kudu is a very fancy larger species of antelope, and should someone helpfully play “Spring,” that could be turned into “Springer” — two breeds of dogs — and then Klipspringer, a small antelope. I’ve never managed to do that, but I live in hope.

  9. I like all the Wordle games and find them a low key daily diversion. And when they’re done, they’re done. I also the the NYT Spelling Bee. I start playing in the morning and pop over to it sporadically through the day. When I get the panagram and make genius level I feel GOOD about the day. Sometimes I get a few panagrams. And then I found out there’s a Queen Bee status – when you find all the possible word combinations. My son achieved it once. Now it’s my impossible dream.

  10. I used to play bilingual Scrabble with my dad: any word that was both Dutch and English scored double. I found a score note in the box when I was sorting games to give away (gave away one Scrabble set from the two we owned) which showed we were pretty evenly matched.

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