It's a world square

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 March, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 March, 2002, 12:00am

THE INVENTOR of Scrabble Alfred Butts apparently said that 'if there hadn't been any Depression in the 1930s, there wouldn't be any Scrabble'. He never made any money from what became one of the most successful board games of the 20th century. Butts was an unemployed architect living in New York in the 30s when he began devising a word game using letters printed on small cardboard squares.

THE ORIGINAL GAME was called 'Lexiko' and there was no board. That came later as the game changed its name to 'It' and then to 'Criss-Cross'. Butts made a few sets to sell to friends but no one took any notice until 1948 when James Brunot thought it might have commercial possibilities. He and his wife began making the game in their home in Newtown, Connecticut. They settled on the name Scrabble.

THE BRUNOTS only sold 2,000 sets in their first year and sales remained slow until 1952 when the owner of American department store Macy's store, who had played the game while on holiday, told the toy department to stock it. Other toy shops followed suit.

THE STANDARD set in the 1950s cost about US$3 but Brunot devised a deluxe version with white plastic tiles which cost US$10. These plastic tiles eventually became the norm. The wooden tiles, which were manufactured of maple in Bavaria, had a grain in the wood that players could memorise to help them pick the letters they needed.

IN 1953, Life magazine reported: '[Scrabble] has in the past few months become as Mahjong, miniature golf or Monopoly were in their respective primes (1923, 1930, 1937), and seems likely to surpass them all. In 1975 it was voted 'Game of the Year' by readers of Games And Puzzles magazine.

YOU CAN play Scrabble on the Internet. There are several excellent sites, some with with daily word of the day, daily newspaper articles, word lists, including stems, suffixes, prefixes, unusual word lists, trivia from around the world and tournament reports.

CONSIDER travel Scrabble, a portable version smaller than A4 with a grid that locks tiles into place, even upside down. Don't pack your bags without it.

THE FIRST world championships in Scrabble were held in London in 1991. The 2001 World Scrabble Championship took place in December at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevad and was won by American Brian Cappelletto.

TODAY THERE are versions of the game in French, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Arabic, each with its particular set of letters.

AN EXPERT player can regularly score more than 400 points while it has been calculated that it's theoretically possible to score as many as 4,153 points in a single game. This requires the use of words such as benzoxycamphors, diazohydroxides, and oxyphenbutazone.