Wednesday, April 17, 2013


     Remember the old table version of Scrabble?

     As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have a toy collection and in it are two versions of the Scrabble Board game. This history of this game like many toy histories is quite interesting and leapfrogs from one company to another. In 1938, an architect by the name of Alfred Mosher Butts created the game based on a previous game he had developed called Lexiko. In both games, Butts worked out the point values of the different letters by running a frequency analysis of letters as seen in The New York Times and other sources. He also developed the board and the style of placing the words on the board in a "crossword" style of play. He called the game "Criss-Crosswords" but he was unable to sell the game to any company of the day. He sold a few sets himself but otherwise let the issue drop for a while. Then in 1948 a resident of Newtown, CT by the name of James Brunot who owned a rare copy of Butts' game, purchased the rights for the game and allowed Butts a small royalty for each game sold. He changed the name of the game to "Scrabble" which is a word that means "to scratch frantically." He manufactured 2400 sets but lost money on them. Like many toy histories there was a big break for the game when Jack Strauss, the president of Macy's, played the game while on vacation. He liked it and placed a large order for games for Macy's which turned the money losses to profits. In 1952, Brunot could not keep up with the demand, and sold the manufacturing rights to the game to Selchow and Richter. By 1954, nearly 4 million sets had been sold. In 1955, JW Spears was selling the game in Australia and the UK, but later sold these manufacturing rights to Mattel. In 1972, Selchow and Richter purchased the trademark, but in 1984 sold out to Coleco who soon went bankrupt. Coleco's assets including Scrabble and Parcheesi were sold to Hasbro. Scrabble was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame in 2004.

Here's a photo of the game in full play.
     If you remember from playing this game, 2 to 4 players draw 7 tiles from the 100 tile draw pile and place them in a tray in front of themselves. The play rotates in turns and each player tries to spell a word on the game board, always connecting the new word to at least one previous word on the board. This board consists of squares the size of the tiles arranged in a 15 by 15 pattern. Premium squares placed strategically through out the board provide extra points for the whole word placed using that square or extra points for a letter placed just on the marked square. Originally there were  eight dark red "triple word" squares, 17 pink "double-word" squares, 12 dark blue "triple letter" squares and 24 light blue "double-letter" squares. In 2008, Hasbro changed the colors of the premium squares to orange for TW, red for DW, blue for DL and green for TL. You play until one player has no tiles left. Then the remaining players subtract the values of their tiles from their total score and the person with the highest score wins.

     The board game and handheld tiles with tile tray are still used for tournament play. But playing this living room version of the old game leaves the players entirely to their own devices and vocabularies. There were no computers, Ipads, or Iphones that automatically came up with a game for you, either among your friends or among strangers. Your only accessory was probably a dictionary. And it was too cumbersome to use it to think of words that would fit your needs on the board. So the dictionary was only used if you wanted to challenge the word your opponent put on the board. In fact the directions say that the dictionary is only to be used in a challenge. There was such a rule. You could challenge and if you won, the opposing player lost his turn and in some rules was penalized 10 points off his score and you gained 10 points. We used to come up with the strangest words, some of them made up, but most of them only 3 or 4 letters and having to come from our own vocabulary knowledge base.

     By the way this old dictionary is a small version made to hand out as a company logo gift for Brilliant Bronze Gas Stations. My dad used to haul oil for Brilliant Bronze so he had a lot of these logo gifts. We used this little dictionary quite often when we were playing Scrabble.

     I recently read in my research about the game that at a national championship scrabble tournament in Florida in August, 2012, a young player in the 24th of 28 rounds was caught concealing blank tiles that are used as "wildcards" for any letter, by dropping them on the floor so that he could pick them up later. He was ejected and forfeited all his wins. He was a minor player. Otherwise at tournaments it is hard to cheat. No electronics are allowed in the room or on the person. The player can not use a cell phone during the tournament, No other written material is allowed either. But in smaller less important competitions people have been caught trying to "palm" or hide extra wild card tiles, so that they can use these when they really need to to make a big important word.
     There has been some difficulty getting a game of the so called Original Scrabble up on Facebook and even on other electronic media. That is because the rights to the game are so complex and different throughout the world. Simply, Mattel owns foreign rights and Hasbro owns US rights. Electronic games are played all over the world and it is difficult to control this tendency. Facebook has no border limitations. For a long time, there was a game called Scrabulous on Facebook which had enough changed rules and look to make it different from Scrabble. But now it seems some sort of agreement has been worked out and Scrabble is on Facebook.
    Well, I recently decided to play scrabble on Facebook. I thought it might be kind of fun. I opened the Facebook version of the game. And there along the side of the game board are several accessories. First there is a dictionary which you can open to check for words. Though you don't have a challenge and the computer game itself determines if your word is legal and doesn't let you play a word that doesn't exist, you have the dictionary easily available. But more than that, there are lists of all the two letter words that are legal. You can run through them on the list or you can search them by entering the first letter of the words you are searching for. So this is a little cheat gadget that comes right with the scrabble board. Wow!
     Well, I began to play with a stranger they matched me up with. And the second word out of her turn was the word 'bausond', the next word was' rhea', the third word was 'podite, and the fourth word from my opponent was 'taluks'. I didn't know what any of these words meant. I had never heard of any of them. If I had been playing the old fashioned board way, I would have challenged everyone of them. But since the computer determines if they are legal words before they are put on the board, these were legal words. What the heck is going on? I am an MD, and a fairly well read and well traveled person, and I am being overwhelmed by a stranger with these words. Something is going on. So I started searching on Google. And lo and behold, there are many other gadgets online for playing scrabble and other word games. There are several Scrabble word finders in which you enter your tile letters and any other letters you want to use in your words and all the possibilities come up. You can also find words that use the letter q, the letter z, and the letter x. And if you want to spend the time because this game or this particular play is especially important, you can even enter all the tiles that have been played on your board so far and the tiles in your hand, and the computer will come up with the best solution that uses the most tiles and scores the highest. You don't have to use your brain at all. Would you say this is cheating? It also is a very unsatisfactory way to play the game to me, but if your opponent is actually doing this, you are doomed to a loss.
     On one occasion, I got matched with someone and I didn't recognize the first word he put up there, but it looked French. When I tried to enter a word, none would work. Finally I noticed that the dictionary was different. It was a French dictionary. I was expected to play this game in French. I was trapped and I had to forfeit that game for a loss in my column. Well, chalk it all up to "the learning curve."
     The online version of the game also has a feature called a "bingo" where you win 50 extra points if you can use all of your tiles in a word. I don't think this was available in earlier board versions of the game. There are dozens of computer gadgets that list bingo combinations of letters and advise you how to play the game specifically to collect these letters, aiming for bingos to win rather than large words. Playing this way means you might have to play some single letter low scoring words in order to collect your bingo tiles. This provides a totally different way of playing and also the cheating gadgets become very useful.
     Well, I must admit that in some cases I am now using a Scrabble Word Finder to help remind me of some possible words that might work. I have no desire to enter the entire board into the computer in order to win. And I must admit that I would really rather play the old way and just depend on my inner knowledge. But apparently the use of the gadgets is so universal and ubiquitous that it is kind of a joke. You can't survive out there online without using a gadget. I think that if you are playing with friends, you should come to an agreement about which gadgets can be used, and then stick to that agreement. Since you are playing with friends, there needs to be a certain trust there and then the game can proceed amiably. But with strangers selected by the computer, you just never know what is going on.
     Well, all I can say is that I am amazed at the changes when I think back to the old board game.  Makes my Selchow and Richter sets really seem a part of my antique toy collection now.     

The Ipad version of Scrabble. Also the facebook version
 looks like this one.


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  4. scrabble is a board game, this is good for a brain exercise..just like me, until right now i do still play it cause its very challenging and interesting

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  5. i do love scrabble, since i was young i usually play scrabble with my aunties..i love watching them specially i have gained a lot of helpful tips

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