The Inventor of Scrabble | Alfred Mosher Butts, 1899-1993

Scrabble inventor Alfred Butts & promoter James Brunot posed with oversized game, 1953

Alfred Mosher Butts (1899 – 1993) was an American architect,
famous for inventing the board game Scrabble in 1938.

In the early 1930s after working as an architect but now unemployed, Butts set out to design
a board game. He studied existing games and found that games fell into three categories:
number games such as dice and bingo; move games such as chess and checkers; and word
games such as anagrams. Butts was a resident of Jackson Heights, New York, and it was
there that the game of Scrabble was invented.

Butts decided to create a game that utilized both chance and skill by combining elements
of anagrams and crossword puzzles, a popular pastime of the 1920s. Players would draw
seven lettered tiles from a pool and then attempt to form words from their seven letters.
A key to the game was Butts’ analysis of the English language. Butts studied the front page
of The New York Times to calculate how frequently each letter of the alphabet was used.
He then used each letter’s frequency to determine how many of each letter he would
include in the game. He included only four “S” tiles so that the ability to make words
plural would not make the game too easy.

Butts initially called the game “Lexiko”, but later changed the name to “Criss Cross Words”,
after considering “It”, and began to look for a buyer. The game makers he originally contacted
rejected the idea, but Butts was tenacious. Eventually, he sold the rights to entrepreneur and
game-lover James Brunot, who made a few minor adjustments to the design and renamed
the game “Scrabble.”

One hundred and fifty million sets have been sold worldwide and between one
and two million sets are sold each year in North America alone.

Braille Scrabble (1980)
“Scrabble – The game is available in Braille. That’s a nice fact. This makes me
feel better about humanity for some reason. I can’t really explain why.”
A. J. Jacobs
Chicago, 1952
“Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.”
Duke Ellington, 1954
(Look Magazine)

Hansel Mieth, Group of people playing scrabble, United States, 1938

“She was sitting by herself at a card table with a Scrabble game half finished,
an empty coffee cup beside her, looking annoyed as hell.”
Mickey Spillane
Vogue 1953
“Brian says you’re very competitive…. He said he wouldn’t want to play Scrabble with you.”
Jonathan Franzen
Roman Polanski – Rosemary’s Baby (1968) | Scrabble scene

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