Angry purists lost for words as new rules allow proper nouns in Scrabble

A NEW edition of the classic board game Scrabble features a rule change, allowing the names of celebrities, places and companies for the first time.

• Picture: TSPL

The official rules of the popular spelling game, sold across the world, have not changed in 62 years.

Use of proper nouns, such as "John", "London" and "Pepsi" have been banned since US architect Alfred Butts invented and trademarked the game in 1948. However, games giant Mattel, which owns the distribution rights to Scrabble, has announced plans to create an edition with the controversial change.

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Players will now be allowed to use proper nouns, which will enable high scores using celebrities' names such as Jordan, Beyonce and Shakira, which previously would have seen a player penalised.

Mattel is also considering allowing players to spell words backwards and upwards on the board, and place words unconnected to other pieces in a move that is likely to infuriate loyal aficionados.

• Commentary: 'This sounds very much like change for the sake of change'

A spokeswoman for Mattel promised that the new rules would be a "great new twist" on the classic game.

She said: "The layout, the colours of the board, the rules and the game itself have all remained unchanged for over 60 years.

"These changes are the biggest news for Scrabble lovers in the history of the game and will provide a great new twist on the old formula.

"We believe that people who are already fans of the game will enjoy the changes and they will also enable younger players and families to get involved.

"Obviously, some people will want to continue playing the old rules so we will still be selling a board with the original rules."

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However, Sue Palmer, a lifelong Scrabble fan and an expert on child development, said: "This smacks to me of a bid to sell something twice. Why can't you just play proper nouns with the current board?

"I have played many variations of the game over many years and have played versions of the game using proper nouns, if everyone agrees beforehand."

Butts began developing Scrabble in New York in the 1930s after struggling to find work as an architect during the Depression.

He initially called his game Lexiko and then Criss Cross Words, but was unable to find a manufacturer willing to produce his idea. Eventually, he sold the rights to entrepreneur James Brunot, who renamed it Scrabble, which literally translates as "to grope frantically".

In 1948, the game was trademarked and since then more than 150 million sets have been sold worldwide. Butts received royalties from sales until his death in 1993.

The original rules have never changed officially – that is until July this year when Mattel releases its modernised version, although a classic version will still be available for purists.

An online version of the game, Scrabulous, became a major hit on social networking website Facebook in 2007.

However, it was forced to shut down in 2008 after accusations of copyright infringement over the name Scrabble.

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Eventually, it re-emerged in 2009 with a name change, to Lexulous, in a nod to the original name given by its inventor.