Scrabble is sixty

THERE are no flashing lights, interactive car chases or shoot 'em ups and although it can now be played online, it has steadfastly refused to be corrupted by the digital revolution.

Yet Scrabble – the word game consisting solely of a board and some tiles printed with letters – has endured through the generations to celebrate its 60th birthday this year.

In an era supposedly defined by gawping youngsters plugged into computer games, families still gather around their battered set in a battle for that elusive triple-letter word with 50-point bonus. Nipan Maniar, a games expert, said: "One only needs a pen and paper to play Scrabble – it is that simple.

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"Playing sophisticated computer games is not everyone's cup of tea. It needs financial investment and a technical expertise to play the game on hi-tech devices. Scrabble has been popular and will remain popular due to its simplicity and learning values."

Yesterday, a giant rack and tiles began a UK tour in Trafalgar Square, London, where words such as "chill" were spelled out in an attempt to help commuters beat the midweek slump.

The super-sized show will be at Edinburgh Zoo at the weekend, where organisers promise the word games will be animal-related.

It is a far cry from the game's conception by Alfred Mosher Butts, an architect in the United States during the Great Depression. In 1931, having lost his job and struggling to while away the days in the small town of Jackson Heights, New York State, he decided to explore his passion for games and words.

Combining it with his love of architecture, he came up with Lexico – a game played with letter tiles, but no board.

His patent application, then approaches to manufacturers, were rejected but he persevered, fired by his faith in his product. Over the next five years, he produced 200 games, which he sold or gave away.

Finally, seven years after the initial idea was conceived, he made a breakthrough when he decided to combine it with the concept of a crossword.

Four name changes, including Alph and Criss-Crosswords, ensued and eventually he secured crucial business interest from a fan of the latter.

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The manufacturer James Brunot signed an agreement with Mr Butts to produce the game, with the creator receiving a royalty for each sale. Mr Brunot changed the game only slightly – but one of the adjustments was to change the name to Scrabble.

Word-of-mouth recommendation brought in orders – and then one very important man got hooked. Jack Strauss, the chairman of Macy's, was introduced to the game by some friends, enjoyed it and then found that his department store did not stock it. A year after he began, it was introduced to Australia and the following year to Britain.

Mr Maniar, of Portsmouth University, said the game provided "a vocabulary brainstorming exercise and a vocabulary building tool".

Charlotte Bird, of Scrabble, said the game had "truly stood the test of time. New technology is providing fans with new ways to play and fuelling a love of the game, but we are still seeing a rise in popularity for the board game.

"Most players will confirm that there is nothing more satisfying than the sound of the tiles in the tile bag, or placing your winning word with a steady hand across the triple-word-score square."

Jessie Whyte, the secretary of Cumbernauld Scrabble club who plays regularly, said: "I really didn't know anything about it until one of my friends started going to the club.

"I've been going for a few years and really like it. We've about 19 members and it's been going for about 14 years.

"It gets your brain going and it's a nice group of people. Quite a few of our members have started going to competitions."

When perfection is a word like Caziques

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SALES of Scrabble went from just 2,413 in 1949 to almost four million in 1953. To date around, 150 million sets have been produced.

• 30,000 Scrabble games take place in the world every hour.

• Scrabble has been produced in 29 different languages. The latest was Welsh scrabble, released in 2006.

• The word Scrabble comes from the Dutch word schrabbelan, which means to claw or scrape, perhaps introduced via Dutch settlers in North America.

• When placed end to end, all the Scrabble tiles ever produced would reach the equivalent of eight times around the Earth.

• The Simpsons TV series includes a scene in which Bart plays the bogus word "Kwyjibo" for a huge score, defining it as a "balding North American ape with a small chin".

• The highest number of points that can be scored on the first go in an English language game is 128 – with Muzjiks – which means Russian peasants.

• Dr Karl Khoshnaw had the highest recorded word score – 392 points with Caziques – the plural for a West Indian chief.

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