Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Love Letters: National Scrabble Day, April 13, 2014

National Scrabble Day, celebrated each April 13, is a day to acknowledge Alfred Mosher Butts for giving us one of the most popular games ever invented. His love of crossword puzzles and chess led him to create an unusual word game that uniquely combined knowledge and strategic thinking.

If Mosher had not lost his job at an architectural firm during The Great Depression, Scrabble may not have been invented. Well, maybe someone eventually would have dreamed it up, but not likely in the same way as Butts. The architect studied the New York Times and put serious analysis into how often each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet got used. He mathematically apportioned the letters out among the tiles. He then assigned a point value to each letter and designed the board which also played into scoring. It was a pretty complicated case of cryptography!

Scrabble was not a slam-dunk success. Game companies weren't interested in producing Butts' creation. So he and his partner James Brunot painstakingly produced tiles and boards themselves by hand in an old Connecticut schoolhouse. The game slowly gained mild popularity, but it was years later in 1952 that it caught a big break. The president of Macy's saw the game being played while vacationing at a resort and ordered it for the store. Scrabble's popularity soared and the rest is history, as they say.

Today, Scrabble is played all over the world in over 121 countries and in 29 languages. While most of us think of Scrabble as a leisurely family game played around the dining room table, there is a surprisingly large contingent of people that play competitively in the U.S. and internationally.

Take Down Under wonder Nigel Richards of New Zealand. He is the 2013 winner of both the National and World Scrabble Championships. In the U.S. he's been the championship winner for the past four years. Having played well over 2,000 competitive games, Richards wins 75 percent of the time with an average score of 460. I might add that he gets some decent monetary compensation for doing it, too!

While the rest of us Scrabble lovers will never make money playing the game or have scores approaching 460, our brains will certainly become rich for the playing of it. All ages benefit from playing Scrabble and, in particular, it has proven to be a very effective teaching tool for children. The educational benefits of Scrabble are:
  • Expansion of vocabulary
  • Learning to spell
  • Use of addition and multiplication in keeping score
  • Development of strategic thinking and planning skills
As a toy store owner, I love games that both entertain and teach. I personally have fond memories of growing up with Scrabble as part of our household stash of games. During holidays and on rainy Sundays, we'd often get a game going. I enjoy the leisurely pace and patiently waiting for everyone to take all the time they need to make a move. At the same time, I like watching the board for opportunities to score big - especially when the luck of the draw yields high-point letters. But most of all, I love the fact that Scrabble brings people together and that the game still has bonding power generation after generation.

So as we celebrate National Scrabble Day, pull your Scrabble game out of the closet and dust off the cover - or stop by Fundamentally Toys and buy a brand new one!

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