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Scrabble Celebrates 60 Years Of Wordplay



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Scrabble Celebrates 60 Years Of Wordplay

By Nancy K. Crevier

The Lewis family of Newtown is one of the every three American families in possession of a Scrabble game, but Stephen and Loreen Lewis and their children, Julian and Melody, think that their copy is a little bit special.

“We picked it up a couple of years ago at a tag sale in town,” said Ms Lewis. “We love old things, vintage things, and we love Scrabble, so when we saw it, we grabbed it,” she said.

It was not until after they were home and had emptied the tiles out onto the table that they took a closer look at the game and realized they had one of the earlier editions of the game that was marketed originally out of Newtown.

“The copyright for our game is 1949, one year after it went on the market,” said Mr Lewis.

The cover is a little battered, but the board itself is in remarkably good condition, Mr Lewis said, and after counting all of the tiles, they ascertained that not a one of the laminated wooden letter tiles had gone astray in over half a century. “That’s pretty remarkable,” said Mr Lewis.

And during this 60th anniversary of the introduction of Scrabble Brand Crossword Game, the Lewis family sits down together at least once a month to match wits in a heady game of Scrabble, Ms Lewis said. “We are not fanatics about it, but it’s fun, and we do enjoy it very much,” she said.

According to the National Scrabble Association, the word game was the brainchild of Alfred Mosher Butts, a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., architect, who in the 1930s decided to develop a game that would involve skill as well as chance. He came up with a game that he called Lexico, and was later known as Criss Cross Words, but the game was not well-received by mainstream game manufacturers.

His friend, James Brunot of Newtown, however, loved the game. The two joined up to simplify the rules and board design, and changed the name to Scrabble, then trademarked Scrabble Brand Crossword Game on December 16, 1948.

Mr Brunot and his wife Helen rented an old schoolhouse in the Dodgingtown section of Newtown, where with the assistance of friends, the boards, boxes, and individually stamped letter tiles were put together, according to the National Scrabble Association. Mr Brunot’s obituary printed in the October 26, 1984, issue of The Newtown Bee, however, states, “The manufacture of sets started in the Brunot kitchen, but expanded to the Plumtrees School House.” Regardless, Scrabble was initially merely a cottage industry.

It was not until the 1950s that the game took off, when a Macy’s executive, according to legend, put the word game into the big department stores. Before long, the game was being snapped up as frenetically as Cabbage Patch Dolls would be 30 years later.

In 1952, the Brunots, unable to keep up with demand, sold licensing rights to Selchow & Righter of Long Island, a company bought up by Coleco Industries in 1986. When Coleco filed for bankruptcy in 1989, Scrabble was purchased by Hasbro, Inc, owner of Milton Bradley Company.

From those one dozen copies an hour painstakingly created in a small building on the outskirts of town, the game has grown into an international phenomenon. Hasbro now sells between one and two million copies every year in North America alone. It has become a tournament game, with more than 200 sanctioned Scrabble clubs across the United States and Canada, and over half a million children in US schools take part in the School Scrabble Program, competing in state and regional championships.

It is published in English, French, German, Dutch, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, and Italian, each with its own corresponding set of letters, and it has spawned many variations, including Scrabble Jr, Super Scrabble, the Scrabble Travel Game, and electronic versions of the word game.

The cover design of his 60-year-old game is a far simpler one than that of the Scrabble game on the shelves today, observed Mr Lewis. “But the tile holders, the tiles, and the board look virtually the same, and I don’t think the rules have changed, either. It may not be a valuable copy, but we like the idea of the history behind this copy,” he said.

Mr Brunot died in 1984 and Mr Butts in 1993. But Scrabble goes on, and on December 16, that spells H-A-P-P-Y  B-I-R-T-H-D-A-Y for America’s most popular word game.

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