Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by forming words from individual lettered tiles on a game board marked with a 15-by-15 grid. The words are formed across and down in crossword fashion and must appear in a standard dictionary. Official reference works (e.g., The Official Club and Tournament Word List, The Official Scrabble Players Dictionary) provide a list of permissible words.
The name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada. Elsewhere, Scrabble is trademarked by Mattel. The game is sold in 121 countries and there are 29 different language versions. Approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide, and sets are found in roughly one-third of American homes.
The History of Scrabble
In 1938, American architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the game as a variation on an earlier word game he invented called Lexiko. The two games had the same set of letter tiles, whose distributions and point values Butts worked out meticulously performing a frequency analysis of letters from various sources including The New York Times. The new game, which he called “Criss-Crosswords,” added the 15-by-15 game-board and the crossword-style game play. He manufactured a few sets himself, but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day.
In 1948, James Brunot, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut – and one of the few owners of the original Criss-Crosswords game – bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Though he left most of the game (including the distribution of letters) unchanged, Brunot slightly rearranged the “premium” squares of the board and simplified the rules; he also changed the name of the game to “Scrabble,” a real word which means “to scratch frantically.”
In 1949, Brunot and his family made sets in a converted former schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, a section of Newtown. They made 2,400 sets that year, but lost money. According to legend, Scrabble’s big break came in 1952 when Jack Straus, president of Macy’s, played the game on vacation. Upon returning from vacation, he was surprised to find that his store did not carry the game. He placed a large order and within a year, “everyone had to have one.”
In 1952, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to Long Island-based Selchow and Righter (one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game). Selchow & Righter bought the trademark to the game in 1972. JW Spears began selling the game in Australia and the UK on January 19, 1955. The company is now a subsidiary of Mattel, Inc. In 1986, Selchow and Righter sold the game to Coleco, who soon after went bankrupt. The company’s assets, including Scrabble and Parcheesi, were purchased by Hasbro.
In 1984, Scrabble was turned into a daytime game show on NBC. Scrabble ran from July 1984 to March 1990, with a second run from January to June 1993. The show was hosted by Chuck Woolery. The tag-line of the show in promo broadcasts was, “Every man dies; not every man truly Scrabbles.” In 2011, a new TV variation of Scrabble, called Scrabble Showdown, aired on The Hub cable channel, which is a is a joint venture of Discovery Communications, Inc. and Hasbro.
Scrabble was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame at The Strong in Rochester, New York, in 2004.
The Rules of Scrabble
The game is played by two to four players on a square (or nearly square) board with a 15-by-15 grid of cells (individually known as “squares”), each of which accommodates a single letter tile. In official club and tournament games, play is always between two players (or, occasionally, between two teams each of which collaborates on a single rack).
The board is marked with “premium” squares, which multiply the number of points awarded: eight dark red “triple-word” squares, 17 pink “double-word” squares, of which one, the centre square (H8), is marked with a star or other symbol; 12 dark blue “triple-letter” squares, and 24 light blue “double-letter” squares. In 2008, Hasbro changed the colours of the premium squares to orange for TW, red for DW, blue for DL, and green for TL. The original premium square colour scheme is still the preferred scheme for Scrabble boards used in tournaments.
In an English-language set, the game contains 100 tiles, 98 of which are marked with a letter and a point value ranging from 1 to 10. The number of points of each lettered tile is based on the letter’s frequency in standard English writing; commonly used letters such as E or O are worth one point, while less common letters score higher, with Q and Z each worth 10 points. The game also has two blank tiles that are unmarked and carry no point value. The blank tiles can be used as substitutes for any letter; once laid on the board, however, the choice is fixed. Other language sets use different letter set distributions with different point values.
Before the game, a resource, either a word list or a dictionary, is selected for the purpose of adjudicating any challenges during the game. The letter tiles are either put in a bag or placed face down on a flat surface. Opaque cloth bags and customised tiles are staples of clubs and tournaments, where games are rarely played without both.
Next, players decide the order in which they play. The normal approach is for players to each draw one tile: The player who picks the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first, with the blank tiles taking precedence over A’s. In North American tournaments, the rules of the US-based North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) stipulate instead that players who have gone first in the fewest number of previous games in the tournament go first, and when that rule yields a tie, those who have gone second the most go first. If there is still a tie, tiles are drawn as in the standard rules.
At the beginning of the game, and after each turn until the bag is empty (or until there are no more face-down tiles), players draw tiles to fill their “racks”, or tile holders, with seven tiles, from which they will make plays. Each rack is concealed from the other players.
During a turn, a player will have seven or fewer letter tiles on their rack. On each turn, a player has three options:
1.Pass, forfeiting the turn and scoring nothing
2.Exchange one or more tiles for an equal number from the bag, scoring nothing, an option available only if at least seven tiles remain in the bag
3.Play at least one tile on the board, adding the value of all words formed to the player’s cumulative score
A proper play uses one or more of the player’s tiles to form a contiguous string of letters that make a word (the plays “main word”) on the board, reading either left-to-right or top-to-bottom. The main word must either use the letters of one or more previously played words or else have at least one of its tiles horizontally or vertically adjacent to an already played word. If words other than the main word are formed by the play, they are scored as well, and are subject to the same criteria of acceptability.
When the board is blank, the first word played must cover H8, the centre square. The word must consist of at least two letters, extending horizontally or vertically. H8 is a premium square: the first player to play a word receives a double word score.
A blank tile may take the place of any letter. It then remains that letter for the rest of the game. It scores no points regardless of what letter it is designated or its placement on a premium square. But its placement on a double-word or triple-word square does cause the corresponding premium to be scored for the word in which it is used. While not allowed in official or tournament play, a common “house rule” allows players to “recycle” blank tiles by later substituting the corresponding letter tile.
After playing a word, the player announces the score for that play, then draws tiles from the bag to replenish their rack to seven tiles. If there are not enough tiles in the bag to do so, the player takes all the remaining tiles.
After a player plays a word, their opponent may choose to challenge any or all the words formed by the play. The player challenged must then look up the words in question, and if any one of them is found to be unacceptable, the play is removed from the board, the player returns the newly played tiles to their rack and the turn is forfeited. In tournament play, a challenge is to the entire play rather than any one word, and judges (human or computer) are used, so players are not entitled to know which word or words made a challenge succeed.
Online Variations of Scrabble
A number of sites offer the possibility to play Scrabble online against other users. The game is available to play for free at Pogo.com, part of Electronic Arts. The Internet Scrabble Club (ISC), which is free of charge, is frequented continuously by thousands of players, including many of the game’s most renowned experts. The social networking site Facebook had offered an online variation of Scrabble called Scrabulous as a third-party application add-on. On January 15, 2008, it was reported that Hasbro and Mattel were in the process of suing the creators of Scrabulous for copyright infringement. On July 24, 2008, Hasbro filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against the creators of Scrabulous.
On July 28, 2008 the Scrabulous Facebook application was disabled for users in North America, eventually re-appearing as “Lexulous” in September 2008, with changes made to distinguish it from Scrabble. On December 20, 2008 Hasbro withdrew their lawsuit against RJ Softwares. There is also a version in Turkish as a Facebook application named “SKRABL Turkce” which offers only 2 player games.
Mattel launched its official version of online Scrabble, ‘Scrabble by Mattel’ on Facebook in late March 2008. The application was developed by Gamehouse, a division of Real Networks who has been licensed by Mattel. However, since Hasbro controls the copyright for North America with the copyright for the rest of the world belonging to Mattel, the Facebook application is available only to players outside the United States and Canada.
Ownership of the rights to Scrabble by multiple companies is limiting the introduction of the game to Facebook and, between its launch date and April 6, 2008, fewer than 2000 users had registered, compared with 600,000 registered Scrabulous users. As of November 3, 2008, the official Facebook Scrabble game has 203,644 monthly active users. The new “official” application has been heavily criticised in Facebook reviews, particularly by former users of the Scrabulous application which allowed American and Canadian users to play opponents in other countries, which is no longer possible: the Scrabble Beta application is only available in the USA and Canada, whereas Scrabble Worldwide is only available to other countries.
Some have complained that they have been unable to use the new application due to technical bugs and glitches, and many have criticised Hasbro for failing to reach an agreement with Scrabulous developers. In addition, the Facebook version only allows automatic verification of words, making it impossible to play invalid words, and making challenges irrelevant.
RealNetworks has stated that the application is currently in its beta stage and there have been reports of a number of bugs and limitations. The Original Scrabble now exists on Facebook, and was developed by Electronic Arts