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How an out of work architect invented Scrabble

By: stagedoorscribbler - December 17, 2018

Gyles Brandreth. Photograph by Hattie Miles

As a keen Scrabble player I’ve been enjoying the ongoing celebrations of the ever-popular board game’s 70th anniversary this past week.

I must admit I hadn’t realised that it was invented by an American - an out-of-work architect called Alfred Mosher Butts - and from now on I will argue that American spellings on the board are perfectly acceptable, purist in fact. 

I’m not sure that Scrabble fiend and regular Clive Conway Productions speaker Gyles Brandreth would agree with me though. 

Gyles was much in evidence over the weekend discussing and even playing Scrabble on the radio. He pitched his wits against Rachel Johnson and won. Of course Gyles was gracious enough to insist that though he had the higher score, Rachel had displayed a superior vocabulary.

Hmmm! That’s the thing about Scrabble isn’t it? The idea is to win and if that means deploying two or three letter words to best effect rather than going for what superficially looks the clever stuff, then so be it.

One wonders how proud Mr Butt would be of his invention now, particularly as Scrabble only exists because he was at a loose end after being laid-off during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Curiously though Scrabble - which he originally called Criss-Cross Words - didn’t find a business backer willing to manufacture and market it until 1948.

Even then sales were slow at first but they received a massive boost in the early 1950s when the boss of New York’s famous Macy’s Department Store played the game on holiday and was so impressed that he placed a bulk order. The rest, as they say, is history. Or at least it would be if language wasn’t an ever developing and evolving thing with new words and therefore new Scrabble opportunities appearing all the time.

With this in mind I was particularly grateful for Gyles’ insistence that the word Brexit is under no circumstances allowed on the Scrabble board.  Thank goodness for that. Its inclusion I feel could have wrecked many a happy Christmas.