Word Power: Remembering Scrabble Inventor Alfred Mosher Butts

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Today is National Scrabble Day, and we know you plan to celebrate the occasion by practicing your tile removal technique, memorizing the two-letter words from the Official Scrabble Dictionary, and challenging that shifty-eyed gentleman next to you on the train to settle once and for all just who reigns as the overlord of the quiet car! 

Or maybe not. Still, it’s a good time to recall the man who conceived this enduringly popular game, providing countless hours of quality family time and unnecessary anxiety for those unfortunate souls who keep waiting for a lousy “U” to finally reveal itself.

Alfred Mosher Butts was born on this day in 1899 in Poughkeepsie, New York. The son of a lawyer and a high school teacher, he was a bright child who became editor of his high school newspaper. After studying architecture at Pratt Institute and the University of Pennsylvania, he found a job with the New York City firm of Arthur C. Holden & Associates.

Laid off during the Great Depression, Alfred turned to the idea of inventing a new game, both as a means of providing a distraction for other struggling families and as a possible source of income. Settling on a format of selecting letters to form words, he meticulously tallied the frequency of letters on the pages of publications to calculate the ideal distribution and give his creation “a proper speed and snap.” The early iteration, which had no board, was unveiled in 1933 as “Lexiko.” 

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