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Before the daily Wordles and crosswords that could be played from the phone in your pocket, another word game caused that perfect marriage of love and angst. Scrabble, beloved for generations, has spawned numerous iterations, competitions, and online versions. An edition of Scrabble is likely to be in your home or in your neighbor’s home, as one in three Americans own it. But where did the game begin and why do legions of fans still turn to this classic game?
Architect Alfred Mosher Butts is responsible for the earliest iteration of Scrabble. Born in 1899, Butts attended the prestigious University of Pennsylvania and in 1924, moved to New York to work for a firm. It wasn’t long before he was laid off, thanks to the Depression, and in order to make money and find purpose, he tried out several avenues, including writing and painting. Several of his paintings are available to view in the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
To pass time, Butts wrote a paper in 1931 identifying the three most common types of games: board games, number games (usually with cards or dice), and letter games. The most popular games at the time were board and number games, though the game Anagrams was a popular example of a letter game. During this time, he happened to be reading a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Gold Bug,” and in it, he noticed a line that showed the English letter distribution — in other words, a line that had the most common letters in the most common distribution. He realized then that a game like Anagrams would be much more fun if letters more common in the English language were …….