Scrabble is a legendary game. It was inducted into the Toy Hall of Fame, the Games Magazine Hall of Fame, it has international championships, its own dictionaries and has had a syndicated daily puzzle which was distributed in hundreds of newspapers.
Not bad, for a game that was almost axed.
The game was created by Alfred M. Butts during the Depression, in 1931. He carved the original tiles and original game board by hand and played the word game with his wife (she usually won.) Inspired by how much both of them enjoyed the game, he tried to market it to game companies. Nobody was interested.
He decided to playtest it further, expanding the group of occasional players and creating some new board and tile sets. Interest expanded. More players joined… and then everything evened off. The game, then called Criss Cross, had peaked. Seventeen years after its creation, with a few hundred people playing, there was simply no more interest in the game…
…which is when one of the players stepped in. James Brunot, a fan of the game and a friend of Butts, had recently retired from his job and was looking for something to do. He entered into an arrangement with Butts to manufacture and distribute the game. Soon enough they were ramped up to full production, producing and selling the recently renamed “Scrabble”.
Sales were immediately better than Butts had managed for the first seventeen years of the game, but after production costs it wasn’t generating much of a profit. To be fair, the sales figures increased every year after that, but after a total of four years Scrabble had sold an average of 19 games per week. The business partners agreed it was time to give up. In 1952, they agreed to stop producing the game.
Also in 1952, a couple of months before the pair was expecting to end Scrabble production, an executive from Macy’s was vacationing at a resort where he saw, and played, the game. He enjoyed his experience and upon returning home went into his store to purchase a copy of the game. Upon discovering that Macy’s didn’t stock the game, he instructed the store to purchase more than a hundred of them… and other Macy’s stores to stock the title, too.
A few weeks from closing shop for good, and more than twenty years after its creation, Scrabble had been saved. It was a nationwide craze by 1954, and continues to be so popular that one of the earliest successful smartphone games was an unlicensed clone of it called Words With Friends.
Question of the night: What was your most memorable gaming win or loss?