Thursday, April 13, 2006
Happy Birthday, Alfred M. Butts!
Mr. Butts, whose birthday you can celebrate today if you wish, though Mr. Butts is no longer around to join in, was the inventor of Scrabble. The game was really big in the 1950s when I was growing up, and my family played it often in those dimly remembered days before television. Here's a little more Scrabble information, and you can find the whole story here.
"Butts studied the front page of The New York Times to calculate how often each of the 26 letters of the English language was used. He discovered that vowels appear far more often than consonants, with E being the most frequently used vowel. After figuring out frequency of use, Butts assigned different point values to each letter and decided how many of each letter would be included in the game. The letter S posed a problem. While it's frequently used, Butts decided to include only four S's in the game, hoping to limit the use of plurals. After all, he didn't want the game to be too easy!
"Butts got it just right. His basic cryptographic analysis of our language and his original tile distribution have remained valid for almost three generations and for billions of games played.
"The boards for the first Criss-Cross Words game were hand drawn with his architectural drafting equipment, reproduced by blueprinting and pasted on folding checkerboards. The tiles were similarly hand-lettered, then glued to quarter-inch balsa and cut to match the squares on the board."