February 8, 2011


Scrabble (verb): to scratch, claw or grope about clumsily or frantically.
I have a confession—I love Scrabble. Worse yet is to confess that I haven't played the board game with real life friends for quite a while now. I have been playing it—gasp—on my phone. It's so not cool to admit, but there you have it.

Growing up, we always had the standard Scrabble game in our house. The intriguing tile letters, the game board with the center-star and random-seeming colors in the squares. Even the silver bag (where you'd reach in to pick your tiles) seemed exciting. I am easy like that. Currently, I've been bringing the (real) game out for my daughter. She's not quite four yet and has a great time recognizing the letters and making up her own games with it.

I did some research and learned about the original inventor, Mr. Albert Butts. It's a perfect combination of vocabulary, math and strategy, and it's no wonder that the game has stood the test of time. More about the history right here.

I was interested to read that the original letters were silkscreened onto the wooden tiles. While there's a plethora (see?) of information regarding how to play Scrabble, how to make Scrabble-tile art (which, like glued-wood-type collage and typewriter key jewelry, kind of disturbs me), the best two-letter words, strategy, etc., I didn't really find much on the actual making and manufacturing of the game. A "What the font?" question posted (in regards to the san serif tiles) on some type forums popped up, with, "A narrow version News Gothic" as the closest match on the letters, fyi.

One charming anecdote reads, "Mrs. Butts was better at the game than her inventor spouse. Once she scored 234 for 'quixotic'." He admitted that she, "beat me at my own game", literally.

Another letter game that visually struck me as a kid was the Talking Board Game. If you've ever been to a Junior High slumber party, perhaps you've tried it before? Shown above is the first 'modern' version of the Ouija Board. Never before has a simp
le looking game evoked so much opinion and passion from people—still. Ask someone about it, and note their reaction. The origins of the game date back further than I can care to write, but this version was patented in 1891 to Mr. Elijah Bond. Some interesting history regarding the use of the planchette (click here for great pictures) led me to read about the ancient practice of Fuji/Automatic Writing. It was in use during the Ming Dynasty and required a planchette (usually made of willow or peach branch) to receive mysterious messages. There's something about the very-Victorian Design that still makes me oh so happy. Another sidenote was the fact that in 1907 (pre-war), Mr. Bond moved his toy production company to West Virginia, and produced another version of the game called, Nirvana. Similar to the Ouija, this version featured the word, Nirvana placed on top of a swastika (oh the power of symbols) and he even called his company, The Swastika Novelty Company. Of course back then it was still considered a symbol of luck, but coincidence? It never took off…

1 comment:

Joseph Clayton Mills said...

Interestingly, "The Swastika Novelty Company" was the original name of what later became the National Socialist Party (after a brief transitional period in which the organization was known as the National Sociable Swastika Party Novelty Company). Someone decided that "Nazis" sounded cooler than "Swancys", and the rest is history.