In the 1930’s Alfred Mosher Butts designed the rules to Lexico. Later renamed to Criss Cross Words, and finally to Srabble, it has sold over one hundred and fifty million sets worldwide. But, new evidence may show that the game, although correct for it’s time, is slowly developing cracks in the modern world.
The key to Butts’ development of his first game (not to be confused by his second and little known other game, ironically entitled “Alfreds Other Game”) was analysis of the English language as a whole. Where better to get straight to the heart of the language than the front page of The New York Times – he thought. So, he analyzed how often each letter was used and, based on the evidence, gave each letter an appropriate score; low scores for letters that occured many times on the front page and high scores for letters that did not. ‘S’ was so overused that he included only 4 of them in the game – far too easy to use.
This was (and has been) the basis for this revolutionary game, its many spawned prize-winning tournaments, and the reason why so many people in the Western world know the word “Qi”.
An American research Joshua Lewis is calling for an overhaul of the values given to letters. “The dictionary of legal words in Scrabble has changed,” he told the BBC, “Among the notable additions are all of these short words which make it easier to play Z, Q and X, so even though Q and Z are the highest value letters in Scrabble, they are now much easier to play.” Lewis has created a program called Valett which recalculates letter scores using a three-fold check mechanism. His recommendations (amongst others) are that X should be devalued from 8 to 5 points, and Z increased from 5 to 6. Such changes could mean the difference between winning and losing.
Europe’s scrabble manufacturer Mattel has declined the change, calling Scrabble a “[…] game of luck […]” and insisting that changing the values wouldn’t change a thing.