Family clicks on word game

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

Words can be addicting.

I'm not talking about newspaper columns. I'm talking about your basic game of Scrabble.

Joni and I played it when we were kids. Now we're playing it again, this time online with our children.

It's amazing how much time we can spend gazing at the computer monitor, clicking and dragging virtual letters into spaces on a virtual Scrabble board.

It's the ultimate board game, but it's so much better on computer.

Primarily because you don't have to worry about losing all those wooden letter squares.

Our family over the years has had its share of board games in which we have lost board pieces, board cards and the written rules.

Thankfully, none of those letter squares get lost on computer Scrabble.

The computerized version even comes with some helpful computer commands. If that doesn't work, you can always listen to the advise of your wife or children.

Click on "hint" and the online game will offer a hint or two for forming another word. With enough clicks, it will even put the letters on the board for you.

There's also a "shuffle" feature that automatically moves around your letters, a definite help in trying to come up with the best words.

Becca and Bailey love the game. They like it so much it's hard for me to get any time on the computer. When I am playing the game, they're more than happy to come around and take it over.

In today's video world, it's nice to know that something as simple as a word game is still entertaining to folks.

And to think, none of this would be possible if it weren't for Alfred Butts, a Connecticut architect who was out of work in the Great Depression year of 1931.

Butts came up with a game called "Lexico," which consisted simply of tiles with letters, but no board.

The idea was rejected by game manufacturers who clearly didn't believe you could have a good board game without a board.

Butts revised his game, adding a crossword-like board and renaming the game, "It."

The game still didn't catch on until after World II when James Brunot, a former federal war relief official, revised the game and renamed it "Scrabble."

By the early 1950s, the game became a national craze.

Soon after, it spread to England and Australia.

In the 1970s, the British National Scrabble Championships were created. It has become an annual event, attracting thousands of competitors who don't seem the least bit word challenged.

A game like Scrabble clearly makes you appreciate the letter, "Q," a 10-point letter that you won't find in those run-of-the-mill, low-count words.

Those who play this game likely weren't among the students in a "principles and strategies of basketball" class at the University of Georgia in 2001.

The "student" athletes in that class were asked such tough exam questions as how many points is a three-point basket worth and how many halves are in a college basketball game.

Clearly none of those students were Scrabble players.

They couldn't spell success, much less figure out the point count.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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