Sunday, April 13, 2008

Happy Birthday Alfred Mosher Butts – An Ode to Scrabble

April 13th is the birthday of the inventor of the greatest board game ever. The inventor is Alfred Mosher Butts, who would be 109 years old today if he had made it past 93. The game of course, is Scrabble. Scrabble is not just the greatest board game ever because of its perfect design, conception, and playability, but also because of its name. “Scrabble” comes from the Dutch word schrabben, which means “to grope frantically,” which makes you wonder why it's not more popular in the pubescent boy demographic, but it does explain my enthusiasm.

My Mom taught me how to play Scrabble when I was very young and used it to humiliate me regularly. But then I joined the Marines, and beat a lot of Marines at Scrabble that were way tougher than my Mom, and that made me feel a lot better about myself. I actually brought my special “field-stripped” travel Scrabble to Iraq and played every Marine who was willing to play me, but I couldn't get anyone to play me more than once.

One of my favorite parts of Scrabble is when someone plays a word that is legitimate, but totally inappropriate, like rod, tool, shaft, knob, prick, dork, wick, cock, sausage, joystick, member, pecker, dick, jimmy, willy, wang, dong, shlong, baby-maker, yogurt gun, skin flute, custard launcher, love muscle, one-eyed trouser-snake, purple-headed yogurt flinger, ding dong mcdork, heat-seeking moisture missile, and of course, purple-helmeted warrior of love. Then we all laugh nervously, and point out how we are way to mature to make a joke about it, and then someone says, “You mean like . . . “ and we all laugh nervously again. What's even better is playing a word like “tubesteak,” which of course isn't a real word, and making people too nervous to challenge it.

My girlfriend, who will be moving in with me soon, has had the misfortune of having to play both my Mom and I at the same time. She tried to get out of it for a while, but much to her credit, decided instead to throw down, and has since committed herself to getting better than all of us. She won't really be welcome into the family until she beats everyone at least once. Now we play on Facebook with Scrabulous, and being able to play her kids on line is enough to convince my Mom to do something totally crazy for her, like sign up on Facebook. See, even a game invented by out-of-work architect Alfred Mosher Butts, from Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1938 can help propel my generation's parents into the future. Well, at least into the present.

This is the field-stripped travel Scrabble that I carried in Iraq. The tiles, rules, and letter racks are inside the bag, inside the ziploc.