Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Playing Scrabble for the love of words January 20, 2012

Letters from a 1960s Scrabble for Juniors game. The player who laid down a tile to complete a word printed on the game board earned a red counter. The player with the most counters won the game.

MY FINGERS SLIDE across the smooth, one-eighth-inch thick, blue cardboard squares imprinted with letters. B, M, C, R, O, A…and the dreaded Q, if I’m without a U.

In these tile letters, I touch childhood memories of gathering around the Formica kitchen table set upon worn red-and-white linoleum tiles to play Scrabble for Juniors.

The cover of the vintage Scrabble game for kids from my childhood.

It is the early 1960s and this “crossword game for children” manufactured by Selchow & Richter Company, Bay Shore, N.Y., marks my introduction to Scrabble, which today, in the grown-up version, remains my favorite board game.

Imagine that.

Imagine then me, a wee wisp of a grade school girl leaning across the table to snatch letters from a box lid, shaping those letters into a word and then, triumphantly, carefully, lining the letters upon the playing board, all the while scolding my siblings for bumping the table.

To play on this side of the vintage Scrabble board, players laid letters down to complete the pre-printed words. Lay down the last letter tile in a word, and you earned a red counter chip.

The 1960s Scrabble box cover includes an image of a cowboy at a time when television westerns were popular.

On the flip side of the vintage board, players created their own words, earning one point for each tile in each word formed or modified. As I recall, I couldn't get my siblings to play this side of the board too often.

While I’m certain my brothers and sisters wanted to win, I doubt their interest in this word game ever matched my passion. I delighted in unscrambling the letters into words. Words. Glorious words. Through my cat-eye glasses, I could envision the possibilities.

My earliest memories are of words read aloud from books. Books. Glorious books. At age four, after surgery to correct crossed eyes, I remember Dr. Fritsche at the New Ulm hospital asking me to look at a book. I could see. The pages. The words. The pictures.

Can you imagine how my parents must have worried about their little girl’s vision, how, as a poor farm family they scraped together enough money for the surgery that would keep me from going blind in one eye? I am, to this day, grateful for the gift of sight.

Those are my thoughts on this morning, the day after I heard a bit of trivia on the radio about Scrabble, information that proved to be false. Scrabble was not invented in 1955 as the radio announcer shared.

Rather, Alfred Mosher Butts, an unemployed architect, conceived the idea during the Great Depression and trademarked it in 1948.

For those of you who appreciate trivia, here’s some Minnesota trivia to tuck away in your brain: Jim Kramer, a proofreader from Roseville, Minnesota, won the U.S. Scrabble Open in 2006. This past year, he ranked fourth in the Division 1 section of the National Scrabble Championship and earned $1,000. Three other Minnesotans—from Minneapolis, Rosemount and Spring Lake Park—were among the 108 players participating in the Division 1 competition.

What, I wonder, initially drew these Minnesotans to Scrabble? Did they, like me, gather around the kitchen table as a child to grab letters from a box, form the letters into words and then slide those letters onto a playing board? Do they, like me, love words?

Letters in the adult version of a Scrabble game I received as a Christmas gift in the 1970s.

LET’S HEAR FROM YOU. What’s your favorite board game and why? What are your memories of playing board games as a child? Do you still play board games?

As any Scrabble player would know, I could not legitimately make the word "Minnesota" in a Scrabble game. But this is my blog and these are my rules. If anyone is ever up to a game of Scrabble, I'll play. The guys in my house just don't seem to enjoy word games.

© Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling