Scrabble logo, used by Mattel since 2013
Scrabble logo used by Hasbro since 2014
|Manufacturer(s)||Mattel (outside U.S. and Canada)|
Hasbro (within U.S. and Canada)
|Designer(s)||Alfred Mosher Butts|
|Setup time||4-8 minutes|
|Playing time||NASPA tournament game: ~50 minutes|
|Random chance||Medium (letters drawn)|
|Skill(s) required||Vocabulary, spelling, anagramming, strategy, counting, bluffing, probability|
|Website||Official website at Hasbro.com|
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players score points by placing tiles, each bearing a single letter, onto a game board divided into a 15×15 grid of squares. The tiles must form words that, in crossword fashion, read left to right in rows or downward in columns, and be included in a standard dictionary or lexicon.
The name Scrabble is a trademark of Mattel in most of the world, except in the United States and Canada, where it is a trademark of Hasbro. The game is sold in 121 countries and is available in more than 30 languages; approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide, and roughly one-third of American and half of British homes have a Scrabble set. There are approximately 4,000 Scrabble clubs around the world.
The game is played by two to four players on a square game board imprinted with a 15×15 grid of cells (individually known as "squares"), each of which accommodates a single letter tile. In official club and tournament games, play is between two players or, occasionally, between two teams, each of which collaborates on a single rack.
The board is marked with "premium" squares, which multiply the number of points awarded: eight dark red "triple-word" squares, 17 pale red "double-word" squares, of which one, the center square (H8), is marked with a star or other symbol, 12 dark blue "triple-letter" squares, and 24 pale blue "double-letter" squares. In 2008, Hasbro changed the colors of the premium squares to orange for TW, red for DW, blue for DL, and green for TL, but the original premium square color scheme is still preferred for Scrabble boards used in tournaments.
In an English-language set, the game contains 100 tiles, 98 of which are marked with a letter and a point value ranging from 1 to 10. The number of points for each lettered tile is based on the letter's frequency in standard English, commonly used letters such as vowels are worth one point, while less common letters score higher, with Q and Z each worth 10 points. The game also has two blank tiles that are unmarked and carry no point value. The blank tiles can be used as substitutes for any letter; once laid on the board, however, the choice is fixed. Other language sets use different letter set distributions with different point values.
Tiles are usually made of wood or plastic and are 19 by 19 millimetres (0.75 in × 0.75 in) square and 4 mm (0.16 in) thick, making them slightly smaller than the squares on the board. Only the rosewood tiles of the deluxe edition vary in width up to 2 mm (0.08 in) for different letters. Travelling versions of the game often have smaller tiles (e.g. 13 mm × 13 mm (0.51 in × 0.51 in)), sometimes they are magnetic to keep them in place. The capital letter is printed in black at the centre of the tile face and the letter's point value printed in a smaller font at the bottom right corner. Most modern replacement tile sets come at 18 mm × 20 mm (0.7 in × 0.8 in).
S is one of the most versatile tiles in English-language Scrabble because it can be appended to many words to pluralize them (or in the case of most verbs, convert them to the third person singular present tense, as in the word PLUMMETS), Alfred Butts included only four S tiles to avoid making the game "too easy." Q is considered the most troublesome letter, as almost all words with it also contain U, a similar problem occurs in other languages like French, Dutch, Italian, and German. J is also difficult to play due to its low frequency and a scarcity of words having it at the end. C and V may be troublesome in the endgame, since no two-letter words with them exist, save for CH in the Collins Scrabble Words lexicon.
In 1938, the American architect Alfred Mosher Butts created the game as a variation on an earlier word game he invented, called Lexiko. The two games had the same set of letter tiles, whose distributions and point values Butts worked out by performing a frequency analysis of letters from various sources, including The New York Times. The new game, which he called Criss-Crosswords, added the 15×15 gameboard and the crossword-style gameplay. He manufactured a few sets himself but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day.:98
In 1948, James Brunot, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut and one of the few owners of the original Criss-Crosswords game, bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Although he left most of the game (including the distribution of letters) unchanged, Brunot slightly rearranged the "premium" squares of the board and simplified the rules, he also renamed the game Scrabble, a real word which means "to scratch frantically.":100 In 1949, Brunot and his family made sets in a converted former schoolhouse in Dodgingtown, Connecticut, a section of Newtown. They made 2,400 sets that year but lost money. According to legend, Scrabbles big break came in 1952 when Jack Straus, president of Macy's, played the game on vacation. Upon returning from vacation, he was surprised to find that his store did not carry the game. He placed a large order, and within a year, "everyone had to have one.":101
In 1952, unable to meet demand himself, Brunot sold manufacturing rights to Long Island-based Selchow and Righter, one of the manufacturers who, like Parker Brothers and Milton Bradley Company, had previously rejected the game. Harriet T. Righter licensed the game from entrepreneur James Brunot in 1952. "It's a nice little game. It will sell well in bookstores," she remembered saying about Scrabble when she first saw it. In its second year as a Selchow and Righter product, nearly four million sets were sold.:104
Selchow and Righter bought the trademark to the game in 1972.JW Spear (now a subsidiary of Mattel) began selling the game in Australia and the UK on January 19, 1955. In 1986, Selchow and Righter was sold to Coleco, which soon afterward went bankrupt. Hasbro purchased the company's assets, including Scrabble and Parcheesi.
In 1984, Scrabble was turned into a daytime game show on NBC. The Scrabble game show ran from July 1984 to March 1990, with a second run from January to June 1993. The show was hosted by Chuck Woolery. Its tagline in promotional broadcasts was, "Every man dies; not every man truly Scrabbles." In 2011, a new TV variation of Scrabble, called Scrabble Showdown, aired on The Hub cable channel, which is a joint venture of Discovery Communications, Inc. and Hasbro.
The "box rules" included in each copy of the North American edition have been edited four times: in 1953, 1976, 1989, and 1999.
The major changes in 1953 were as follows:
The major changes in 1976 were as follows:
The editorial changes made in 1989 did not affect gameplay.
The major changes in 1999 were as follows:
In the notation system common in tournament play, columns are labeled with the letters "A-O" and rows with the numbers "1-15." (On Scrabble boards manufactured by Mattel as well as on the Internet Scrabble Club, rows are lettered while columns are numbered instead.) A play is usually identified in the format xy WORD score or WORD xy score, where x denotes the column or row on which the play's main word extends, y denotes the second coordinate of the main word's first letter, and WORD is the main word. Although it is unnecessary, additional words formed by the play are sometimes listed after the main word and a slash. When the play of a single tile forms words in each direction, one of the words is arbitrarily chosen to serve as the main word for purposes of notation.
When a blank tile is employed in the main word, the letter it has been chosen to represent is indicated with a lower case letter, or, in handwritten notation, with a square around the letter. When annotating a play, previously existing letters on the board are usually enclosed in parentheses; alternatively, the number of tiles placed on the board can be noted.
Exchanges are often annotated by a minus sign followed by the tiles that were exchanged alphabetically; for example, if a player holds EIIISTU, exchanging two I's and a U would be denoted as "-IIU."
The image at right gives examples of valid plays and how they would typically be annotated using the notation system.
Additionally, a number of symbols have been employed to indicate the validity of words in different lexica:
Before the game, a resource, either a word list or a dictionary, is selected for the purpose of adjudicating any challenges during the game. The tiles are either put in an opaque bag or placed face down on a flat surface. Opaque cloth bags and customized tiles are staples of clubs and tournaments, where games are rarely played without both.
Next, players decide the order in which they play. The normal approach is for players to each draw one tile: The player who picks the letter closest to the beginning of the alphabet goes first, with blank tiles taking precedence over the letter A. In most North American tournaments, the rules of the US-based North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) stipulate instead that players who have gone first in the fewest previous games in the tournament go first, and when that rule yields a tie, those who have gone second the most go first. If there is still a tie, tiles are drawn as in the standard rules.
At the beginning of the game, each player draws seven tiles from the bag and places them on their rack, concealed from the other player(s).
The first played word must be at least two letters long, and cover H8 (the center square). Thereafter, any move is made by using one or more tiles to place a word on the board. This word may use one or more tiles already on the board and must join with the cluster of tiles already on the board.
On each turn, the player has three options:
A proper play uses one or more of the player's tiles to form a continuous string of letters that make a word (the play's "main word") on the board, reading either left-to-right or top-to-bottom. The main word must either use the letters of one or more previously played words or else have at least one of its tiles horizontally or vertically adjacent to an already played word. If any words other than the main word are formed by the play, they are scored as well and are subject to the same criteria of acceptability. See Scoring for more details.
A blank tile may represent any letter, and scores zero points, regardless of its placement or what letter it represents. Its placement on a double-word or triple-word square causes the corresponding premium to be applied to the word(s) in which it is used. Once a blank tile is placed, it remains that particular letter for the remainder of the game.
After making a play, the player announces the score for that play, and then, if the game is being played with a clock, starts the opponent's clock. The player can change their play as long as the player's clock is running, but commits to the play when they start the opponent's clock. The player then draws tiles from the bag to replenish their rack to seven tiles. If there are not enough tiles in the bag to do so, the player takes all the remaining tiles.
If a player has made a play and has not yet drawn a tile, the opponent may choose to challenge any or all words formed by the play. The player challenged must then look up the words in question using a specified word source (such as OTCWL, the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, or CSW) and if any one of them is found to be unacceptable, the play is removed from the board, the player returns the newly played tiles to their rack, and the turn is forfeited. In tournament play, a challenge may be to the entire play or any one or more words formed in the play, and judges (human or computer) are used, so players are not entitled to know which word(s) are invalid. Penalties for unsuccessfully challenging an acceptable play vary in club and tournament play and are described in greater detail below.
Under North American tournament rules, the game ends when either:
When the game ends, each player's score is reduced by the sum of their unplayed letters. In addition, if a player has used all of their letters (known as "going out" or "playing out"), the sum of the other player's unplayed letters is added to that player's score; in tournament play, a player who goes out adds twice that sum, and their opponent is not penalized.
Plays can be made in a number of ways (in what follows, it is assumed that the word JACK has been played on a previous turn; letters in parentheses represent tiles already on the board):
Any combination of these is allowed in a play, as long as all the letters placed on the board in one play lie in one row or column and are connected by a main word, and any run of tiles on two or more consecutive squares along a row or column constitutes a valid word.
Words must read either left-to-right or top-to-bottom. Diagonal plays are not allowed.
|Square||Original and Mattel version||Hasbro Version (2008-2014)|
|Double letter||Light blue||Blue|
|Triple letter||Dark blue||Green|
The score for any play is determined this way:
When the letters to be drawn have run out, the final play can often determine the winner. This is particularly the case in close games with more than two players.
Scoreless turns can occur when a player passes, exchanges tiles, or loses a challenge. The latter rule varies slightly in international tournaments. A scoreless turn can also theoretically occur if a play consists of only blank tiles, but this is extremely unlikely in actual play.
Suppose Player 1 plays QUANT 8D, with the Q on a DLS and T on the center star. The score for this play would be (2 × 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1) × 2 = 48 (following the order of operations).
Player 2 extends the play to ALI(QUANT) 8A with the A on the TWS at 8A. The score for this play would be (1 + 1 + 1 + 10 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 1) × 3 = 51. Note that the Q is not doubled for this play.
Player 1 has DDIIIOO and plays OIDIOID 9G. The score for the word OIDIOID would be (2 × 1 + 1 + 2 × 2 + 1 + 1 + 1 + 2 × 2) = 14. Additionally, Player 1 formed NO and TI, which score 1 + 2 × 1 = 3 and 1 + 1 = 2 points respectively. Therefore, the sum of all the values of the words formed is 14+3+2 = 19. But since this is a seven-letter play, 50 points are added, resulting in a total score of 69. Player 1 now has a 117-51 lead.
The player with the highest final score wins the game. In case of a tie, the player with the highest score before adjusting for unplayed tiles wins the game. In tournament play, a tie counts as 1/2 a win for both players.
Acceptable words are the primary entries in some chosen dictionary, and all of their inflected forms. Words that are hyphenated, capitalized (such as proper nouns), or apostrophized are not allowed, unless they also appear as acceptable entries; JACK is a proper noun, but the word JACK is acceptable because it has other usages as a common noun (automotive, vexillological, etc.) and verb that are acceptable. Acronyms or abbreviations, other than those that have acceptable entries (such as AWOL, RADAR, LASER, and SCUBA) are not allowed. Variant spellings, slang or offensive terms, archaic or obsolete terms, and specialized jargon words are allowed if they meet all other criteria for acceptability, but archaic spellings (e.g. NEEDE for NEED) are generally not allowed. Foreign words are not allowed in English-language Scrabble unless they have been incorporated into the English language, as with PATISSERIE, KILIM, and QI. Vulgar and offensive words are generally excluded from the OSPD4 but allowed in club and tournament play.
Proper nouns and other exceptions to the usual rules are allowed in some limited contexts in the spin-off game Scrabble Trickster. Names of recognized computer programs are permitted as an acceptable proper noun (For example, WinZIP).
The memorization of two-letter words is considered an essential skill in this game.
There are two popular competition word lists for English-language Scrabble:
The first is used in America, Canada, Israel and Thailand, and the second in English Scrabble in the rest of the world.
The North American 2006 Official Tournament and Club Word List, Second Edition (OWL2) went into official use in American, Canadian, Israeli and Thai club and tournament play on March 1, 2006 (or, for school use, the bowdlerized Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, Fifth Edition (OSPD5)). North American competitions use the Long Words List for longer words.
The OWL2 and the OSPD5 are compiled using four (originally five) major college-level dictionaries, including Merriam-Webster (10th and 11th editions, respectively). If a word appears, at least historically, in any one of the dictionaries, it will be included in the OWL2 and the OSPD5. If the word has only an offensive meaning, it is only included in the OWL2. The key difference between the OSPD5 and the OWL2 is that the OSPD5 is marketed for "home and school" use, with expurgated words which their source dictionaries judged offensive, rendering the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary less fit for official Scrabble play. The OSPD5, released in 2014, is available in bookstores, whereas the OWL2 is only available through NASPA).
In all other English-speaking countries, the competition word list is Collins Scrabble Words 2019 edition, known as CSW19. Versions of this lexicon prior to 2007 were known as SOWPODS. The lexicon includes all allowed words of length 2 to 15 letters. This list contains all OWL2 words plus words sourced from Chambers and Collins English dictionaries. This book is used to adjudicate at the World Scrabble Championship and all other major international competitions outside North America.
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The penalty for a successfully challenged play is nearly universal: the offending player removes the tiles played and forfeits his or her turn. (In some online games, an option known as "void" may be used, wherein unacceptable words are automatically rejected by the program. The player is then required to make another play, with no penalty applied.)
The penalty for an unsuccessful challenge (where all words formed by the play are deemed valid) varies considerably, including:
Under NASPA tournament rules, a player may request to "hold" the opponent's play in order to consider whether to challenge it, provided that the opponent has not yet drawn replacement tiles. If player A holds, player A's clock still runs, and player B may not draw provisional replacement tiles until 15 seconds after the hold was announced (which tiles must then be kept separate). There is no limit on how long player A may hold the play. If player A successfully challenges after player B drew provisional replacement tiles, player B must show the drawn tiles before returning them to the bag.
Tens of thousands play club and tournament Scrabble worldwide. All tournament (and most club) games are played with a game clock and a set time control. Although casual games are often played with unlimited time, this is problematic in competitive play among players for whom the number of evident legal plays is immense. Almost all tournament games involve only two players; typically, each has 25 minutes in which to make all of their plays. For each minute by which a player oversteps the time control, a penalty of 10 points is assessed. The number of minutes is rounded up, so, for example, if a player oversteps time control by two minutes and five seconds, the penalty is 30 points. Also, most players use molded plastic tiles, not engraved like the original wooden tiles, eliminating the potential for a cheating player to "braille" (feel for particular tiles, especially blanks, in the bag).
Players are allowed "tracking sheets", pre-printed with the letters in the initial pool, from which tiles can be crossed off as they are played. Tracking tiles is an important aid to strategy, especially during the endgame, when no tiles remain to be drawn and each player can determine exactly what is on the opponent's rack.
Notable and regularly held tournaments include:
Other important tournaments include:
Clubs in North America typically meet one day a week for three or four hours and some charge a small admission fee to cover their expenses and prizes. Clubs also typically hold at least one open tournament per year. Tournaments are usually held on weekends, and between six and nine games are played each day.
The following records were achieved during international competitive club or tournament play, according to authoritative sources, including the book Everything Scrabble by Joe Edley and John D. Williams, Jr. (revised edition, Pocket Books, 2001) and the Scrabble FAQ. When available, separate records are listed based upon different official word lists:
Two other records are believed to have been achieved under a British format known as the "high score rule", in which a player's tournament result is determined only by the player's own scores, and not by the differentials between that player's scores and the opponents'. Play in this system "encourages elaborate setups often independently mined by the two players", and is significantly different from the standard game in which defensive considerations play a major role. While the "high score" rule has led to impressively high records, it is currently out of favor.
Hypothetical scores in possible and legal but highly unlikely plays and games are far higher, primarily through the use of words that cover three triple-word-score squares. The highest reported score for a single play is 1780 (OSPD) and 1785 (SOWPODS) using oxyphenbutazone. When only adding the word sesquioxidizing to these official lists, one could theoretically score 2015 (OSPD) and 2044 (SOWPODS) points in a single move. The highest reported combined score for a theoretical game based on SOWPODS is 4046 points. Other records are available for viewing at "Total Scrabble" (PDF)., an unofficial record book which includes the above as sources and expands on other topics.
In August 1984, Peter Finan and Neil Smith played Scrabble for 153 hours at St. Anselm's College, Birkenhead, Merseyside, setting a new duration record. A longer record was never recorded by Guinness Book of Records, as the publishers decided that duration records of this nature were becoming too dangerous and stopped accepting them.
The Scrabble Player's Handbook, edited by Stewart Holden and written by an international group of tournament players, gives the information a serious player needs to advance to successful tournament play.
There have been numerous documentaries made about the game, including:
Maven is a computer opponent for the game created by Brian Sheppard. The official Scrabble computer game in North America uses a version of Maven as its artificial intelligence and is published by Atari. Outside North America, the official Scrabble computer game is published by Ubisoft. Quackle is an open-source alternative to Maven of comparable strength, created by a five-person team led by Jason Katz-Brown. A Qt cross-platform version of Quackle is available on GitHub.
Several video game versions of Scrabble have been released for various platforms, including PC, Mac, Amiga,Commodore 64,Sinclair ZX Spectrum,Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance,Nintendo DS,PlayStation,PlayStation 4, PlayStation Portable,iPod, iPad, Game.com, Palm OS, Amstrad CPC, Xbox 360, Kindle,Wii and mobile phones.
Facebook initially offered a variation of Scrabble called Scrabulous as a third-party application add-on. On July 24, 2008, Hasbro filed a copyright infringement lawsuit against its creators. Four days later, Scrabulous was disabled for users in North America, eventually reappearing as "Lexulous" in September 2008, with changes made to distinguish it from Scrabble. By December 20, Hasbro had withdrawn its lawsuit.
Mattel launched its official version of online Scrabble, Scrabble by Mattel, on Facebook in late March 2008. The application was developed by Gamehouse, a division of RealNetworks that was licensed by Mattel. Since Hasbro controls the copyright for North America with the copyright for the rest of the world belonging to Mattel, the Gamehouse Facebook application was available only to players outside the United States and Canada. The version developed by Electronic Arts for Hasbro was available throughout the world.
When Gamehouse ceased support for its application, Mattel replaced it with the Electronic Arts version in May 2013. This decision was met with criticism from its user base. The Hasbro version continues to be available worldwide but now uses IP lookup to display Hasbro branding to North American players and Mattel branding to the rest of the world. Electronic Arts has also released mobile apps for Android and iOS, allowing players to continue the same game on more than one platform.
In 2020, the license for Scrabble passed from Electronic Arts to Scopely, which launched the app Scrabble GO on March 5, 2020, with the Electronic Arts version discontinued on June 5, 2020. The new app was very different, leading to protests, and Scopely soon began to offer a 'Classic' version, without some of the extras initially offered: "this updated mode is reimagined to reflect the ask for a streamlined experience. Features such as boosts, rewards and all other game modes are disabled", the company announced.
A new licensed product, Super Scrabble, was launched in North America by Winning Moves Games in 2004 under license from Hasbro, with the deluxe version (with turntable and lock-in grid) released in February 2007. A Mattel-licensed product for the rest of the world was released by Tinderbox Games in 2006. This set comprises 200 tiles in slightly modified distribution to the standard set and a 21×21 playing board.
Versions of the game have been released in several other languages.
The game was called Alfapet when it was introduced in Sweden in 1954, but since the mid-1990s, the game has also been known as Scrabble in Sweden. Alfapet is now another crossword game, created by the owners of the name Alfapet. A Russian version is called Erudit. Versions have been prepared for Dakotah, Haitian Creole, Dakelh (Carrier language), and Tuvan.
An Irish-language version of Scrabble was published by Glór na nGael in 2010. The previous year the same organisation published the Junior version of the game and two years later it republished Junior Scrabble using a two-sided (and two skill level) board.
In 1987, a board game was released by Selchow & Righter, based on the game show hosted by Chuck Woolery that aired on NBC from 1984 to 1990 (and for five months in 1993). Billed as the "Official Home Version" of the game show (or officially as the "TV Scrabble Home Game"), game play bears more resemblance to the game show than it does to a traditional Scrabble game, although it does utilize a traditional Scrabble gameboard in play.
On September 17, 2011, a new game show based on Scrabble, called Scrabble Showdown, debuted on The Hub with Justin "Kredible" Willman as the host of the program. Each week, teams play various activities based on the board game in order to win big prizes including a trip to anywhere from around the world.
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There are numerous variations of the game. While they are similar to the original Scrabble game, they include minor variations. For example, Literati draws random tiles instead of providing a finite number of tiles for the game, assigns different point levels to each letter and has a slightly different board layout, whereas Lexulous assigns eight letters to each player instead of seven. Words with Friends uses a different board layout and different letter values, as does Words of Gold.
Duplicate Scrabble is a popular variant in French speaking countries. Every player has the same letters on the same board and the players must submit a paper slip at the end of the allotted time (usually 3 minutes) with the highest scoring word they have found. This is the format used for the French World Scrabble Championships but it is also used in Romanian and Dutch. There is no limit to the number of players that can be involved in one game, and at Vichy in 1998 there were 1485 players, a record for French Scrabble tournaments.
In one variation of Scrabble, blanks score points corresponding to the letters the blanks are used to represent. For example, if one played blank to represent a Z, it would get ten; a blank to represent a V or an H would get four; a blank to represent a D would get 2 and blank to represent a T, N, L, S or R or any of the vowels would get one.
Popular among tournament Scrabble players is Clabbers. In Clabbers, any move that consists of anagrams of allowable words is allowed. For example, because ETAERIO is allowable in ordinary Collins Scrabble, EEAIORT would be allowable in Clabbers.
A junior version, called Junior Scrabble, has been marketed. This has slightly different distributions of frequencies of letter tiles to the standard Scrabble game.
The game has been released in numerous gameboard formats appealing to various user groups. The original boards included wood tiles and many "deluxe" sets still do.
Tile Lock editions of Scrabble and Super Scrabble are made by Winning Moves and feature smaller, plastic tiles that are held in place on the board with little plastic posts. The standard version features exactly the same 100 tiles as regular Scrabble. The Tile Lock Super Scrabble features the same 200 tiles that are in Super Scrabble.
Editions are available for travelers who may wish to play in a conveyance such as a train or plane, or to pause a game in progress and resume later. Many versions thus include methods to keep letters from moving, such as pegboards, recessed tile holders and magnetic tiles. Players' trays are also designed with stay-fast holders. Such boards are also typically designed to be reoriented by each player to put the board upright during the game, as well as folded and stowed with the game in progress.
At the opposite end, some "deluxe" or "prestige" editions offer superior materials and features. These include editions on a rotating turntable, so players can always face the board, with the letters upright and a raised grid that holds the tiles in place. Also available are alternative Scrabble boards, often made of glass or hardwood, that have superior rotating mechanisms and personalized graphics.
An edition has been released (in association with the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)) with larger board and letters for players with impaired vision. The colours on the board are more contrasting, and the font size has been increased from 16 to 24 point. The tiles are in bold 48 point, and have braille labels. A separate braille edition is also available.
Scrabble transitioned from living-room novelty--nearly 4 million sets were sold in 1954--to competitive passion in the 1960s, when it landed alongside chess, backgammon, and bridge in smoke-filled games parlors in New York City. ... When the tiles were placed in bags during games, unscrupulous players could feel around for the blanks because they had no grooves, a tactic known as "brailling".