2006-02-22 / Features

Invented In Jackson Heights, Conquers The World

BY AUSTIN H. ARMITSTEAD

crabble, a board game that combines

the best features of crossword

puzzles and anagrams, was invented by Alfred M. Butts, a Jackson Heights resident. The game was first played at then Community Methodist Church at 35th Avenue and 81st Street and went on to conquer the world. utts was an architect who found

himself unemployed during the

Depression of the 1930s. In search of something to do that would also, he hoped, prove somewhat lucrative, Butts studied the English language, noting which letters occurred most frequently in most words, assigned each a number of points and designed a board on which separate letter tiles could be arranged in two directions to form words. Players took turns drawing tiles and arranging them into words, with scoring based on premium squares on the game board. utts took the game, originally

named “Criss Cross” to his wife,

Nina, and her friends at Community Methodist Church and it quickly became one of their favorite pastimes. Nina Butts, a member of the church from 1939 to 1979, was a better Scrabble player than her husband, the game’s inventor. In one game, she scored 214 points for “quixotic”, leading Butts to quip, “She beat me at my own game.” utts gave handmade game sets to his

friends, many of whom were

enthralled with them. Commercial game manufacturers, however, continually rejected the idea. As the Depression eased and America experienced an economic recovery, Butts set the game aside and found work in his chosen field once again, with the Community Methodist Church education building, dedicated in 1953, one of his projects. An associate developed Scrabble still further and it was eventually sold to a game manufacturer. Butts got a modest amount of royalties from the game and, late in his life, acclaim as its inventor. He died in Rhinebeck, New York Apr. 4, 1993 at age 93. The headline in the New York Times announcing his death, “Alfred M. Butts Is Dead, Inventor Of Scrabble” listed the number values assigned to each letter of his and the game’s names. ueens Borough Historian Jeffrey

Saunders in 1995 was noted in a

feature article in the Times as having uncovered some materials that provided previously unknown information about the world’s favorite word game. John Sabini, then a City Councilmember representing Jackson Heights and now a state senator, Celeste Balducci, leader of the Community United Methodist Church Scrabble Club for more than 10 years, the Rev. Ronald Tompkins, current Community UMC pastor and The Rev. Austin Armitstead, retired Community UMC pastor, are all enthusiastic supporters of the game Butts invented out of a lack of work and a love of words. n a “Roving Photographer” column

in one issue of the Gazette, members of the Community United Methodist Church Scrabble Club were asked why they enjoyed the game. Balducci shared the answers:

• “The church was landmarked as the birthplace of Scrabble. Thanks to Alfred Butts, the inventor, we have fun and learn a lot, too!”

• “It is so exciting that we are playing in the exact location where Scrabble was invented. The fact that this game is still so popular and educational is par of its legacy.”

• “Scrabble is an intellectual stimulus and a social outlet, and walking to the club at this church in historic Jackson Heights is a very healthy benefit.”

• “There are many clubs that I participate in. The Jackson Heights Art Club and the Monthly Scrabble Club are wonderful. It all started here, and the inventor, Alfred Butts, lived in our neighborhood, too.”

• “A local school, I.S. 145, was the site of the first school Scrabble tournament and the sign at 35th Avenue and 81st Street indicates this is where the game Scrabble started. It was landmarked by the city. Now over 121 countries play the game and it is sold in 29 languages, including Braille.” Scrabble, a board game that combines the best features of crossword puzzles and anagrams, was invented by Alfred M. Butts, a Jackson Heights resident. The game was first played at then Community Methodist Church at 35th Avenue and 81st Street and went on to conquer the world.

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