Saturday, April 15, 2017

Scrabble with Chuck and Vladimir

A few days ago, the world celebrated Scrabble, the ne plus ultra of word games, and we immediately thought of Chuck Davis and Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov because he and his wife, Vera, enjoyed playing the game in four languages; Chuck because he was not only Vancouver's dedicated historian, but also the city's Scrabble guru. In an issue of NUVO, Chuck wrote an article called "Love at First Tile," subtitled "How to Score 392 Points on a Single Move."

He was introduced to the game in 1954 while serving in the Canadians Army.  In the 1970s, he came second in a British Commonwealth Scrabble Tournament, topping 400 points twice. But the record for the highest number of points in a single move, when Chuck wrote his article, was Karl Khoshnaw of Twickenham, England. He scored 392 points with "caziques." A cazique, Chuck helpfully told us, is a tropical songbird.

Chuck went on to tell readers about the creator of Scrabble: a British architect named Alfred Mosher Butts, who found himself out of work in the Depression years and decided to invent a board game.  He first called it Lexico and then Criss-Cross Words. But it didn't take off until 1948, when he met James Brunot, who rearranged the squares and simplified the rules. Then the collaborators came up with the name Scrabble. By the year 2000, more than 100 million sets had been sold.

Chuck Davis ended his NUVO piece writing "More than 45 years after I first played it, Scrabble is still a game I like a lot. Not as much, though, as Helen Cornelius Bowden of Chicago. She died in 1990 and left instructions that her headstone be cast in the form of a Scrabble board."

Talk about getting the last word.

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