In my Italian class with Gabriella, we played Scrabble in Italian. It was really fun, but not easy. A friend Marilyn supplied the game, and Lee, one of the other students, wrote the rules in Italian. The rules are similar, if not identical, to the rules in English. But playing the game is different—the distribution of letters is different, and your mind has to think in Italian. Here is a little history of the game, as well as some differences between the Italian and English versions.
Scrabble is a word game in which two to four players receive points by placing tiles, each with a single letter, onto a game board that is divided into a 15 x 15 grid of squares. The tiles must form words, which, like a crossword puzzle, flow horizontally or vertically. The tiles have different values, depending on their frequency or rarity in that particular language. And some of the squares on the game board have different values that tell you when to double or triple the value of a letter or the complete word. The objective of the game is to earn as many points as possible when all of the letters have been used, or there are no more words to form.
The game was invented in 1938 by Alfred Mosher Butts, an American architect. According to a popular story, Butts worked out the distribution and point values of letters by performing a frequency analysis of letters from the front page of the New York Times. He called the game “Criss-Crosswords.” He manufactured a few sets himself, but was not successful in selling the game to any major game manufacturers of the day.
In 1948, a man named James Brunot, a resident of Newtown, Connecticut, bought the rights to manufacture the game in exchange for granting Butts a royalty on every unit sold. Brunot made some changes in the game and also changed the name to “Scrabble,” a real word that means “to scratch frantically”. In 1949, Brunot and his family made 2,400 sets in a converted former schoolhouse, but lost money.
According to legend, Scrabble’s big break came in 1952 when Jack Straus, the president of Macy’s, played the game on vacation. Upon returning, 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.” Unable to meet demand, Brunot sold the manufacturing rights to Selchow and Righter, a Long Island company. In its second year, it sold 4 million sets. In 1986 , Selchow and Righter was sold to Coleco, which soon after went bankrupt. Hasbro purchased the company’s assets, including Scrabble and Parcheesi.
Today the name Scrabble is a trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada and has been sold by Hasbro’s Parker Brothers division since 1999. Outside the United States and Canada, Scrabble is a trademark of Mattel. The game is sold in 121 countries and is available in 29 languages; approximately 150 million sets have been sold worldwide and roughly one-third of American homes have a Scrabble set.
There are at least 2 versions of Scrabble in both English and Italian. The English-language edition contains 100 letter tiles. (There is also a game called Super Scrabble that has 200 tiles.)
The 2 Italian versions have 120 tiles. The letters J, K, W, X, and Y are absent because these letters do not exist in Italian or exist only in certain technical language and in foreign words.
Scarabeo is an Italian variant of Scrabble that is much more popular in Italy than the original game. It is played with a 17 x 17 board, and uses 130 tiles.
The biggest difference between the English game and the Italian is the number and distribution of vowels. Then English version has 9 “A,” 12 “E,”,9 “I,” 8 “O,” and 4 “U.” The Italian version has 14 “A,” 11 “E,” 12 “I,” 15 “O,” and 5 “U.” There are also differences with consonants. For example, in English there are 2 “C,” 2 “M,” and 1 “Z.” In Italian, there are 4 “C,” 5 “M,” and 2 “Z.”
If you try to play the Italian game with American tiles, it will be very difficult!