Jeffrey A. Saunders knew that Scrabble was born on 79th Street in Jackson Heights. He knew that Alfred Mosher Butts lived there when he invented the game.
But he also knew that he was one of the few who had uncovered the real story of the popular word game.
Over the years, books, articles and information from the game's manufacturer carried conflicting accounts of Scrabble. Dates of the game's invention varied from 1931 to 1933. Rarely was its true origin in Jackson Heights mentioned, and that bothered Mr. Saunders, who has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years and is co-chairman of the architecture department of the Jackson Heights Beautification Group.
So about a year ago, Mr. Saunders began his quest to solve the Scrabble puzzle and put Jackson Heights back in Scrabble history. "I had to reconnect Scrabble with Jackson Heights," he said. "History is not written in just bricks and gardens. History is also written in people and what they do with their time."
As a result of what Mr. Saunders did with his time -- checking archives, interviewing some of the game's original players and enlisting the help of a relative of Mr. Butts -- the latest book about the game, "Everything Scrabble" (Pocket Books, 1995), and the game's official history published by its manufacturer, Milton Bradley, will be revised.
Mr. Saunders searched the archives of the Community Methodist Church on 35th Avenue, where he found reservations from the mid-1930's for Scrabble games in the church's social room.
He searched for friends of Mr. Butts and his wife, Nina. He collected accounts from some original players, like members of the Jackson Heights Woman's College Club.
Eventually, Mr. Saunders concluded that it was in Mr. Butts's apartment that friends and family learned the game. And it was on Sunday nights during the Depression that players practiced with hand-cut tiles week after week until Mr. Butts was satisfied he had it right.
Mr. Saunders discovered that the game Mr. Butts conceived in 1931 evolved over several years, with the players helping him decide things like how many triple-score squares to place on the board (eight).
Mr. Saunders contacted Robert R. Butts, the great-nephew of the game's inventor, who sorted through Alfred Butts's papers. In the papers was the patent application for a game called Criss-Cross Words, dated 1938. The name was changed to Scrabble in 1947. Gradually, a clearer picture of how Alfred Butts developed the game emerged.
Last Wednesday night, Mr. Saunders's quest came full circle. He was among 30 Scrabble players gathered at the Community Methodist Church for the first meeting of the Queens Scrabble Club. The players sat at card tables, shaking their corduroy and velvet tile bags. They spelled out words on their boards, competing in the very room where the first players sat 60 years ago.
"Mr. Butts, Mr. Williams and I will get together in the next few months and consolidate all of this information," Mr. Saunders said at the meeting. "And we will re-establish a history that has been hazy -- until now." SARAH KERSHAW
WORD PLAY A Brief History of Scrabble Over the years, there have been conflicting accounts in the story of Scrabble. Here are highlights of recent findings by Jeffrey A. Saunders, a Jackson Heights resident, and Robert Butts, the great-nephew of the game's inventor.
Early 1930's Alfred M. Butts begins devising a spelling game with lettered wooden tiles, but no game board. He calls it Lexiko. 1938 Mr. Butts acquires a patent for Criss-Cross Words, a crossword board game that evolved from Lexiko. He practices the game with friends and family in his Jackson Heights garden apartment. 1948 James Brunot, a Connecticut entrepreneur, agrees to produce and market the game. Mr. Brunot, his wife and a friend assemble 12 games a day. 1953 Renamed Scrabble, the game proves immensely popular. The Brunots cannot keep up with demand. 1979 After changing hands several times, the game is sold to Hasbro, which turns it over to its Milton Bradley division.
Thanks to Sarah Kershaw / NY Times