of Letters, continued
he kept tinkering. He tried a 14-by-14 grid, a 15-by-15, a 16-by-16, a
17-by-17. He placed the starthe starting point for the gamein the
upper left-hand corner. He placed it in the center. He placed it five
columns in and five rows down. He put a quadruple-word-score square in
the lower right-hand corner. He tried four triple-word-score squares.
He tried six. He increased and decreased the number of double- and triple-letter-score
squares. He changed the colors of these squares. He tweaked the letter
distribution. He included a blank. He tried two.
arrived at overnight, and the more I play, the more Alfreds game seems
perfect. I think he was like Alexander Cartwrights Knickerbocker Base
Ball Club laying the bases 90 feet apart or James Naismith setting the
height of his peach baskets at 10 feet. The distances and location of
the premium squares are just right. The game is a carefully choreographed
pas de deux, a delicate balance between risk and reward.
The first player
is rewarded for making a five-letter word, since the value of the first
or last letter is doubled; but five-letter words are pretty difficult
to find when you have just seven letters on your rack. The first player
also benefits from a free double-word score, the star; but laying a tile
on the star means the second player can reach a triple-word score, which
is seven squares away. Butts wanted scoring to increase as the game progressed
away from the center, with the most lucrative plays on the fringes. On
the boards second interior row or column, a five-letter word can hit
a triple-letter-score square and a double-word-score square simultaneously,
one of the juiciest spots on the board; use it, however, and you are likely
to give your opponent access to a triple-word score. On the boards perimeter,
a word can start on a double-letter square and reach a double-word; but
that creates a lane for the games holy grail, hitting two triple-word
scores at once, a triple triple.
of the premium squares took a long time, Butts said years later. Its
not hit or miss. Its carefully worked out.
When I think
of Butts, I imagine the ancients in India deciding that the knight should
move two squares over and one up or one up and two over. I think of the
Greeks or Egyptians determining what to do when a black backgammon chip
landed on a space occupied by a white one. Because Butts lived in the
20th century, his game had to be protected legally; it couldnt just exist.
Just as war begat chess, the advancing state of communications in America
all but mandated creation of a language-based strategy game. Butts invented
a game that filled a void in the hierarchy of games, and in the culture.
selling Criss-Cross Words as before: filling word-of-mouth orders from
his living room, waiting for someone who could help to notice. For $2
a set and 25 cents for shipping, Butts satisfied customers in Washington,
D.C.; Bryn Mawr, Pa.; Hagerstown, Ind.; Louisville, Ky.; Oshkosh, Wis.;
and Oneida, N.Y. He mailed about a hundred sets in all, and complained.
I have found it practically impossible to get a patent on any game,
he told one buyer. The commercial houses do not want games unless they
have been proven successful, but if a game is successful there is no protection
for the idea.
He was tired
of making the pieces, hunting for boxes in five-and-dimes, mimeographing
the rules. So he just gave up. If an interested partner approached him,
fine. In 1947, someone did. He was James Brunot, who worked for a New
York state welfare agency and had served as executive director of the
Presidents War Relief Control Board in Washington. Brunot was living
in Newtown, Conn., not far from Danbury, and getting tired of his two-hour
commute to New York City. He wanted to start a small business that could
keep him at home, where he and his wife, Helen, raised Dorset sheep.
said he was given a copy of Criss-Cross Words by a New York social worker
who was one of Buttss guinea pigs, and he played the game with his wife
when they lived in Washington. When Brunot returned to New York, he learned
that no one was manufacturing it. He contacted Butts, who figured he had
nothing to lose. No one else wanted his game. Why not let this guy have
a lawyer who said they could manufacture the game without infringing on
any patent. Brunot played down the potential of the business. It seems
there is no marketable proprietary interest in Criss-Cross
Words, he wrote Butts. But we do consider that it would be reasonable
and fair in view of all the circumstances to have at least an informal
understanding. He offered Butts a small royalty on sales, which Butts