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Scrabble in Literature, Movies and on TV

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Scrabble is a major part of popular culture, as you can see by its extensive use in literature, movies and TV shows. Sitcoms in particular use it to start discussions about certain words or funny expressions. There are even movies specifically dealing with scrabble rather than just showing characters playing the game.

Scrabble in Comics

One of the first things that comes to my mind when I think of Scrabble in literature is the Calvin and Hobbes comic series. I find it highly entertaining when Calvin has nothing but consonants in front of him and can only play simple words like BE and IN, whereas Hobbes can play words like NUCLEOPLASM and ZYGOMORPHIC. It probably entertains me so much because every Scrabble player has felt like Calvin at some point, with crappy tiles in front of them only to have another player score triple word points like Hobbes.

Scrabble in Novels

A well-known book that integrates Scrabble is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (1985). It is a dystopia that sees women as slaves to men in a crudely patriarchal society. Women are excluded from gaining any knowledge, such as reading or writing. The game is used by the male protagonist to broaden the female protagonist’s intellectual horizon. A more recently published book that deals with Scrabble to a great extent is Word Nerd (2008). The book deals with the way Scrabble brings together all different kinds of people from very diverse of backgrounds, like a 12-year-old friendless boy and a 25-year-old young man just out of jail.

Scrabble on TV

Scrabble is depicted frequently on TV shows, even if it is not specifically mentioned or relevant to the story. Just recently, for example, the new hit-series Hannibal showed a major character playing Scrabble all by herself, but never directly referred to the game. This shows how common the game is in everyday life. Other TV shows, such as The Office, do use it much more directly, though. For example, there is a scene in which Erin plays Online Scrabble on her mobile phone and somehow always ends up with words involving cows. Her colleague explains that instead of MOO she could have played MOOD on a triple word score, which she explains with “As in ‘the cow mooed yesterday”. She also suggests MOON, which she in turn explains with, “As in ‘the cow jumped over the moon'”.

Not only is Scrabble depicted in TV shows, but it even has had its own varied array of popular TV shows in different countries. The US TV version ran from 1984-1989 and had a revival in 1993, while British TV had a more recent running of TV Scrabble from 2001-2003. Scrabble is also frequently the subject matter on late-night show Jimmy Kimmel Live. Since 2007 host Jimmy Kimmel has invited the National School Scrabble Champions to his show and has played against them with a national celebrity by his side.

Scrabble in the Movies

Scrabble has also made it onto the big screen, as there are a number of popular movies that show characters playing the game. A funny example of this is the movie Foul Play (1978), in which two old ladies play a game of Scrabble while Chevy Chase is outside the window trying to get their attention. One of the women plays the word FUCKER, which is extended to MUTHERFUCKER by the second woman. The word is rejected on the grounds that the word should have a hyphen -- not because it is spelled wrong.

Old Ladies Play Scrabble in Foul Play (1978)

Another way of integrating Scrabble into your movie is by simply using the tiles as a means to an end. This was done, for example, by Roman Polanski in his movie Rosemary’s Baby, in which the Scrabble tiles are used to decipher an anagram.

Movies that Integrate Scrabble in the Plot

There are also a couple of documentaries about competitive Scrabble and Scrabble tournaments. Word Wars (2004) follows four enthusiastic Scrabble players on their way to the 2002 National Scrabble Championship in San Diego, CA. Scrabylon (2003) is set mainly at the World Scrabble Championships in Las Vegas and follows the players in their respective games. Another movie that deals with Scrabble and seems to be quite funny is QWERTY (2012), in which the main character – a so-called “word nerd” – trains to go to the National Scrabble Championship.

Scrabble and the Media

Scrabble has become a part of our culture. Next to chess, it is probably the one most depicted and described board game. It has a safe place in the media -- not only in books or on the movie or TV screen, but even on the computer screen. There are a lot of online games as well as games for mobile devices that use the concept of Scrabble. The popularity of Words with Friends, for example, reveals the deep impact that Scrabble has on popular culture and the fun people have playing it.

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image sources

  • Mutherfucker: Screenshot from the movie Foul Play (1978)

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