Behold modernist Scrabble

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The introductory screen at Scrabble GO, the replacement for the Scrabble app. (Hasbro)

Amidst pandemic lockdown, the game of Scrabble is among the saviors of sanity. It is so in our family. I taught Scrabble to my wife, Victoria, and created a monster. I rarely play her anymore so she plays her mother, who is imprisoned in assisted living. To listen to the two of them chat by telephone during a game, Dr. Somlo seems to score a bingo (50 bonus points for using all seven of your tiles) every three turns. Yet my pupil frequently wins. They love Scrabble. They play Scrabble every day. I thank God for Scrabble.

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The old Scrabble board. (Hasbro)

But now the computer app of Scrabble, which enables them to play digitally over vast distances, is being discontinued and replaced with a “new and improved” version, Scrabble GO, which, according to a letter sent to users on March 12, takes over at midnight tonight.

Josh Bernoff, a writer in Arlington, Mass., has written a cri de coeur urging Hasbro (its owner, based in Pawtucket, R.I.) not to kill the Scrabble app. He recognizes that Scrabble is even more important in what has officially come to be called “these times.” He adds that “[w]hen you are 85 years old and the authorities are telling you to stay shut up in your house, Scrabble is more than a diversion. It is an essential coping tool.” My dear mother-in-law is 86. Why must she put up with Scrabble Go, or make do with lesser substitutes such as Words With Friends?

Bernoff tried Scrabble GO and here is how he describes it:

It is an obscenity, characterized by childish interactions, lurid colors, nagging reminders to invite your friends to play, and some sort of incentive system based on (gag) jewels you can earn.

In short, it’s stupid, ugly, tedious, infantile, bothersome, doomed to failure, and thus it perfectly reflects how modern culture, in the name of “upgrade,” or, more broadly, “progress,” insists upon the right to make everything worse, and does so without the slightest indication of shame. It is just like modern architecture: It cannot live side by side with traditional, classical Scrabble because soon there would be nobody who still wants to play the modernist Scrabble GO, and Hasbro obviously knows it. The Scrabble GO target market is already too addicted to more garish computer games that don’t require the ability to spell. This is why the old Scrabble app, rather than serving as an alternative to GO, will depart this world at 11:59 tonight.

Old Scrabble is, after all, as Bernoff writes:

like the voice of Alex Trebek — calm, authoritative, and intelligent, reassuring us that the world remains sane and that we can take comfort in something trivial but engaging. We need this now.

Yes, we do. Since I no longer play Scrabble as often as I once did, I have more time to discover and expose parallels between modern architecture and other really bad stuff. Hence this post. To channel Steve Bass, may Scrabble GO go the way of New Coke.

(Here’s more detail on the Scrabble GO crisis in a follow-up post by Bernoff. He links to a petition to save the old Scrabble app, called EA Scrabble.)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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8 Responses to Behold modernist Scrabble

  1. Ben says:

    Make sure your wife is choosing “Scrabble Classic” mode (under Play New Game button) and you can at least remove the annoying boost features and some of the visual clutter. You’ll never be free of the ads though, or the constant challenges from strangers.


  2. John the First says:

    Anyone ever observed the internet culture in general from the aesthetic point of view? it is a whole a culture of visual infantilism on the one hand, and a mix of corporate slickness on the other. In mean ‘Google’, what kind of word is that, some kind of grumble? and their logo, its shape and childish colours… Take for example ‘duckduckgo’, and look at their logo… Look at the smileys or in general the emoticons, how infantile and crude. I mean, imagine your old mother (in-law or not) saying ‘duckduckgo’, using emoticons in her chat, while playing this app…
    Tons of other examples of aesthetic infantilism could be mentioned, as the internet is saturated with it. Ever observed how sometimes these internet corporations buy historical architecture in city centres, and they place their gross and infantile logos on the facades of these buildings. Compare a real book, product of the art of printing and publishing to something like, or google books, with their crude visual presentations, the OCR scans ripe with errors.

    We live in a culture of junk, we produce hardly anything else than junk, and the internet especially is an ephemeral junk culture of childish infantilism of nerds, mixed with the superficial slickness of the contemporary obsessed commercial class at the other hand. No future culture will be interested in the conservation of elements of our aesthetic culture, rather it will likely be an embarrassment they will be eager to erase. ‘stupid, ugly, tedious, infantile, bothersome, doomed to failure’ applies in that sense to almost the whole internet culture, if not, sadly, our culture as a whole to an increasing extent.


    • John the First says:

      In case of people assigning the above to the rant of a grumpy old man, unable to catch up with contemporary culture. I am relatively young self-employed computer engineer and internet programmer already for eighteen years. I do this work minimally, in order to pay the rent and whatever necessities of life, while I could be making fair amounts of money with it.


  3. steve bass says:

    Maybe this will end up like ‘New Coke’!


  4. LazyReader says:

    And like the digital, NEW AND IMPROVED formula, it serves the same function. All casinos have two things in common, they have no windows and they have no clocks.
    Many public events mix gambling with entertainment. Making Scrabble we were already playing more exciting……….
    Hmm, Like a slot machine.
    Slot machines are often displayed as bright, shiny objects. Similar to video games, they feature creative, trendy themes, bright colors, flashing lights, and a combination of sights and sounds designed to lure potential customers. But unlike board games or even most games of chance conducted on a table, slot machines do not reward mindfulness, attentiveness or intelligence. Like video games reward you with “Nothing”. But it’s FUN. Right.

    Fun is not a prerequisite for appropriate, FUN is a matter of perspective, if you’re a bully, Picking on someone is fun, if you’re a racist, degrading a person of a different skin color is fun, Binge drinking is fun, drug is fun. Don’t drag down your attention span on a device that doesn’t reward you.
    Video games, electronic gambling and high profile gaming online all suffer the same problem which is perpetual high with little to no physical reward. Same they said about Tetris and arcade games in the 80s.

    One game I like to play is as fun as scrabble, and it tests spacial acuity, it’s called “Gummy blocks”
    block puzzle game. Drag the tasty-looking gummy blocks into the free cells and clear rows and columns in the grid, like tetris it involves squares on a grid. Unlike tetris you can change the orientation.


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