SCRABBLE SIGN, Jackson Heights

by Kevin Walsh

I’ve mentioned it before…it’s a Forgotten NY oldie, but a goodie.

It seems to be the height of redundancy and a complete waste to post two maroon landmark street signs at one corner in Jackson Heights, at 35th Avenue and 82nd Street What’s the Department of Transportation up to? One sign shows 35th Avenue normally, but the other one has small numbers after each letter: “1” after T, A, E, N, U and E, and “4” after the H and V.

It’s all because of Jackson Heights resident Alfred Butts. In the 1940s Butts, an architect by trade, created a new word game combining the features of anagrams and crossword puzzles, calling it “Criss Cross Words,” and shopped it around to game and toy manufacturers without success. Finally, Butts got a boost from Criss Cross Words fans Mr. and Mrs. James Brunot, who decided to manufacture and market the board game themselves. Renting an abandoned schoolhouse in Dodgington, Connecticut, they hand-manufactured the games, stamping out letters on wooden tiles. Word gradually spread about the new game and orders gradually increased; Macy’s placed some orders. The renamed Scrabble®, now distributed by Hasbro, became America’s second most popular board game, second only to Parker Brothers’ Monopoly®. There are professional Scrabble players and Scrabble leagues; Stefan Fatsis’ 2001 book “Word Freak” describes the lives, trials and tribulations of people who know what words have a “q” not followed by a “u”. (Me, I know qi, qat, suq and cinq.)

The Department of Transportation, not usually known for whimsical humor, posted its tribute to Butts during the early 1990s. T, A, E, N, and U carry a one-point value, while H and V are good for four points. In Scrabble, point values go up the rarer the letter in English usage; Q and Z earn ten points.

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Renee Neumann May 21, 2021 - 10:16 pm

Loved this story!

Sunnysider May 22, 2021 - 9:44 am


Is that a word?

Eric Rosenfield May 22, 2021 - 1:00 pm

You missed the point that the sign is in front of the church that Butts worshipped at and he workshopped the game in the recreation rooms there.

Frankie May 22, 2021 - 2:22 pm

Probably the only ordinal numbered street used in New York – all others are cardinal numbers.


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