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How Edgar Allan Poe Inspired Scrabble

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More than 150 million Scrabble games have been sold since Alfred Butts invented it in 1938. Every hour, approximately 30,000 people start a game, which you can buy in 29 different languages. It has inspired countless fights about spelling and proper nouns, and has taught people how hard it is to use the letter “q” in a word if you lack access to a “u” as well.

But none of this would ever have happened had Butts not been a fan of Edgar Allan Poe.
In Poe’s short story “The Gold-Bug,” published in 1843, a character solves a cipher that is based on the popularity of English letters. “Now, in English, the letter which most frequently occurs is e. Afterwards, the succession runs thus: a o i d h n r s t u y c f g l m w b k p q x z,” he wrote.

While Poe wasn’t quite accurate with his assessment of the most and least popular letters, the idea of ranking letters by how much they’re used in the English language intrigued Butts. Because such a ranking didn’t actually exist, Butts created his own by tediously counting letters in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune and The Saturday Evening Post. Check out his complicated tally:

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Eventually, Butts acquired a partner who suggested several improvements to his concept, including the color scheme, the bonus for using all tiles in a single play, and yet another new name: Scrabble. Despite the multiple tweaks to name and gameplay, the game wasn’t massively popular until the chairman of Macy’s allegedly stumbled upon it while on vacation in 1952, then ordered thousands of sets for his stores. Scrabble has been a hit with word lovers and board game enthusiasts alike ever since, all thanks to a minor plot point in a 172-year-old short story. It's a plot twist Poe probably never would have imagined. 

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Courtesy Ben Barrett-Forrest
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Learn All About Fonts by Playing With These Poker Cards
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Courtesy Ben Barrett-Forrest

Want to learn about fonts? Try playing poker with the Font Deck, a pack of cards designed to help users learn the finer points of typography and font design.

The deck is the work of Canadian designer Ben Barrett-Forrest, who runs a graphic design studio based out of Ontario and the Yukon. In 2014, Barrett-Forrest designed the precursor to the Font Deck, a product called the Design Deck that aimed to teach users about the ins and outs of graphic design. Some of the Design Deck cards feature typography lessons, but the Font Deck—available for $17 a deck on Barrett-Forrest’s website or on Kickstarter—gives the topic a deeper dive.

A male hand holds fanned-out cards next to a Font Deck box and a stack of playing cards.
Courtesy Ben Barrett-Forrest

The deck includes topics like letter anatomy, old style typefaces, the difference between a font and a typeface, and profiles of specific typefaces, like Helvetica. The cards themselves are printed by the same company that makes popular playing cards like Bicycle and Bee, so they’re gambling ready, if you feel like betting your fortune on that slab serif card.

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Dungeons & Dragons Gets a Digital Makeover
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Since the 1970s, players have been constructing elaborate campaigns in Dungeons & Dragons using nothing but paper, pencils, rule books, and 20-sided dice. That simple formula has made D&D the quintessential role-playing game, but the game's publisher thinks it can be improved with a few 21st-century updates. As The Verge reports, Wizards of the Coast is launching a digital toolset meant to enhance the gaming experience.

The tool, called D&D Beyond, isn’t meant to be a replacement for face-to-face gameplay. Rather, it’s designed to save players time and energy that could be better spent developing characters or battling orcs. The resource includes a fifth-edition rule book users can search by keyword. At the start of a new campaign, they can build monsters and characters within the program. And players don’t need to worry about forgetting to bring their notes to a quest—D&D Beyond keeps track of information like items and spells in one convenient location.

"D&D Beyond speaks to the way gamers are able to blend digital tools with the fun of storytelling around the table with your friends,” Nathan Stewart, senior director of Dungeons & Dragons, said in a statement when the concept was first announced. "These tools represent a way forward for D&D.”

This isn’t the first attempt to bring D&D into the digital age; videogames inspired by the fictional world have been produced since the 1980s. Unlike those titles, though, D&D Beyond will still highlight the imagination-fueled role-playing aspect of the game when it launches August 15.

[h/t The Verge]

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