The Lost Boggle Story?


Yesterday’s Now I Know (here) was one of my favorites — in part because it was a lot different than most of the others, for a reason you may not have noticed — I did not cite a single news source, book, or similar reference. The only links are to Wikipedia (for its articulation of one of Boggle’s rules) and a blog about word games (for the list of letters on Boggle dice). That’s not how Now I Know usually works. My process, generally, is to read a lot about the topic I’m going to share with you, synthesize what I’ve learned into a cohesive story, and then credit the sources I’ve relied on within the story itself. But yesterday, I didn’t do that at all, and for good reason: my story was mostly speculation.

If you haven’t read yesterday’s newsletter yet, here’s the short version: in 1987, Parker Brothers, the publisher of the word game Boggle, changed the letter distribution across the 16 game dice. That change was the only major one made at that time. Before the redesign, there were two Fs and two Ks spread across four different cubes; after the redesign, there were still two Fs but only one K, and all three of those letters were now on the same cube. As a result, in the original version, you can spell words that use both F and K; in the new version, you can’t. And given that there’s one particular word that requires an F and a K, that change seems intentional.

But as far as I can tell, Parker Brothers didn’t make a big deal out of the change at the time. No press release, no news, etc. Admittedly, I’m just a guy with a laptop, good Googling skills, and a subscription to — while I put in more effort than most would to see if there was an announcement around this, I may have missed something. (I generally don’t reach out to public relations departments to find out more, in part because my publication timeline is daily and I don’t have a ton of time, and in part because in all but one case, I’ve been ignored or been given a “dunno”-level response. I figured in this case, I’d get the latter at best — I doubt anyone who is still at Parker Brothers would know what happened in 1987.) 

As a result, I didn’t say or imply yesterday that banning the F-word was Parker Brothers’ impetus for making the change — there’s no evidence to support that, and I try not to speculate too much in the regular Monday to Thursday stories. But today, I’m speculating. 

My guess is that sometime in the mid-1980s, an executive at the company was upset that kids were using Boggle cubes to spell the F-word, so he (and it was likely a he, given the time period) demanded a change. Game designers kicked into gear and redid the letter distribution. Right? That’s the most sensible explanation here. If that’s true, then somewhere out there there is, or was, a group of people who received some really funny — but wholly serious — memo from their bosses telling them that they had to do this. I really want to hear or read a first-hand account of that story (and I’d love to see a memo to that effect!), but I’m afraid it’s been lost to time or will be soon. It’s the lost Boggle story. At least we get to see the impact of that story, though.

The Now I Know Week in Review

MondayWhen Make Up Boxed Out Makeup: A game show scandal about — a woman not wearing makeup?

TuesdayHere Comes the Story of the Herricanes: I found this one very hard to write; I hope it came through well.

Wednesday: What if the Astronauts Were Marooned on the Moon?:  I said in the bonus fact that Eisenhower dated his draft about a D-Day speech only July 5th, which was incorrect.  A few of you wrote in to tell me that he likely wrote “5th” instead of “6th” because D-Day was delayed a day due to the weather, which is true — but the mistake I referenced was the month, not the day. D-Day took place in June.

ThursdayThe Party Game With a Built-In Swear Filter: I didn’t notice that my brother (who took the picture of the Boggle board in the article) hid the words “Now I Know” in it. Congrats to him on sliding an easter egg into a Now I Know article without me noticing it!

And some other things you should check out:

Some long reads for the weekend:

1) “Banking on the Seaweed Rush” (Hakai Magazine, 14 minutes, March 2023). The subhead “Seaweed farmers promise to feed us, combat climate change, support coastal communities, provide wildlife habitat, and more. Can seaweed do it all?” Also related: there’s a huge mass of seaweed coming toward Florida — but that’s bad, not good.

2) “A Scammer Who Tricks Instagram Into Banning Influencers Has Never Been Identified. We May Have Found Him.” (ProPublica, 20 minutes, March 2023). A warning: This story contains the word the new Boggle doesn’t allow.

3) “Here’s How to Solve a 25-Story Rubik’s Cube” (New York Times, 11 minutes, March 2023). This is actually the story of how hard it is to convert an office building into an apartment building — which on its surface makes a lot of sense in a world where many people work remotely — but I’ll be honest, I am sharing it partially because the title is brilliant.

Have a great weekend!