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Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players Paperback – July 30, 2002
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Like a cross between a linguistic spy and a lexicographic Olympic athlete, journalist Stefan Fatsis gave himself a year to penetrate the highest echelons of international Scrabble competition. Word Freak is the account of his journey. It's a wacky grab bag of travelogue, history, party journal, and psychological study of the misfits and goofballs whose lives are measured out in Scrabble tiles.
Fatsis gives us all the facts about Scrabble--from the story of the down-on-his-luck architect who invented the game in the 1930s to the intricacies of individual international competitions and the corporate wars to control the world's favorite word game. He keeps the reader turning the pages as we get involved in the lives of the Scrabble obsessives: men and women who have a point to prove against the world and have chosen Scrabble as their playground and their pulpit. As Fatsis goes on his own quest to attain the coveted 1600 rating, we actually get obsessed with him as he lies awake at night pondering moves and memorizing lists of words. For anybody who is interested in words, Word Freak provides an entertaining and absorbing read. --Dwight Longenecker, Amazon.co.uk
From Publishers Weekly
It takes a special kind of person to be able to rattle off all the words that start with the letter q but don't require a u or to immediately recognize that the same letters used for the word "troutmania" can also spell "maturation" and "natatorium." These talented individuals are the subject of Fatsis's tell-all on the professional Scrabble realm's inner sanctum. The Wall Street Journal sports reporter (and author of Wild and Outside) began simply as a curious journalist but was soon obsessed, befriending dozens of experts in his passage from "living room player" to the continent's 180th (or so) best player. The book entertainingly and admiringly portrays the irreverent crowd that lives, eats and breathes Scrabble, interspersing mini-profiles with updates on Fatsis's progress and historical facts about the game. Among the cast of characters familiar with words like "eloiners" and "loxodrome" are "G.I." Joel Sherman, who directs the Manhattan Scrabble Club despite his dental problems, asthma attacks and lactose intolerance; Matt Graham, a stand-up comedian who let Scrabble fill the void when he got fired from his gig at Saturday Night Live; and Steve Williams, a Harvard grad with psychiatric problems, also the winner of the 1977 New York City championship. Fatsis gives an in-depth Scrabble history, too from portraying Alfred Butts, the game's meticulous Depression-era inventor, to explaining how Hasbro manages to sell over one million sets a year with minimal advertising. Journalistic, expressive prose helps transform this potentially dry account of some word-obsessed oddballs into a funny, albeit vertical, glimpse at one of America's quirkiest special-interest groups. (July 10)Forecast: Are there 25,000 hardcore Scrabble fans out there? Hard to say, but Houghton Mifflin is counting on it, and in order to reach them, the house is taking an NPR sponsorship (Fatsis is an NPR contributor) and sending the author on a six-city tour. He is booked on the Today Show.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
It has good information for those considering playing Scrabble competitively. It can be enjoyed at many levels, but the very top players put in many hours memorizing every possible admissible word--more than the average person is willing or able to do.
I thought the author was a little dismissive of the "blue-hairs". I'm sure some middle aged middle class women are exceptional players. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the characters at the top that pinnacle.
destroyed but readable copy. I think you should admit that it is a dilapidated discard from a library and in readable but very poor condition. I am still considering giving it as a gift to a fellow Scrabble enthusiast but with the note that she might find a better copy at the library nearest her. That's where I found the copy I read and enjoyed.
Now, I've reread this book many a time, and this rereading was almost no different, except for the new afterword at the end by Stefan Fatsis. In that new afterword, Fatsis says a lot of people told him that the original version of Word Freak changed their lives. Add me to that list only to a lesser extent. This is one of my all-time favorite books and I am stoked to finally have a version I can reread over and over again! I don't think five stars is enough for this book in any form, and especially Kindle.
The story is well-written and intriguing, and I was captivated by the characters. So much so that I'm considering a trip to Washington Park next summer (after it warms up!) to meet some of them. (Much has been written about the individual characters, so I won't add to that.)
I read a reviewer who compared this book, and the movie "Word Wars", to a Crossword Puzzle documentary, and he disparaged the author for focusing on the characters so much. The reviewer thought the author was doing some of the Scrabble players a disservice, by making them out to be freaks. Unfortunately for the reviewer, that is exactly what makes this book so much fun! There is only so much you can do with Scrabble itself, and its history. It is the characters that make it interesting, and it was the characters that the author sought to write about. Seems like someone missed that point altogether.
(NOTE: watch "Word Wars", which expands on four of the main characters, and the Scrabble "underworld". It's *well* worth the time!)
Great stuff. Now, it's time to start memorizing two- and three-letter words!