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Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Playersby Stefan Fatsis
Synopses & Reviews
Stefan Fatsis, a Wall Street Journal reporter and National Public Radio regular, recounts his remarkable rise through the ranks of elite Scrabble players while exploring the game's strange, potent hold over them and him. Scrabble might truly be called America's game. More than two million sets are sold every year and at least thirty million American homes have one. But the game's most talented competitors inhabit a sphere far removed from the masses of "living room players." Theirs is a surprisingly diverse subculture whose stars include a vitamin-popping standup comic; a former bank teller whose intestinal troubles earn him the nickname "G.I. Joel"; a burly, unemployed African American from Baltimore's inner city; the three-time national champion who plays according to Zen principles; and Fatsis himself, who we see transformed from a curious reporter to a confirmed Scrabble nut.
He begins by haunting the gritty corner of a Greenwich Village park where pickup Scrabble games can be found whenever weather permits. His curiosity soon morphs into compulsion, as he sets about memorizing thousands of obscure words and fills his evenings with solo Scrabble played on his living room floor. Before long he finds himself at tournaments socializing and competing with Scrabble's elite. But this book is about more than hardcore Scrabblers, for the game yields insights into realms as disparate as linguistics, psychology, and mathematics. Word Freak extends its reach even further, pondering the light Scrabble throws on such notions as brilliance, memory, competition, failure, and hope. It is a geography of obsession that celebrates the uncanny powers locked in all of us.
"Despite an occasional overload of detail, this is a provocative look at the world of games and the way the mind works with words." Kirkus Reviews
"An engrossing, inside look at the strange and rarefied world of competitive Scrabble. It's a pleasure to experience vicariously a level of play that I'll never achieve!" Will Shortz, New York Times Crossword Editor and Puzzle Master of NPR's "Weekend Edition Sunday"
"Fatsis gives an in-depth Scrabble history....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." Publishers Weekly
Fatsis introduces readers to the underground world of colorful characters for which the Scrabble game is life--playing competitively in tournaments across the country. It is also the story of how Scrabble was invented by an architect during the Great Depression and how it has grown into the hugely successful game it is today.
In 2001, Stefan Fatsis introduced readers to the underground world of competitive SCRABBLE, and the colorful characters for whom the game is life. Now, in a brand new preface and afterword, the author returns to this fascinating and diverse subculture, and revisits the game and players readers discovered a decade ago. A long-awaited update to a contemporary classic, the 10th Anniversary Edition of WORD FREAK explains how the rules of the game have changed, and why our love of SCRABBLE remains exactly the same.
Word Freak tells the story of how the Scrabble game was invented by an unemployed architect during the Great Depression and how it grew into the hugely successful, challenging, and beloved game it is today. Along the way, Fatsis chronicles his own obsession with the game and his development as a player from novice to expert. More than a book about hardcore SCRABBLE players, WORD FREAK is also an examination of notions of brilliance, memory, language, competition, and the mind that celebrates the uncanny creative powers in us all.
Scrabble may be truly called America's game. But for every group of "living-room players" there is someone who is "at one with the board." In Word Freak, Stefan Fatsis introduces readers to those few, exploring the underground world of colorful characters for which the Scrabble game is life-playing competitively in tournaments across the country. It is also the story of how the Scrabble game was invented by an unemployed architect during the Great Depression and how it has grown into the hugely successful, challenging, and beloved game it is today. Along the way, Fatsis chronicles his own obsession with the game and his development as a player from novice to expert. More than a book about hardcore Scrabble players, Word Freak is also an examination of notions of brilliance, memory, language, competition, and the mind that celebrates the uncanny creative powers in us all.
A Book Sense 76 pick.
About the Author
Stefan Fatsis is a staff reporter for the Wall Street Journal and a regular commentator on NPR?s All Things Considered. He has written for the Associated Press, the Village Voice, and P.O.V. magazine and has appeared on Good Morning, America to discuss the 2000 National Scrabble Championship. His first book, Wild and Outside, about minor-league baseball in Iowa, was described as "an altogether balanced, revealing, and enjoyable study" by Kirkus Reviews. In search of a story idea in 1997, Scrabble amateur Fatsis challenged the head of the National Scrabble Association to a game and won. He has since traveled the country playing in Scrabble tournaments and achieved "expert" status, and he currently ranks in the top 10 percent of tournament Scrabble players nationwide.
Table of Contents
1. The Park
2. The Best
8. G.I. Joel
10. The Words
12. The Owners
15. The Club
16. The World
17. The Worlds
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