Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis

Stefan Fatsis set out to write a book about Scrabble, particularly competitive Scrabble, and he ended up becoming a part of the competitive, obsessive, game-playing culture that he intended to chronicle as an outsider, a journalist. Fatsis got sucked into a fascinating game, and he says he loved it, still loves it as far as I know.

I’m always interested in worlds, hobbies, and passionate interests that consume other whole groups of people and that I never even knew existed. I knew that some people played competitive Scrabble, but I didn’t know that serious players travel all over the U.S. and even the world to play in tournaments in which the prize money for the winner is usually barely enough to pay travel expenses. And they memorize word lists: all of the permissible two-letter words, then the threes, the words that have a “q” without a “u” following, the combinations that yield a “bingo” (a seven letter word using all the letters in your rack which gets you an extra 50 points in Scrabble). It’s amazing to me that anyone can become so consumed with playing Scrabble that they build their entire life around the game. They play incessantly: on the internet, pick up games in the park, at Scrabble clubs where players pay a cover fee to get in, at home, at tournaments. It’s almost a religion. In fact, one of the players profiled in the book says that Scrabble is the only thing that gives his life meaning.

The book includes a fairly full history of Scrabble, its invention and its growing popularity. But the most fascinating part of the book is the stories about the people who play the game and who compete for the glory, not much money, that is to be gained by winning the National or World Scrabble Championship.

I must admit that I’ve been playing Scrabble online at scrabulous.com. It’s fun, but I’m terrible. My rating is below 1000, way lower than Mr. Fatsis started out as a novice. And the urchins have been playing a weekly Sunday night Scrabble game. Computer Guru Son and I are tied at two games apiece in the series.

“This is my favorite anagram of all,” Eric says, and he makes me write this down in my notebook: 11+2=12+1.

Then he instructs me to spell it out: ELEVEN + TWO = TWELVE + ONE

“God put that there,” Eric ays. “There is no other explanation.”

I like that story. Maybe I’m a bit of a word freak myself.

3 thoughts on “Word Freak by Stefan Fatsis

  1. MFS

    I read Word Freak in December 2001. From my chapbook:

    “…Scrabble isn’t about words. It’s about mastering the rules of the game, and the words are the rules.”

    And the Misses and I have memorized the U-less Q words: QAT, QAID, QOPH, FAQIR, QANAT, TRANQ, QINDAR, QINATAR, QWERTY, and SHEQEL.

    *grin*

    Have a wonderful week, Sherry.

    Melissa

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