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Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers Hardcover – Jun 9 2001


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin; None edition (June 9 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618015841
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618015849
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 703 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #8,585 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description

From Amazon

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.


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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most helpful customer reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Groovy 1 on July 23 2003
Format: Paperback
What a great book! A hobbiest in the world of Scrabble, I picked this book up thinking I might learn a thing or two. Boy was I impressed. I really had no idea how intense things got. Fastis got into the world of Scrabble while learning about it first hand. You have wonderful glimpses into the quirks of the dedicated players who will do anything for the glory of being the highest ranked Scrabble player. He brings snapshots of the competition and dedication of players who will receive no great monetary prizes or front headlines for their accomplishments, but who do it for the personal accomplishment. Scrabble is a fascinating combination of math, word knowledge, startagy and the luck of the draw. We are shown how individual players succeed and learn their personal stratagies for becoming an expert. As Faustis himself becomes intrenched in the world of Scrabble, we witness first hand the personal drive involved with winning and the frustrations of having missed a hook, anagram, bingo, etc., Anyone interested in Scrabble or linguistics will be interested in this book. I highly reccommend this books for anyone looking for a good read!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. Gifford on July 11 2003
Format: Paperback
I love this book. Fatsis lives the world of the Scrabble elite while taking us on his own journey to Scrabble greatness. For two years Fatsis turned tiles, travelling around the country and across the world to the Nationals. People who play this game for a living are very weird and seem to have great trouble fitting in anywhere but in this game world, but even among other word freaks they still maintain a kind of distance.
I would have loved this book a lot more if I enjoyed the writing, which I mostly didn't. I simply don't like Fatsis's style. His tone is uneven, he seems to write for teenagers, and the book is not well organized or conceived. But he's a remarkable researcher and is not afraid to tell it like it is, so I admire him for that.
Reading this book sent me back to my own Scrabble board, which had been gathering dust for some time. Thank you, Mr. Fatsis, for that. Until the obsession again dies down, the words will swirl in my head, and I'll be daydreaming, looking for tags and triple-triples.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Dale Rhines on June 18 2003
Format: Paperback
This book by Stefan Fatsis contains the drama, excitement and heartbreak that one expects from a well-written sports book. Of course, this is not a sports book but rather a book about SCRABBLE- the game and the world's best players. Fatsis becomes a part of the action and captures his obsession to become an expert player perfectly. He starts out by gently mocking the players but by the end he is including himself as one of the word-studying freaks in his pages. Fatsis is a terrific writer and makes SCRABBLE strategy entertaining to the reader. The obsessive players that he writes about could as easily be addicted to collecting baseball cards, playing backgammon or any other activity. The game is a wonderful backdrop to the quirky characters, including himself, that the author introduces to us. Whether you played the game or not, the book will capture your imagination. It is a game of words but the word the book most often brings to mind is entertaining. Who knows, you may want to engage in a little SCRABBLE of your own once you finish this book. If you enjoy well-written non-fiction sprinkled with humor and wit, this is a great book for you, even if you don't know the last word in the Official SCRABBLE Player's Dictionary- zyzzyva- a tropical weevil.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By edzaf on June 4 2003
Format: Paperback
Stefan Fatsis' "Word Freak" is a fascinating, if at times intense, look into the world of competitive Scrabble. As a "living room" Scrabble player, I looked forward to the insight that the book might give to my game. What I quickly learned was that I will never be a Scrabble pro - and after reading about those who are, I determined that maybe that is not a bad thing. To call these players quirky is a huge understatement. Most have made Scrabble their life quest - traveling to tournaments all around the country (and the world!) and re-programming their brains to the point where words like "djinny" and "elorst" jump off their racks for big points.
At first, the inhabitants of the Scrabble sub-culture are endearing, however over the nearly 400 pages of this account, Fatsis' title tag of "freak" ultimately (and truthfully) rises to the surface. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the book is the author's own personal journey - from an outsider and Scrabble neophyte (how's that for a word!) to an "expert" ranked player whose obsession with the game nearly rivals the top pro players. It is truly a case of the reporter becoming an integral part of the story as Fastis becomes a full-fledged citizen of this peculiar world. I would guess that this Wall Street Journal sports reporter is still playing competitively these days.
Whether readers who do not have a passing knowledge and interest in Scrabble would enjoy this book is hard to say. For a Scrabble fan such as myself, even I was overwhelmed at times with the minutiae of tournament life and word play. Nevertheless, this is a quite entertaining and readable book. That said, I will happily return to the ignorant bliss of amateur Scrabble where ditching a "z" to spell "zoo" for a measly 12 points is a cool move.
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