4.0 out of 5 stars Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers
Stefan Fatsis does an excellent job of describing the characters he meets.
His own Scrabble games are less interesting. Many of his plays are bluffs, so the strategy is not enhanced by knowledge.
The book convinced me that I will never enter a tournament, but it would be fun to go and watch!
Published 7 months ago by Carol
3.0 out of 5 stars Turned me off to Scrabble
The acquaintance who recommended this book told me it would renew my interest in and excitement about playing Scrabble. Wrong! The message I took away from this read is renewed belief that human beings can pervert just about anything.
Another reviewer mentioned her offense at the author's denegration of "blue hairs," as he likes to call female senior citizens. He also...
Published on Jan 2 2004 by Tricia
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5.0 out of 5 stars Word Freak,
This review is from: Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers (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!!
4.0 out of 5 stars Rack it up,
This review is from: Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers (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.
4.0 out of 5 stars Quirky, funny, interesting- a fun read!,
This review is from: Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers (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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb....If You're A Word Freak, Or Want To Understand One,
The author takes us inside the world of competitive Scrabble, where a colorful cast of characters compete for cash, and often, for something deeper...a sense of self-worth, a personal validation. For some of these people, Scrabble is an avocation; for others, who do little but prepare for and compete in these tournaments it's become a way of life. Fatsis manages to portray the eccentricities of his subjects in a sympathetic, non-condescending way. This makes the book quite entertaining...but its also informative as well. You can learn quite a bit about Scrabble strategy, as well as the history of this remarkable game.
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a real page turner, Hillarious,!,
By A Customer
See you online playing scrabble I hope!
4.0 out of 5 stars Super Freak � Super Freaky!,
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.
5.0 out of 5 stars Word Freaks, indeed,
By A Customer
If you *do* like that sort of this, this book is dead-on. Fatsis does an excellent job drawing out the personalities that make the game. But he also delves brilliantly into just enough information about just enough topics to cover the game's beginnings, the corporate ownership battles (and how it changed the success of the tournaments), and the major personalities in the gaming field. At times it seems like the author draws a bit too much on the personalities of the players; I have a vague feeling that the ten contenders or so he profiles are joined by 90 others with no eccentric behavior at all, magnifying the odd behavior. But then I thought about it, and realized the people he's talking about are, indeed, the National and International champions over the past few years.
You won't be bored often in his travails, as he talked to the communist, the black-pride activist, the hypochondriac, the ex-Veitnam vet, the stuffed-animal enthusiest, the insecure stand-up comedian, and so on...
4.0 out of 5 stars Uncovering Scrabble,
1.0 out of 5 stars Boring book about boring people!!,
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining,
The game is relatively new, being the invention of one Alfred Butts (inspired in part by Edgar Allan Poe). An architect thrown out of work during the Great Depression, Butts took most of the 1930s to develop Scrabble, the description of which makes clear how difficult it is to invent a good game, even though Scrabble now seems like a completely obvious and natural idea. Unable to secure a contract with a game manufacturer, Butts was obliged to personally assemble and mail the sets to customers reached only by word of mouth. The game eventually got commercial distribution in the late '40s, but it was only in the early '50s that it really took off, becoming a national craze before its sales subsided to the more modest, but steady, level they have retained ever since. Sold by Butts to Selchow & Righter, Scrabble is currently owned by Hasbro. Butts earned a total of about a million dollars from sales, so he wasn't completely stiffed, but given that upwards of 100 million sets have been sold worldwide this amounts to less than a fair shake for what is probably the greatest board game with a known creator.
Most of the rest of the book is devoted to Fatsis' observations of the top players and his personal journey to improve his rating (Scrabble has a chess-like rating system). Fatsis encounters the usual passel of misfits, oddballs and curious characters of the type familiar to anyone who has ever had more than a casual involvement with chess, gambling or even video games. These pastimes, which may threaten to swallow one's entire life, seem to have a fatal attraction for a particular type, who is generally cerebral, competitive, solitary, eccentric and male. In fairness, however, the majority of players are quite normal. Even at the highest level there is a balance between the well-rounded, with full time jobs (often university professors) and those tending to monomania. Fatsis recounts his personal struggle with the obsessive lure of Scrabble. The kibitzing, one-upmanship and occasional feuding, but also the peculiar sense of community engendered by the game are well rendered.
Like all competitive pastimes Scrabble has a hierarchy. The untouchables, almost beneath contempt, are "living-room players," that is, normal people who play only for fun. Above them are the "blue hairs," blue-rinsed grandmothers, who make up the lowest grade of tournament players. Starting as a novice, Fatsis gradually gains strength, albeit not without setbacks: as any real player knows, there is no pain like the pain of losing to some limper you should be mopping the floor with. Eventually, however, he attains expert level, amongst the top 200 players in North America.
The serious game is different from the amateur version. First, and obviously, scores are a lot higher. Scores over 500 are routine, with the record a whopping 770. So are multiple bingos (playing all seven letters for a 50-point bonus) in the same game. Challenging words and even deliberately playing phonies are important tactical points. The issue of what words are acceptable is one of the most unsatisfying aspects of the serious game. For one thing, there are different official dictionaries in different parts of the world. Players therefore have to memorize not only obscure words but also which word list they are in, depending on whether they are playing in local, foreign or international events. The combined British and North American official word list, known by the unforgettable name of SOWPODS, an anagram of the acronyms of the two lists, is used in most of the world outside North America. The pros also resort to sharp practices, such as the Machiavellian tactic of deliberately playing a phony in the hope that the opponent will not only accept it, but pluralize or otherwise extend it. The extended word is then challenged as a phony and the opponent loses a turn. The admission of other "words" such as BRR (as in "Brr! It's cold!") which can be extended to make BRRR, also seem rather questionable. While the game requires a certain strategic sense the main way of improving one's play is simply by learning more words. There are hundreds of obscure two and three-letter words that have to be learned just to reach minimal tournament strength, and then thousands of special lists, like the 84 possible bingos that can be made from the root SATIRE plus one other tile, or, for the truly dedicated, the 21,734 seven letter bingos in the Scrabble Players Dictionary. This sort of mnemonic drudgery, which must make learning chess openings feel like going to the movies, has to practised for years to crack the top ranks. Many words are so obscure that players do not even bother to learn their meanings, which strikes one as rather Philistine.
While it is a matter of taste, there is a sense in which competitive Scrabble goes a bit too far. Scrabble should be fun. There is something slightly unpleasant about the prospect of sitting down for a game with some hard-core obsessive who in all seriousness plays words like ALNAGES, JIMP or WATERZOOL, or absurd twos like CH, UG or ZO. Fatsis makes the fair point that the top players do not get much public recognition (or money) for their hard work and talent. Yet on the other hand, there is something slightly horrifying about so much effort and ingenuity being devoted to something so inconsequential, although this is certainly true of many other activities besides Scrabble.
Fatsis describes his subjects (and himself) with empathy and humour. It may not inspire the reader to become a tournament Scrabble player, but "Word Freak" is a well-written and entertaining account of a subculture most of us will never get to see.
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Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive ScrabblePlayers by Stefan Fatsis (Paperback - Aug 1 2002)
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