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Word Freak

Finished Word Freak last night, about the author's investigation of -- and unwilling assimilation by -- the world of competitive Scrabble. I could have done without the detailed descriptions of the fringe personalities' drug and personal hygiene habits, but other than that I enjoyed the book quite a bit. Learned a lot I never knew about the history of the game (such as the fact that the inventor's total profit on the game was about $800,000 -- poor Mr. Butts). Very much agree it would be excellent if they televised the championships as they do with poker, billiards, etc. ("Too cerebral" ha ha.) Am amazed that a 600 or 700+ game is even theoretically possible, not to mention having been actually achieved more than once. A great game for me is if I break 300; my mom (English teacher turned lawyer, a tough combo) broke 400 once with ESTOPPAL on a triple-triple. Most impressive play mentioned in the book: AUBERGINES on split B, R and N. Mind-boggling. Who even thinks of things like that??

Also surprising: the upper echelons of competitive Scrabble are almost entirely male-dominated. This seems odd, until you read about how utterly obsessive one has to be to get to that level -- memorizing lists of thousands of words, inventing mnemonic tricks to remember all the letters that go with a given seven-letter rack for an eight-letter bingo, etc. That seems a more male attitude. The women he mentions in the book seem to play because they enjoy it; they have functional jobs, lives, families, and don't spend all their free time replaying games to see where they could have done better. (The author does mention in passing that there are well-adjusted male championship players as well, but he doesn't show you many of them!)

The book also includes an interesting digression, during the World Championships in Melbourne, on the differences between American and non-American players: Americans are self-absorbed, aggressive, and obsessed with winning. Pretty much the same as the difference between American and non-American anythings. Us Yanks, we are so Yank-ish.



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