Our blog has fallen silent in recent weeks in large part because D has relapsed into an old addiction. While our friend Cam has the distinction of being the one who turned D onto what at times has been an all-consuming obsession, he is not to blame for getting D completely hooked. That dubious honor goes to Stefan Fatsis.
Fatsis was a sports writer for the Wall Street Journal when he accepted an assignment to write about the little-known world of competitive Scrabble. The more he researched the story, the more he became enamored of the game, and the article morphed into a full-length book that provides a rich account of Scrabble history, strategy, and profiles of the world’s best players, in addition to chronicling Fatsis’s own growing obsession with the game. Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players is as humorous as it is engaging.
D read Word Freak shortly before joining the Peace Corps. At that time, Facebook’s Scrabulous app was all the rage. Not only did it make the game insanely popular and easy to play online, but it also provided a way for D to stay in touch with a few of his friends while serving abroad. A copyright lawsuit eventually forced Facebook to discontinue the app, but after returning to the United States D found something a lot better. Scrabulous enabled players to stretch a game out indefinitely. The site D uses now – ISC.ro – allows games to happen in real time. Hosted somewhere in the hinterlands of Romania, where copyright infringement is a foreign concept, ISC uses primitive graphics in lieu of fancy features. Its main draw is that people who take the game seriously – who memorize two-, three-, and four- letter words and common bingo stems – all play on ISC, though the site has plenty of beginners as well.
D has toyed with the idea of playing in a Scrabble tournament at some point, but the thought of spending hours studying valid combinations of letters that form obscure words does not sound too appealing. Taking the game to its ultra-competitive level might also take some of the fun out of it, so for the time being D’s happy to fritter away his free time playing online.