A standup comedian in his early thirties who
rarely works, Matt is a compulsive consumer of vitamins and "smart
drugs, which he asserts help his ability to memorize
and anagram words. Matt began playing Scrabble in the early nineties,
rising through the ranks until he reached the finals of the World
Scrabble Championship. He lives in a narrow studio apartment in
New York crammed with the stuff of his multiple obsessions: books
stacked floor to ceiling, tables covered with bottles of pills,
and piles of stuffed animals. Matt views Scrabble as his saving
grace but it also might be his downfall.
The only two-time national champion, Joe
is also the only high-level expert to make Scrabble a successfully
remunerative career: he is associate director of the National
Scrabble Association. He is also the Zen master of the Scrabble
world. He practices tai chi in the playing room before a tournament,
meditates, and focuses deeply on modulated breathing. Joe is a
child of the human-potential movement: he studied Eastern mystics,
trained in something called neurolinguistic programming, went
on dangerous fasts to cleanse his body, and based his belief system
on the writings of the New Age philosopher Jane Roberts. Joe once
slept in a San Francisco park for five months to conquer his fear
of the outdoors. Other players call him arrogant, aloof, and worse.
But he doesnt care.
G.I. Joel (as in gastrointestinal)
is a walking Merck Manual of physical maladies. Asthma. Lactose
intolerance. Postnasal drip. Graves disease. G.I. Joel belches
during games; he just cant help it. But hes used the
part of his Superfund site of a body his brain to
become one of the games best and most devoted players, living
the Scrabble life. Joel resides with his brother and his octogenarian
father in the small Bronx house in which he was raised. He hasnt
worked in years because of his ailments, and thanks to a small
inheritance. Joel passes the days playing Scrabble on the computer
and watching TV. If it hadnt been for his body, Joel says
he would have been a singer; in hotel lobbies, hell sit
down at a piano and bang away. "You may be right,'
hell croon, "I may be crazy.'
The combination Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson,
and Chris Rock of Scrabble, Marlon was raised in inner-city Baltimore
by a single mother and still, in his early thirties, lives
at home with her. He dropped out of college. He talks in ghetto
slang, not because he doesnt know proper English but because
he believes its one more manifestation of white dominance.
He quits jobs because of perceived racism and sues companies for
the same. Hes angry at the world at what he calls
AmeriKKKa. Yet Marlon is one of the most personable and caring
players in Scrabble. And one of the most proficient in his knowledge
of the dictionary. He studies nine- and ten-letter words unlikely
ever to be used in a game. And he solves anagrams in seconds,
eliciting high fives from a roomful of players when he instantly
transforms MEGACHIROPTERAN into CINEMATOGRAPHER.
Scrabbles John Reed. A self-described
communist, Lester began playing Scrabble in the 1960s in dingy
round-the-clock games parlors that were institutions for New York
men of a certain age and temperament. Lester works as a legal
assistant for a liberal Oakland firm, roots for the Chinese womens
soccer team when it plays the U.S., and marches against Western
involvement in Bosnia. He sometimes believes he should be smashing
capitalism rather than playing Scrabble. But playing Scrabble
is what he loves most and does best.
A reporter covering the sports business
for The Wall Street Journal
who gets sucked into the abyss
of a board game. Stefan played Scrabble casually as a youth and
in adulthood. But he never memorized words or entered a tournament.
When he stumbles onto the subculture of obsessives, he quickly
finds himself sinking deeper and deeper. His nights are spent
at home alone playing solitaire Scrabble. He studies lists of
words on the subway. He plans his life around the game. He finally
leaves his job to try to fulfill an epic quest: to see if he has
what it takes to become an expert Scrabble player.
Questions and answers with Stefan Fatsis