New York Daily Photo Analytics

Friday, November 06, 2009

Word Freaks

One of the defining characteristics of New York City is the passion, fervor, and obsession of many individuals in pursuit of activities, some of which might not seem worthy of an adult's time and effort.
Most people understand that chess is a serious game - various pieces each with its own special movement abilities and rules make it somewhat formidable to the newcomer. And a number of its champions are known to the public, most notably Bobby Fischer.

But Scrabble is a game that is seen by most as a past time, most often associated with their childhood. A game that can easily learned and enjoyed by all. To see it taken seriously by adults may come as a surprise. Except in New York City, where nearly everything is taken seriously by someone or some group and where board games are no exception - the perfect activities for a city limited in free space.

Stefan Fatsis, a former journalist for the Wall Street Journal, took time off from his job to investigate the world of top-level tournament Scrabble. He became obsessed with the game, and the book Word Freak emerged from his more than three years of nonstop Scrabbling. Published in 2001, the book became a New York Times bestseller.
Fatsis describes the exotic subculture of characters he met in the Manhattan Scrabble Club and in the northwest corner of Washington Square Park, such as:
G.I. Joel Sherman, a jobless, gastrointestinally challenged, fulltime Scrabble player,
Marlon Hill, an anagramming Malcolm X, 
Matt Graham, a pill-popping stand-up comic,
Joe Edley, a nonconfrontational human-potential devotee who nonetheless irritates fellow players in his dual role as champion player and National Scrabble Association executive,
Lester Schonbrun, an armchair Communist who began playing in the early 1960s,

The northwest corner of Washington Square Park, seen in the photo, has been the haunt of Scrabble players for years. In fact, this area's use for Scrabble play was taken into consideration in the recent redesign of the park. Here, on the new enlarged stone tables, you will find serious Scrabble players with time clocks, Scrabble dictionaries, and score sheets. World-class championship players can be found among them.
The Scrabble players in Washington Square Park were also featured in the 2004 documentary film Word Wars.

What type of people take an ordinary game to the level of obsession? Johns D. Williams, Jr. of the National Scrabble Association says: “Scratch the surface of any champion in any individual sport and you’re often going to find an obsessed misfit who’s deficient in many parts of his life.”
You have to give up something to be a world class word freak :)

Note: The Southwest corner of the park is the realm of chess. See Chess Monsters here.

Related Postings: Good Fortune, Marshall Chess Club


Mary said...

At least one of the players in this photo is also a Bridge fanatic.
I guess challenging the brain with structured games gives a satisfaction nothing else in their lives can provide.

Brian Dubé said...

There is also a huge social component here at work. Acceptance based on skill and not looks or charm.

Mary said...

Good point!

Steffe said...

There's a lot of scrabble players around the world. And many tournaments. I am also obsessed, but with photography.