Lucky for me, the work I do is all about words, and I feel like we have a great relationship.
But I recently started reading Word Freaks, the book about Scrabble.
It was written by Wall Street Journal reporter Stefan Fastis. I’ve enjoyed his stories in the Journal as well as on NPR on Fridays. In fact, I’d love to have him write for us. So Stefan, if you’re reading this, drop me a line. But anyway.
Under the guise of “book research,” Fastis decided to enter the community of “professional” Scrabble players and try to increase his playing prowess as well as his Scrabble rating.
Scrabble ratings? Professional players? Being a word person, I, of course, love Scrabble. We even have a very slow ongoing game set up in my office.
But after the first 10 pages of Word Freaks (with diagrams!), I realized that I’m merely a recreational player — and that my word knowledge is that of a kindergartner. The people in this book, although mostly down on their luck, are geniuses.
Now, before you roll your eyes about how boring all of this is (you’re a numbers person, aren’t you?), let me set you straight. This book was actually on the New York Times bestseller list a few years ago, and for good reason. Fastis does an incredible job of bringing the game to life through fascinating characters like Marlon, Joe, John, and Matt, to name a few.
But reading about their strategies and their ability to memorize huge lists of words, as well as to anagram long lists of letters, left me feeling not so smart. Which might have something to do with why I found myself taking mental notes about the words that start with Q that don’t require a U (did you know there are only 10?), the most popular anagram roots, and where I could find lists of the two- and three-letter words, which I may one day memorize.
Sadly, even after all of this, I can’t say my Scrabble game has really improved (nor has my word knowledge, for that matter). But now I’m even more hooked on Scrabble. In fact, I found a Scrabble-esque online game that I often play with my brother, who lives in another state. Unfortunately, that has produced many a bleary-eyed morning after playing one too many games late into the night. Which no doubt is a contributing factor to my lack of focus in meetings about numbers.
The upshot of all this is that there are many, many people in this company who are most excellent at numbers, leaving me all kinds of time to think about words, which has got to be making me better at my job. At least that’s my story. And I’m sticking to it.
SHERRI GULCZYNSKI BURNS