Word Wars: Tiles And Tribulations On The Scrabble Circuit

  • 2004
  • Movie
  • NR
  • Documentary

If the idea of playing Scrabble conjures up dreary images of dull evenings with aged family relatives, you haven't met the subjects of Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo's irresistible documentary. Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill and Joel Sherman are all top players in the strange word of competition Scrabble, an alternative universe where opponents compete...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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If the idea of playing Scrabble conjures up dreary images of dull evenings with aged family relatives, you haven't met the subjects of Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo's irresistible documentary. Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill and Joel Sherman are all top players in the strange word of competition Scrabble, an alternative universe where opponents compete in National Scrabble Association (NSA) approved tournaments and, with any luck, eventually play for the $25,000 grand prize in the National Scrabble Championship. Chaikin himself is a competitive Scrabbler and figures prominently in Word Freak, the best-selling book by Stefan Fatsis that first introduced the sport (yes, it is a sport) to a wider audience. Consequently, Chaikin knows exactly where to find the best Scrabble action and gains access to the homes and hotel rooms of the likable misfits who travel from tournament to tournament, living for one of the most ingenious — and perennially popular — board games since the invention of chess. After dropping in on the "parkies" who play a rough-and-tumble game in New York City's Washington Square Park — the park action is to the NSA as pickup street basketball games are to the NBA — Chaikin and Petrillo follow these four word warriors as they prepare for the 2002 Nationals in San Diego, Calif. Edley is an unprecedented three-time Nationals winner who combines Zen philosophy with rigid memorization exercises. Graham is a broke, smart-pill popping stand-up comedian who's always hustling for a buck. Sherman, nicknamed "G.I. Joel" for his turbulent gastrointestinal condition, claims his bodily malfunctions prevent him from holding a steady job; he lives with his father and older brother in a small house in the Bronx and plays Scrabble surrounded by piles of unopened mail. And temperamental, would-be activist Marlon Hill talks a lot of Afrocentrism between tokes and rounds of Scrabble. These players go way beyond studying the dictionary — aspiring tournament superstars study board positions, practice anagramming "bingos" (words made by using all the tiles on a player's rack) and memorize word lists culled from the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary. Unlike Fatsis's first-person account of his own obsessive journey into the world of competitive world play, the film follows these players to all the way to San Diego and the denouement is genuinely exciting. Not only have we watched them prepare for the showdown, but we've also come to realize that for many fanatical players, this final victory is all they've got.

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: If the idea of playing Scrabble conjures up dreary images of dull evenings with aged family relatives, you haven't met the subjects of Eric Chaikin and Julian Petrillo's irresistible documentary. Joe Edley, Matt Graham, Marlon Hill and Joel Sherman are all… (more)

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