It’s a clash of titans that involves tens of thousands of words, fanatical devotion and intense concentration in Las Vegas, Nevada. When the dust settles, either the Chicago options trader in a Hawaiian shirt or the mild-mannered music professor from Canada will reign supreme over the world’s Scrabble boards.
In Word Slingers, Joel Wapnick and Brian Cappelletto make it to the final round in the World Scrabble Championship after eliminating brainy opponents from as far away as Nigeria and Sri Lanka.
This documentary follows four elite-level players to the ultimate Scrabble championship. Their scores are expert but their styles couldn’t be more different. Wapnick is professorial, a coolly methodical defending champion whose strategy is based on uncanny powers of memorization; David Boys is a brash, street-smart hustler who prides himself on a lightning-fast intuition; Robin Pollock-Daniel is a stay-at-home mom who radiates charm and is the highest-ranked woman player in the world; and Adam Logan, a mysterious math genius based in Berkeley, California, has been dazzling the wordy universe of expert Scrabble since the tender age of nine.
This documentary explores a hobby that is both seriously cerebral and plain old fun. It will portray players who manage to memorize seven times the number of words that constitute your average vocabulary – as many as 140,000 words. It will shed light on the curious history of a game that was invented by an out-of-work U.S. architect during the Great Depression and now has millions of enthusiasts.
The culture of Scrabble has gone global. Avid players form clubs from Bahrain to Zambia, tossing off obscure seven and eight-letter words in a language – English – that many of them can barely speak. For these players definitions are beside the point; they memorize vast numbers of words that could just as well be binary code. The obsessive desire to play, to make beautiful moves, and win are the driving forces behind competitive Scrabble.
The competitive circuit culminates in the world championship held every two years. The toughest wordsmiths in the Las Vegas tournament are a motley group: a zen master of meditative calm who warms up with tai chi; a New York hypochondriac glued to his walkman; a poker player from Phoenix; a Thai architect whose spoken English is almost nonexistent; a Sri Lankan student, and a Nigerian ad executive out to have a good time.
But all of these players are eclipsed by the quirky Cappelletto and the gentlemanly Wapnick, who face off in a High Noon shootout of words. Cappelletto fires off lethal words like vozhd (a Stalinist leader), jerrid (a wooden javelin), and ovariole (insect ovary). Wapnick, a 53-year-old university professor in Montreal, hits back with wheep (to give a prolonged whistle) and baju (a short garment worn in Malaya) but stumbles on a word he should have known: resojet. The upshot is a new world Scrabble champion.