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Word whiz


Brendan Sullivan '07 at the National Scrabble Championships.

Can you name the five four-letter words that contain two Z's?

Brendan Sullivan '07 can. It's just one of the many tidbits of word-related trivia he picked up last summer while conducting research on the popular board game Scrabble.

With the help of a William Bristol Merit Scholarship, the physics and math major traveled the country competing in Scrabble tournaments and gathering information for a paper on the history of board games in America.

Sullivan's interest in Scrabble began last year when a professor introduced him to a local club. He developed the idea for his project after reading Word Freak by Wall Street Journal sportswriter and Scrabble expert Stefan Fatsis. In addition to touring a Hasbro factory in East Longmeadow, N.Y., Sullivan's journey took him to Scrabble tournaments in Stamford, Conn., Albany and Atlantic City, N.J., where he placed third out of 22 players in his division. He kept a journal documenting all the people he met at the tournaments, which draws hundreds of players.

At the National Scrabble Championships in Reno, Nev., Sullivan came in fourth in the sixth division. The 700-plus participants are placed into the six divisions based on their performances at National Scrabble Association (NSA)-sanctioned tournaments. The experts play in the first division for a grand prize of $25,000 while the winner of Sullivan's division earned $1,000.

For Sullivan, the chance to be at the championships was not just about playing Scrabble. He was able to interview Fatsis, who was there as a player and to do commentary for ESPN's coverage of the event. He also met NSA president John D. Williams, Jr.

This fall Sullivan organized the Hamilton Scrabble Club, which draws about 10-15 people to each meeting. While the Scrabble pros have the entire dictionary memorized, Sullivan suggests there's no need to go to such extremes. "Seventy-five percent of the words played in Scrabble are under four letters," he said. Of course, he has them memorized.

And the five four-letter words with two Z's: buzz, fizz, fuzz, jazz and razz.

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