A lover of (almost) all word games

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From the Eclectic Mind of Roger VanHaren

Roger VanHaren

Every day, I play a five-minute word game on my phone. It’s called “Seven Little Words.” (www.7littlewords.com) Each day’s puzzle consists of seven clues, seven mystery words and 20 letter groups. You find the mystery words by deciphering the clues and combining the letter groups.

Sometimes they’re easy, and sometimes they’re pretty tough. It’s fun and doesn’t take much time, but it keeps my love of words active.

I also like the “Jumble” in the newspaper. Unscrambling the mixed-up words and then unscrambling the resulting circled letters to make an new “punny” answer is fun, even though I can often solve them without writing anything down. But it’s all about words, right? The newspapers also offer “cryptoquote” or “cryptoquip,” which feature encrypted comments to decipher. And of course, there’s the daily crossword puzzle.

Lots of people like word games — Scrabble, acrostics, double crostics, crossword puzzles, crytoquotes, anagrams, word searches, jumble, Bananagrams, Boggle. Those are the old-fashioned word games. In the last few years, a new word game emerged – Words with Friends. It can be played on iPhones and Android phones, but it also can be played on iPads, iPods, Kindles and Nooks, too.

The game is operated by a company called Zynga, whose website proclaims “Millions are addicted … to the word-building, triple-score-seeking, chat-bubble-sending goodness of Words with Friends.” The game is available as both a free, ad-supported version or a paid version with no advertisements. I used to play the free version, so I had to put up with some ads — some of which were pretty annoying, but I’m cheap!

You don’t even have to have friends to play WWF. If you want some action, you can just hit the plus sign at the top of the page, and WWF will assign you to a random player who also may have no friends – or maybe you’re playing with a computer somewhere, I don’t know. I’ve never did that. I’m using the past tense because I don’t play anymore.

I can’t say I was “addicted” to WWF, but I played almost every day with a granddaughter, a couple of daughters-in-law, a couple of sons and Marilyn. It’s a one-on-one game, not a group activity. So at any time, I could have four or five games going on, and it might take a week to finish a game. I sometimes played just one word a day, sometimes two, almost never more than that against any one opponent.

The game also offers the opportunity to “chat” with your opponent with each move — a chance to complain about your letter draw, to make excuses, to boast or to talk trash. I didn’t “text” as a rule, but I did use the chat feature on WWF sometimes.

The game is similar to Scrabble in a lot of ways: Scrabble has 100 letters, WWF has 104 and the distribution is a little different. The object is to create crossing words on a 15-by-15 crossword puzzle grid, just as you do in Scrabble. Letter values are similar but not identical, and the placement of double letter, triple letter, double word and triple word blocks is different. There’s a lot of strategy, offensive and defensive, so you have be aware of where you place words. It’s important to get to the triples, but it’s also important to make sure that you don’t set up your opponent.

Unlike in Scrabble, where players could challenge words, and if it proved to not be in the dictionary you’d lose your turn, in WWF there’s no penalty for trying a word. If the word is not acceptable, you get a “sorry” message, and you can try again. That was the feature that turned me off to the game. Players could just keep trying letter combinations until they found something the game would accept, even if it was a word which they’d never seen before and had no clue about what it meant.

So, poor loser that I am, I quit playing the game. I love words; I preferred to rely on the collection of words I’ve stored in my gray matter. That is not to say that the millions of fans of WWF are wrong, I’m just too much of a word snob, I guess.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.