Wednesday, September 12, 2012

It's only words, and words are all I have

Words with Friends, an online game similar in concept to the old parlor game Scrabble, was introduced in 2009. It has gained popularity in an incredibly short amount of time and is available for play on many portable electronic devices. The game is played around the world and boasts a number of celebrity enthusiasts, including Today Show weather guy Al Roker, actors Rainn Wilson and Jon Hamm and musician John Mayer. Actor Alec Baldwin was famously kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to end a game while the plane prepared for take-off. 

Recently, my wife has joined the fun, with several simultaneous games going with friends and relatives. A few days ago, she introduced my nine-year-old niece — the proud owner of an iPad knock-off — to the game. My niece, a new fourth grader, is rambunctious, a voracious reader and pretty articulate for a girl her age. Over the phone, my wife explained the process of downloading and installing the app on her hand-held device and they were ready to begin their first game (after homework was finished, of course).

Just as in Scrabble, each player is able to view the playing broad but individual tiles are hidden from your opponents view. My wife began, clicking and dragging her electronic tiles to their "double-word-score" destination. Her turn completed, it was now up to my nine-year-old niece to continue the game, to scan her selection of letters, size them up against the available spaces on the board and use as many as she could to form a word, crossword-style. After a few minutes, an electronic chime sounded to alert my wife that her young opponent had played her turn.

The nine-year-old played "SEX".

My wife was mildly flustered. She thought that was an unusual word for a nine-year-old to play. She considered girl's reading ability and expanded vocabulary and just as quickly as Mrs. Pincus was momentarily disturbed, the feeling disappeared. Mrs. P scrutinized the letters in her electronic tray and finally dragged tiles onto the board to form another word connecting vertically off of a letter from her initiating round.

The beauty of Words with Friends lies in its convenience. A game can pause or continue at a participating player's whim. Play a word and, four days later, you can come back to a game in which your opponent has completed his turn a day or so ago. You can just pick up again at any time. 

My wife took full advantage of this particular benefit of the game. After her last turn, she went off to tend to more important things than an online game. When she returned the next day, she was prepared to take her next turn. She noticed that over the last twenty-four hours, my niece had also taken a turn. She had merely expanded upon her first-played word by adding two letters.

The nine-year-old played "SEXED".

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