When You Have Words with Friends

You learn something new every day.

Words I have written on my novel so far: 17,287

Words with Friends games I have going right now: 4

Miles run today: 4.5

It is a little embarrassing when you are a writer and you lose a game of Words with Friends.

My BFF practically skipped to our run because she creamed me with words yesterday: as Amy Duncan on “Good Luck Charlie” would say: “Ba-bam!”

When I was younger and we went to my grandmother’s house for a week each summer, my sister and I used to play Scrabble with my grandmother. My sister is four and a half years younger. My grandmother was very good at Scrabble.

I was middling, and I never got much better. Strategy is apparently not my strong suit in life, and Triple Letter and Triple Word scores are not helpful when the tiles you hold are: REAOUIL.

So when my son wanted to get the “Words with Friends” app to whup me with while away the long summer hours, I agreed.

Now, years after all other people in the Known Universe have moved on to complex apps, our family has become obsessed with it. Two hours this weekend consisted of us, sitting out on the deck, waiting for pings from our various electronic devices.

Why? You might ask. We have a perfectly good turntable-ish hard copy Scrabble board. But oh, how fun it is to touch the screen and put tiles on the board and then recall them when the app tells you it isn’t really a word. I must have tried a million “RECRY”s and “PILIS” words that actually do not exist.

I love words. I know a lot of words. A lot, I tell you. I do not actually know a lot of words that make use of the letters “OIAOEIQ.” And yes, I know “QI” counts as a word in Scrabble.

This weekend, I learned from my husband that “JOW” is a word, although I have never heard it before and secretly wonder if he pretended to look up the definition. My husband is not supposed to know about bell tolling kinds of words; he is supposed to only know unhelpful science-y words like “deoxyribonucleic acid” and “ethylene” which are not Scrabble-ish words.

He got irritated when I played “QUOTH.”

My son got irritated when I beat him by about a hundred points.

“I am 28 years older than you and a writer,” I said, not very secretly excited that there is at least one person I can beat, even if he is only 11.

“But some of your words aren’t real,” he said.

“Words with Friends thinks they are,” I said happily.

“Mo-om.”

Words with Friends does not reward me for knowing SAT vocabulary words like “recalcitrant” and “aesthete.” Those are words I can wrap my head around.

I’m studying up, all you “QI”s out there. If I see a Triple Letter score, you better believe I’m on it. And quite frankly, tiles full of vowels are starting to scare me. I really, really like consonants.

But good news! The Words with Friends app does the math part for you. That’s when I decided it’s my kind of game.

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Our Family Has a No Compete Clause

This means war.

Times we have fought over Pictionary: 8

Times I have won Settlers of Catan: 0

Times I have thought I was going to win Settlers of Catan: 13

Pictionary is off-limits in our family. When we head to the beach each summer, a multi-generational, extended family affair, my brother-in-law has declared Pictionary a no-go. My husband would tell you that this is because my drawings all resemble alien feet. But it is really because the arguments conversations go something like this:

“But why would you draw a globe if the word is earlobe?”

“Just the rhyming, you know, the actual ear drawing didn’t work…”

“That’s an ear? It looks like a treble clef. Seriously.”

“Treble clefs are hard to draw. Give me some props–high five…”

“There are no high fives for epic failure. Earlobe. Earlobe. Earlobe.”

The issues are not restricted to two people, or even four. There is dysfunction in the whole set-up, except of course, for my 9-year-old daughter, who is a wonderful artist and looks at all of us with disgust. Did I mention that cocktail hour begins at 4 p.m. at the beach?

In Pictionary, my dad is the liability. We take turns having him on our team, because as the timer is turned, his pencil hovers over the paper while the sand trickles inexorably to the bottom of the glass.

“Draw something, Dad! Anything.”

And then the random guesses begin as we stare at the blank page.

“Costa Rica!”

“Arm!”

“Saltwater taffy!”

My brother-in-law is not an alcoholic, but he probably wishes he were.

I try to help. “Another beer?”

He shakes his head sadly and points to the puffy, benevolent clouds outside. “Looks like a storm might be rolling in.”

Everyone ignores him.

We have also tried poker, which my mom will not play because of some unknown aversion to betting. No money is ever used in the playing of our poker. It consists of me giggling, my husband telling me to find a poker face, and my brother-in-law and sister dealing each other the best cards. Or maybe they just know how to play better.

One of my favorites is Settlers of Catan, where you try to build settlements and use resources like sheep, wood, wheat and brick to dominate the board. My husband won’t play it anymore.

Problem #1: My husband wants to win. And he never does.

Problem #2: My sister has a Ph.D. in some complicated science-y thing, but I suspect now that it may be board game-related. She always wins. Effortlessly.

Problem #3: I always think I’m going to win and still have a chance. My son does, too, and we continue to cling to the wreckage of the sinking ship with looks of hope on our faces. We are the golden retrievers of board games.

I always thought that I wasn’t a competitive person. I never played sports in school and shied away from direct confrontation. But when my children were young and wanted to play Chutes and Ladders, I scared myself.

“Ha! Take that! Back down the chute with you!” I found myself saying to my 3-year-old daughter.

She did not often ask to play board games with me.

The whims of the chutes were so unexpected, so uncontrollable. Maybe my kids didn’t understand how mercurial the winds of life could be. By controlling and beating ol’ Chutes, success in life would be mine. Mine!

The only game that works for us now is Apples to Apples, Junior Edition.

For a writer, it’s a great game. You turn over an adjective, and everyone has a hand full of nouns. They have to play a noun that they think the judge will like best as a match for the adjective.

My son goes for silly.

“Fresh.”

His choice would probably be, “Helicopters.”

This throws my grandmother off a bit when she’s judging. “Helicopters?” she’ll ask.

My son will snicker, and she gives him a “hmph.”

The perfect multi-generational game. No right or wrong answers, and a little bit of guessing about how people are likely to judge.

But I’ve been working on my alien feet, and I’m hoping that someday, we’ll all be mature enough to try Pictionary again.