Until a month ago, having words with friends had an entirely different meaning than it does now.
I used to equate that phrase to having a quarrel or a misunderstanding. That was before I discovered the gaming phenomenon, "Words With Friends."
For those of you unfamiliar with this on-line Scrabble-like game, let me enlighten you.
It first appeared in July 2009 but didn’t explode virally until October 2009 when John Mayer tweeted, “Words With Friends is the new Twitter." Today more than 6 million people play the game. That’s awesome! I’m one of them!
I knew about "Words With Friends" but wasn’t aware I could access the app on my iPod touch—by tech standards, my iPod is practically a dinosaur. A high school chum I reconnected with recently said I could download the app if I upgraded my system, and insisted I check it out. She also said I’d love playing.
I now realize her encouragement was simply a ploy to engage me in late-night scrabbling duels. We’re both night owls—she’s on the East Coast and doesn’t sleep much; I’m in Mountain View and stay up late.
I’m an avid Scrabble and Bananagrams player, but you need other people to play those games. Therein lies the beauty of WWF. You turn on the app, and within seconds, you’re in a game with a friend—wherever they are.
From the beginning, it was a fun distraction; it didn’t really interfere with anything important. I only played in my spare time. But as more and more friends begin to invite me to play, my spare time is disappearing. My East Coast friend and I now play a dozen games at a time.
There are dozens of sites where you can look up the correct spelling of a word, find unusual two and three-letter words, or unscramble your rack of letters into something usable. Some think this is cheating. I confess I’ve used this tool a few times when all I had were consonants and no vowels or vice versa, so I can’t pass judgment.
Last weekend friends from Seattle visited. I’ve been a friend with this couple for more than 40 years. To my delight, he is also obsessed with WWF. She, a self-proclaimed critic of online games, contends it’s a waste of time. Actually, what she said is, unlike us, she’s too busy doing social things to play.
We protested that WWF was social. (Friends can chat while they play. You can also play with random players and make new friends.) We insisted it was educational. (There’s always a new word popping up.)
Our protestations were met with, “Imagine what meaningful things you could accomplish with your time if you weren’t sitting like a lump unscrambling letters.” Wow! When she said that, we were playing Bananagrams. (Go figure.)
Truthfully, I do wonder whether my to-do list would be as long as it is if I stopped playing WWF, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon to find out.
It’s also true that the games interfere somewhat with the rest of my life. (I’m staying up later. My Seattle friend also pointed out that lack of sleep could cause heart disease. Yikes!)
I may not have much free time, but the app was free. I’m a cheapskate; I have the version with annoying pop-up ads. I skip over them between moves.
The accepted words and board placement of WWF are a bit different, but the strategies and tactics for winning games are like regular Scrabble. It’s the same concept, and it’s fun. Games can take as long as an afternoon or stretch out over several days.
If you’re playing against an experienced player, you’ll probably lose a lot in the beginning. My East Coast friend is an impressive player and has more checks in her win column, but I’m slowly gaining on her.
It’s also true that WWF is a distraction and completely addictive. It hooked me as soon as I started my first game. I wonder how long it will be before someone launches a WWFA group (Words With Friends Anonymous).
The next time you see someone at or looking completely engaged in their iPad or phone, it might be they’re playing "Words With Friends."
From one friend to another, give it a try. You’ll like it, but remember—you’ve been warned. If you need a friend to have words with, give me a try.
My iPod just beeped. It’s my turn to play. I have K, X, and Q in my rack! Yech!