I woke up early this morning, before sunrise and before my alarm rang. I rolled over in bed and reached toward my nightstand for my phone. I touched the screen, saw the time --5:44-- and a text message I had received during the night: “25 57.”
“Game on!” I said to myself.
Every day, my friend Patrick and I play a game called Spelling Bee. It’s from the New York Times, and I confess that most days I scroll past the headlines and straight to the Spelling Bee, nestled at the very bottom of the newspaper’s app.
The game is shaped like a honeycomb. Seven letters sit within seven hexagons, six of them forming an outer ring around a yellow hexagon in the center. The objective is to make as many words with those seven letters as you can, and each word must contain the letter in the yellow center.
I love words. Growing up in Clay City, my family had a two-volume dictionary --thick books with blue covers-- that we bought from a traveling salesman. (I don’t think my kids even know that people used to knock on your door, unannounced, and sell you encyclopedias, vacuum cleaners and other items.) I read a lot of books as a child, but I also read those dictionaries. Beyond the list of words, they told how to write a proper letter and explained tricky grammar. I loved words and knowing about words.
Today, “word” was the first word I found in the Spelling Bee. One point. 56 more points to go.
Words with four letters, the minimum, are worth one point. Longer words are worth however many letters they have. For example, I found “rotor” today, and it is worth five points because it has five letters. Each day’s Spelling Bee has at least one panagram, a word that includes all seven letters. The panagram earns seven bonus points.
Sometimes I see words just by glancing at the letters. That’s how I found today’s panagram: driftwood. Sixteen points.
Other times I look methodically. Words that rhyme. Words with double vowels or double consonants. Common suffixes or prefixes. Today, “odor” helped me see “rotor,” and “roof” led me to “root.”
It would be easy to quit when I think I have exhausted all the letter combinations. But the game urges you on with rankings. Today for example, eleven points earns you “Solid,” 35 points adds up to “Amazing,” and with 49 points, you’re “Genius.” Right now I have 47 points. Why settle for amazing when you could be a genius, right?
But Patrick has 57 points and 25 words. I might be “amazing,” but I’m losing to him by five words and ten points.
I have always enjoyed board games. I grew up playing Sorry!, Chinese checkers, Clue and Monopoly. And do you remember a game called Husker Du? Nowadays I play SkipBo and Rummikub with my mom and my daughter. No one else wants to play.
A couple of months ago, on a whim, I downloaded an app for a game called minesweeper. I used to play that in the 1990s, when it came pre-installed on laptops. Let’s try it on the phone, I thought.
“Ann,” my husband said a few weeks later, “you’re spending hours on that game.” I felt defensive. I spend so much time in losing battles with my teenager that it felt good to win sometimes, even if it was just a game. Still, I knew my husband was right, I had gone overboard.
“Now I understand gaming and gambling addictions,” I told Patrick. “When I lose a game of minesweeper, I want to play again to prove I can win. And when I win, I want to win faster the next time.”
I decided I would rather spend my time reading, writing or doing yarn work. I deleted the minesweeper app.
Maybe I’m addicted to Spelling Bee, too. As you rack up points, the game tells you that you are nice, great, amazing then genius, countering the omnipresent message that as a parent I’m losing.
For now, though, I’ll keep playing Spelling Bee. I need to find five more words today and then start all over again tomorrow.