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Word Games

Almost every morning, while I sit at the island in the kitchen and watch fifteen minutes of national news and sip coffee from a heavy pottery mug, I play a game of Wordle. Hosted by the New York Times, Wordle is a daily word puzzle you can play for free on your mobile device or computer. It’s easy to learn. You have six chances to guess an arbitrary fiveletter word, and the game tells you which letters are, and are not, in the word. Also, the game helps you by letting you know if you have certain letters in their correct position (first letter, last letter, etc.) If the letter turns green, then you know the letter is in the right spot. Yellow means that the letter is in your word, but you do not have it placed in its correct location. Gray means that the letter is not in the day’s solution. The goal of the game is to figure out the secret word with the fewest guesses. The New York Times sets a different word each day. Today’s solution is “shine,” and I succeeded in solving it in four tries this morning. Two days ago, the answer was, “midst.” In mid April, one of the answers was, “ample.” Everyone all over the world tries to guess the same word each day — everyone is competing against one another. Some people always start with the same word. I change my first-attempt word each time I play to make it more challenging for me. About a month ago, I guessed the word on the first try, which doesn’t mean I’m smart. It means that I got lucky that day. I doubt that will ever happen again.

So Wordle has become part of my daily routine. I play the puzzle in a matter of five minutes while my brain wakes up, and then I share my results with my sister, my husband, and a niece in Birmingham via a quick text message. They all play, too, and they send me their results. It’s a way for us to keep in touch during the week, and the friendly competition is fun. Wordle gained momentum during the COVID pandemic, when people all over the world were trying to find ways to occupy their brains, but I have always loved word games. My family played Scrabble when I was growing up. I loved to touch the wooden tiles with the letters imprinted on them, and I loved looking at the letters and coming up with all sorts of word combinations. Both of my parents were great Scrabble players. They were experts in forming real words containing “q” or “z.” One of them usually won, but it was fun trying to beat them.

When I was a teenager, Wheel of Fortune debuted, and my siblings and I watched and tried to guess the word puzzles. It was different back then. The beautiful Vanna White (now in her sixties) actually had to turn the letters around for the guests. Pat Sajak hosted the show and was as irritating then as he is now. I was pretty good at guessing the puzzles, and at one point, I considered trying to get on the show as a contestant. I should have done that. My brain is too slow now to be a contender.

In retrospect, I think I liked Scrabble and Wheel of Fortune so much because they were activities my family could do together, and I loved it when we were all together.

Back in the eighties, when my husband and I were dating, he took me home to Chattanooga to meet his parents for the first time. I remember walking in their big, historic home filled with oriental rugs and antiques. A wooden chest sat in front of their Victorian-style sofa, piled high with crossword puzzles from the newspaper. I soon learned that his mother, Margaret, loved to complete the daily puzzles each day. She was also a “word” person. Even when she was in her eighties and fighting dementia, we’d help her fill in the words in elaborate crossword puzzles. She often didn’t know what year it was or who the president of the United States was, but she knew that “son” was the three-letter word for the clue: Prince Charles, to Queen Elizabeth II.

I have always enjoyed games and puzzles — especially when they involve words, and Wordle is just another form of entertainment that forces me to use my brain in a different way. If you want to give it a try, visit wordle/index.html.

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