Enjoying “Words” with “Friends”

Springtime temperatures are rapidly becoming summer-like. Kids are just about out of school for their annual break.

For the sports-minded, it’s a great time to head outdoors. There’s nothing like the crack of a baseball bat and huge expanses of green fields to fire up the competitive spirit.

It’s the perfect time of year to sequester yourself in a cool, dark room and crank up a game of Words With Friends.

WWF — formerly known as the World Wrestling Federation and, before that, the World Wildlife Fund — is a popular online diversion in which I’m majorly kicking butt. It’s a crossword game just different enough from Scrabble to keep its makers from being hauled into court. (One difference, for example: the words “copyright” and “infringement” are worth a total of 96 points in WWF while they’re worth only 92 in Scrabble.)

I’ve been playing the game on my iPad for several months now. Before that, I got my Scrabble fix in the most pathetic way possible, playing a desktop game alone against computer-generated avatars with names like “Elite” and “Master”. It was so embarrassing, I’d occasionally assume a disguise by creating new players for myself with names like “Davis1” and “Hitler”.

Now, I’m involved in a number of healthy interpersonal relationships with actual online people. We laugh, we chat, we commiserate over lousy racks of Hawaiian words like “EIAOUEU” (a kind of rice and plantain mixture) and “AOEUUUAU” (the last thing you say before being crushed by a tsunami). But mostly, we feign surprise at my extraordinary ability to crush them on a regular basis.

A few of my regular opponents — or “friends,” in the parlance of the game — are people I actually know in real life. “Era101” is a top manager in the New York office of my company who is so addicted to the game that she recently made several moves against me while vacationing in Paris. Another regular is my niece, a med student just back from a humanitarian mission to Uganda during which she helped treat end-stage AIDS patients and played the word “GROTTOS” for 26 points.

Perhaps the most curious relationship I have is with “Puba99,” a young coworker who sits four stations down from me. She’s a shy, quiet type and I’m a taciturn misanthrope so we never speak to each other in real life. In the game, however, we’re best buds, exchanging “GG’s” (good game) and “OMG’s” like a couple of giggly teenagers.

I know little about the rest of my regular opponents other than what I can glean from the name they’ve chosen for themselves. “TheNameIsDude” is, I assume, a Californian, and he offers me the strongest competition. We’re currently locked in a tight 313-303 match in which he’s played words like “DHAK” and “UNDEVOUT” while I’m waiting for my next turn to hit him with a “XGRRWYI” (a sloth-like tree bear from Peru and Ecuador, or perhaps a viral infection).

Others in my circle of friends include “CoastalHD,” “php67,” “Jack-of-all. No master,” “Mary0121” (who I imagine to be a 90-year-old born in January of 1921) and “Crmj3,” who I playfully refer to as “The 3 Man” though he may in fact be a precocious preschooler.

As for the game itself, it closely resembles conventional Scrabble except for certain letter point values and the position of bonus squares on the board. One quirky difference is WWF’s position on terms of a scatological nature. Unlike desktop Scrabble, it won’t allow words like “cum” and “tit” (I’m guessing it’s because game-makers don’t want to sully up the Internet with obscenities). However, it accepts “shat” and “poop” with no problem, though it shot down my attempt to add a “y” to the end of “poop” with an insincere “sorry, that is not an acceptable word” message.

I’m tempted to complain to World Wrestling’s founder Vince McMahon that if it’s acceptable to hit half-nude mesomorphs with folding chairs, it should be okay to play “poopy.”

If any of my readers our there would care to challenge me to a game some time, just search for “Davis1153” and invite me to play. If you enter a chat message referencing WordPress, I’ll promise not to play a “ZA” or “QI” against you, though I do reserve the right to smack you with a “DJINN”.

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