Twenty years ago, we had Snake. Before apps, it was the only game our brick-looking Nokia’s could support, and it was better entertainment than spelling funny words upside-down using the calculator (the next coolest game our cell phones had). Phones have come a long way.
TechCrunch reported in a 2017 article people spent an average of five hours a day on their phones — switching between social media and games and banking apps and e-readers. Now even the word nerds have their share of smartphone entertainment to choose from. Some might provide the perfect break to unblock your writer’s block, too.
My five favorite word games — rated worst to best — available as both Apple and Android apps.
5. Whirly Word
In Whirly Word, you get a wheel with six letters and you have to spell words using just those letters. You do know the number of letters in each word and how many words there are. It’s up to you for the rest. Once you guess enough words to progress to the next round, the app alerts you with a green light.
A friend recommended this to me, saying she’d recently deleted it from her phone because it was too addicting. I failed to see the appeal.
Letterpress is a lot like Boggle, except your letters don’t have to be consecutive. From 25 letters, spell words that use as many letters as possible. Your opponent can steal letters away by using them after you. You can protect letters from blocking them in. Use up all the letters between the two of you, and the game goes to the person with the most letters. Play bots or friends.
This game is fun because you can always find a bigger word. You play “TENNIS” and “REALISTIC,” your opponent plays “INTERCEPTIONS” and “ELASTICITY.” So far, the bots are kicking my butt. Fun if you’re in line for a long time but not something I’m itching to beat my record at.
A Merriam-Webster production, Typeshift is unique as far as word games go. Slide several columns of letters up and down until you create a word in the center. Find all the words and move on to the next round.
Seems simple and bright colors are attractive. It’s a wall when you get stuck though. Start over or randomly move the letters around like one of those maze puzzles. Mildly entertaining.
2. Words With Friends/Scrabble
Scrabble is a word-nerd staple. Words With Friends is Scrabble’s step-cousin. Played with the same rules as Scrabble, you get seven letters to start. You must start from the middle of the board and you’ll get more points based on the squares on which you play — double letter, triple word, etc. Play with friends or the computer and chat while you’re playing. The app will alert you when it’s your turn so you can play throughout your day without constantly checking in. If you’re prone to analog, you’ll still appreciate the wooden tiles of a real Scrabble game. This digital version is no replacement, but it’s a fine substitute for on-the-go. Plus, it’s fun to whoop your friends from a distance. (Yes, this is a call for challengers.)
There is a Scrabble app. It doesn’t have any advantages over Words With Friends though. There seems to be more people on Words With Friends since it was available as an app first.
Though analog Scrabble is fun, it’s nice not to do the math part.
1. The New York Times Crossword
A classic favorite — at least mine. It’s not about just smarts. Once you catch on to the puzzle’s theme, it’s more about word association and pattern recognition than rote knowledge, though if you happened to know geography well or studied British lit in college, it’s certainly not going to hurt.
The NYT has a crossword-specific app. As an add-on to your news subscription, you can add the daily crossword. Or you can purchase puzzle packs — $3.99 for 20 puzzles all along a similar theme.
If you’re doing them in the order they come out, they get progressively more difficult throughout the week — Mondays is the easiest puzzle and Saturday is the most difficult.
This is one of the only games or reading material I prefer digital to analog. The app allows you to seek just as much help as you need. If you can, do it with no hints. But if you want to check specific squares, specific words or even the whole puzzle, you can. Nice if you find yourself — like me — beginning a puzzle with the wrong word and then every other word that branches off that word being incorrect. It’s enough to drive a girl to stop doing crosswords.