One unfortunate quality which my wife and I share is a tendency to get hooked on certain games. . .  and I am downright addicted to a word game found on Facebook- a game called Pathwords.   My sister Randi introduced me to it when I was in Decorah,  and part of what sold me so thoroughly was that she was and is spectacularly talented at the game and just sitting next to her and watching her crack 1000 points without hardly breaking a sweat was truly astonishing and inspiring.  The next thing I knew, she had me sitting in front of the computer, trying out the game myself while she hung on my shoulder, tutoring me in the finer points of the game.   And thanks to her coaching,  I actually cracked above 1000 points myself – although truth be told well more than half of those points were really earned by my sister;  I was just the guy typing while she was really doing most of the word finding.

In case you haven’t played it before-  When the game starts, an array of letter tiles appear (as pictured above)  and your task is to find words that are spelled out in consecutive tiles (in any direction, including backwards.)  You click on the tiles in question to spell out each word – double-clicking on the last letter to register the word –  and if indeed it is a legitimate word in the dictionary,  the tiles disappear / a certain number of points are credited to you (you get more points for longer words)  and new tiles descend to take the place of those that disappeared.  And for five minutes, you keep looking for words in this matrix of letters.

When you play on a fast computer with someone as brilliant as my sister,  the game feels like a frantic blur . . .  and one of the most frustrating things when I got back to Racine was trying to play this game on our little laptop, which was like driving a jalopy after having flown in a jet.   Everything in this game moves so much more slowly on our laptop, except the clock- although the pace allows me to focus on all of the letters and to find some fairly lengthy words that I would almost certainly miss if moving with Randi’s breakneck speed.  Unfortunately,  the best I have managed to do on our home computer is a measly 600 points (which is less than half of Randi’s highest total) and most of the time I’m down in the 400’s-  while I have snuck just past 700 on my computer at Carthage.   The saddest thing is that I don’t get to play this at WGTD,  which is where i honestly am apt to have some time to kill most days.   But Gateway Technical College does not permit any campus computers to access Facebook,  so my Pathwords play has to happen at Carthage, where I really don’t have the time for such frivolity.

And when I get rolling,  it starts to feel like an addiction where think I can stop – and I tell myself that I’m this will be my last game – but then I’ll either do really well and feel the irresistible urge to score even higher – or I will have an awful round and will feel compelled to play another just so I’m not finishing on a note of despair.  So I’m damned if I succeed and equally damned if I fail . . . and the next thing I know I’ve been playing the game for nearly an hour when I should have been reshelving music or tidying up the office or working on my syllabus.

My only consolation is that this is a game that exercises one’s noggin, although I can’t quite figure out what real and lasting intellectual benefit it is to spend five minutes spelling out “err” and “nog”  and “ilk” and an occasional “bade” or “spew.”  (My longest word thus far is “carrier” which I believe earned me 80 points.)    But at least it isn’t nearly so mindless as any of those rock ‘em sock ‘em games where you’re basically just pulling a trigger and trying to kill as many Klingons as you can.    This feels like it matters a whole lot more than that and yields at least some kind of benefit. . . although more than anything, it’s just plain fun.  And it’s also a welcome and beneficial dose of humble pie for me to be so emphatically second string to my amazing sister, who appears to be the Michael Phelps of Pathwords- and I don’t mean that she smokes marijuana either!   She is just spectacular at this game and it makes me wish that there could be some kind of national tournament with prize money and a guest slot on David Letterman for the winner- and I feel like my sister would be in there swinging to earn any such title.   That’s how good she is.   And then there’s me,  eating her dust,  finding words like “dig” or “pop” while she’s finding words like “stagnate” . . .  the jet and the jalopy, and both equally hooked on this great game.