Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Seven

My parents were wordies. One year in the late 1970s, I gave them an Upwords game for Christmas. It turned out to be the best gift I ever gave anyone. With their youngest child recently flown the nest, it gave them a point of connection they could count on. My father made a lazy Susan to put the board on, and cut down a half gallon acidophilus milk carton to stack and store the tiles in, which made it easier to tuck in his briefcase and take the game with them on airplane and train trips and beach stays. I’m not sure how, when traveling, my mother dealt with her penchant to use a dictionary to get the best possible word, her turns taking long enough for opponents to use the bathroom and get a snack. Oppositional child that I was, I quickly played the first word I saw, and always lost the game to her. Consequently, it was always her turn.

They had a Boggle game too—and Scribbage—but I’m imagining shaking the tiles in the plastic box made my mother’s tinnitus go wild and it never really caught on with them; Upwards remained the game of choice.

In later years, they added a paper and pencil word game to their Upwords on repeat. It was much easier to play on the fly, I’m sure. They called it Five-Letter-Word, and sometimes Jotto or Giotto (which is six letters). Jotto, invented in 1955, was an actual game, meaning you could buy it in a box with printed sheets containing the alphabet and boxes to fill in. They never purchased the boxed version, evidenced by the fact that it’s not here in the house.

They played it endlessly, always trying to rope visiting children into playing it with them. I generally refused. I’m terrible at strategy games, and playing with them made me feel like I hadn’t a brain cell in my head. I know they played it endlessly, because I’ve found their game sheets everywhere: in my father’s desk drawers, in the kitchen desk cubbyholes, in the file drawer, and in the boxes in the basement. Sadly, I didn’t save any. But I still have several boxes of paper to go through, and I’m confident I’ll find more. *

I rarely played either game with my mother when I moved in with her. I feel really terribly bad and sad about that now. I’m sure her brain and her heart suffered when her game partner died. Each time regret rears its head, I remind myself she couldn’t see. I may have played Upwords a few times, but having to tell her the words on the board was tedious for both of us. And waiting for her to find words in the dictionary using a super-powered magnifying glass gave me time to cook dinner during her turn. I never played Jotto with her (see above). I wonder now if I’m making up a fairy tale about her vision being the reason we didn’t play, when really I just didn’t want to lose.

Fast forward to 2022. Imagine my surprise when I realized the newest internet game gone viral, Wordle, is Five-Letter-Word! My parents were such trend setters. They would think it hilarious.

I’ve not played Wordle, and won’t (see above paragraph), but I looked up the description in preparation for this post. When I saw someone boasting on Facebook that they solved that day’s word in three tries, I did not understand how that was even possible. But then I read that the game tells you which positions your correct letters are in. What the heck? Internet gamers are such wusses.

I also noted that the player gets only six tries, and can only play once a day. Because heaven forbid we should get addicted to word games, and there might not be time to scroll Facebook or play action games. I was going to say play PacMan, but that would age me. It’s the only online game I’ve ever played.

* I pulled one of the several boxes of all things paper off the basement shelf, hoping to find more Five-Letter-Word sheets. Sure enough, there they were right on top in a plastic grocery bag of (yes) more unmailed letters my mother’s part time caretaker removed from Mama’s nightstand (under supervision, I assure you). I hope to goodness they are not to me. (And, again, why did she save them? See post #6.) Another difference between their game and the computer version (learned when I Googled the game) is the creator says there are about 12,000 five letter words in the English language; he had his wife go through the list and eliminate words with which she was not familiar, ending up with about 2500, “which should last a few years.” My parents, or my mother at least, had no such common-words restriction. It appears she went through the dictionary, probably in my father’s absences, and made lists of words.

More out-of-place calendars. I’m wondering about the “diaries.”
Many five-letter words!
They got fancy, with preprinted sheets.

Happy gaming!

P.S. The NYT’s history of Wordle’s creation is a fun read. There’s a paywall when I link it, but perhaps you can find it, “Wordle is a Love Story.”

3 thoughts on “Excavating a Home: An Archeological Dig, Part Seven

  1. I completely missed it the first time around! There’s a paywall on your link, but I found a way to read it elsewhere. Sweet story. Is it wrong to be so cynical as to think eventually someone like Facebook will buy it (after people are hooked) and then try to monetize it somehow like everything else? Sigh. I want to believe there are still people who do good for the sake of good. But …

    I’ll take UPWORDS. And SCRABBLE. Maybe it’s like the difference between a real book and Kindle. I want those ivory or wood tiles in my hand. Too much is lost in the ether.


  2. I love this! Just yesterday a friend mentioned Wordle and I looked it up. I’m sure that like most viral things we’ll learn it is somehow capturing data or something. Give me the simple, tangible word games all day long. We have always been a Scrabble family and more recently, Bananagrams has been worked into the rotation. (Though I admit to a couple games of Words With Friends too) My folks play a brain game every day and I’m charmed to think of your folks doing the same. I’m moved by the old score sheets. I’d love to play UPWORDS sometime!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Read the story about Wordle at that link. Sounds like the creator was pretty careful to make it a simple game that doesn’t do data capture type stuff. But what do I know. I like Upwords better than scrabble. You don’t have to know a lot of obscure words (though it’s helpful) or make the longest word; it’s more about seeing possibilities and how many words you change as you stack.

      Liked by 1 person

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