What word games do you play?

By Caitlin Kelly

I’ve always been proud of my vocabulary and I’ve been writing for a living since university.

But it’s humbling indeed to realize how many words I still don’t know or just don’t use.

I recently began playing the New York Times Spelling Bee and am officially addicted!

It’s shaped like a flower, with seven letters — six around a central letter that must be included in every word of four or more letters.

Its feedback as you play is so New York-ishly competitive….as you make more words and score more points (with more points for longer words) it goes from Nice to Solid (!) to Great to Amazing.

The highest level (which I have yet to attain) is Queen Bee.

And I’m such a nerd that when I come up with a word that uses all the letters — that they didn’t include — there is much gnashing of teeth. How dare they!

It teaches me a lot about how I perceive, how I think, how I see (or don’t!) see patterns.

And words I never use or have never heard before.

How could I have missed anime?

I don’t follow it as an art form, even as I know what it is. So my eyes didn’t discern it.

And let’s not forget tontine — an obscure 17th-19th century word for a kind of insurance.


It’s really interesting to work hard at it for a bit, get tired and frustrated, then go away for a while. Maybe an hour or more.

Almost without fail, the minute I see it anew — boom! –– there’s a word right in front me I hadn’t noticed.

I like that it forces me to take breaks and refresh my brain.

I also play Scrabble with my husband, but more often now solo against the computer at the advanced level. It drives me nuts when it — often — makes obviously French words! Like quai.

I also need to memorize a lot more words using q, j, and z.

He and I play Bananagrams and he’s gotten very good!

What I like most about it, other than it’s easily portable (the tiles come in the cutest little yellow cotton sack that looks like a banana), is it forces players to move fast and be super flexible. If the word patterns you’ve made aren’t allowing for the next letters, break ’em up and move them as needed.

This is huge, this sort of instant destruction. It’s the opposite of Scrabble, where you aim for the highest possible score every time. With Bananagrams, the goal is to use up all the letters as fast as possible then shout “Bananas!” when you win.

It’s a little odd that I work with words and also play with them. But I like that they’re not only my bread and butter but a source of real pleasure and relaxation.

These games are a fun and easy way to stay mentally sharp, to grow my vocabulary, to savor a bit of competition.

Do you play any word games?

17 thoughts on “What word games do you play?

  1. I enjoy playing scrabble with my 27 year old kid who lives with us. Soon, however, they will be moving out. I’m glad to know there is an online version so I can play by myself!

  2. Lisa

    I love Scrabnle and Bananagrams too although am not especially good at Scrabble – not strategic enough in my placements. On my phone I have Wordscapes which is like a crossword puzzle without clues but with the letters. Highly addictive, but prone to some frustration when they use a foreign word or I forget about US spelling without a u (favor rather than favour) although they do allow bonus words. They also don’t have some words which annoys me! Still it’s great to keep me occupied on a short wait for food or something like that.

  3. The only word games I play are the ones where I take something someone said in conversation and find a way to make a joke or new meaning out of it.
    Unless you count fiction writing as a word game, in which case I play word games several nights a week.

  4. Nah, I hate word games. They’re too much like writing headlines back in the day when we had to count the characters … a half-count for an “i,” a count-and-a-half for “m” or “w,” that sort of thing.
    Besides, I get obsessive, and that’s no fun.
    OK, I do indulge in puns, but they’re not really a game, are they?

  5. I love words and enjoy doing the nyt sunday crossword. one of the highlights of my relaxing time off. I have been working on them for a few years, and have gotten better over time. I can totally finish one about 1/3 times now. I never cheat, and I either win or lose. just like you said, if I walk away from it a bit, often the answer I was struggling with becomes obvious. our brains keep working even when we walk away. I’ve never played Bananagrams, but it sounds like a game I would love.

    1. Bananagrams is a hoot. What I like as an exercise is it forces you to break some words apart to keep going and make new ones with the new letters you pick up. I like how it shoves you into rethinking.

      1. yes, that’s why I enjoy some word games and sudoku as well, not that I’m into numbers, but I’m able to find the patterns

  6. Lynn

    I too am completely addicted to Spelling Bee. I hesitated getting a subscription, because I just knew this would be the case. I now just do it after supper ( 20h00 here in France). Otherwise, I keep going back to it again and again, until I get Genius ( 5 days out of 7) .I too am surprised by the words they consider general knowledge ( while at the same time refusing « metonymy »). The bottom line is that if you are a botanist, or a microbiologist, familiar with Spanish, then, yes, I guess you could consider some of the words part of general knowledge. However, I also realize that a general knowledge of how prefixes and suffixes work and a certain dexterity with compound words, it is possible to get « genius » most of the time (well, 5 days out of 7😀). I just learned of Queen Bee status. Guess I’ll have to brush up on my microbiology and botany.

    1. 5 of 7. WHEW!!!! That’s so impressive.

      I get so annoyed by all the totally legit words they don’t include — and I seriously wonder about American political correctness (nappy and mammy were not included….and nappy is just a diaper in Britain!)

      I have NEVER heard of a libelee.

      The easiest ones include ing and ed, and away you go…

      Yesterday’s airman, barman and barmaid…

  7. Lynn Blin

    Yes, to all the above. Not to mention the « wannas, gonnas, gottas » which I would ask students never to use, and are considered as acceptable. And the abbreviations – all part of oral English, but I would have never suspected as being eligible. This past week «incipit » was REFUSED. And as you mentioned, British words are not accepted, and sometimes, though not systematically, British spellings are refused. But I am learning new vocabulary and I thoroughly love this game

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