So-Called “Words” with So-Called “Friends”

Hypothetical question: What’s more obsolete, Scrabble Tiles or cufflinks? (Image from declubz.com)

I come from a fairly literate family.  That, in and of itself is hardly noteworthy – except maybe it explains my use of words like “noteworthy” and phrases like “in and of itself”.

As a child, we had Scrabble, along with a bunch of other board games.  While my parents would tolerate Parcheesi and Monopoly with us kids, they and some their adult friends were dangerously good at Scrabble, especially my Dad.  With his roots in the theater and education, he has never been one to be messed with in the realm of words.  I remember him routinely doing the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle in ink, in one sitting.  It was typically a long sitting, often in the privacy of the basement bathroom – but that’s for his blog to discuss (In a recent Facebook post, the 83 year old lamented having trouble with both this week’s New York Time Sunday Magazine crossword and the Harper’s puzzle.  If this trend keeps up, I’ll be as smart as him by the time he’s 119).

One of the exciting aspects of Scrabble was the challenge.  If a person doubted another player’s word, it could be challenged.  I’m sure there were penalties for the accuser or the defender depending upon whether the word was real or proven false.  I had no poker face whatsoever, so in countless games of Scrabble with the family, I never once considered trying to put one over on them, even if my Dad wasn’t playing.  Bluffing with non-words wasn’t part of how we played the game anyway.

That’s 8 points. Do I get bonus points for using an actual word? (Image from etsy.com)

Alas, I’ve once again sunk into sentimentality.  Today, most Scrabble games are laying lost and forgotten in the backs of closets, covered with dust and missing tiles.  These days we have “Words With Friends”, a thinly-veiled, digital bastardization of Scrabble.  I played it briefly on my phone with a few friends and was disappointed with the lack of any sort of challenge, not to mention the seriously flawed dictionary it possesses.  The things which it defines as words are laughable.  I was amazed when one person played the word “oa” against me.

That’s not a word!” I howled “There are no consonants in it!  It’s an abbreviation for osteo-arthritis, fer cryin’ out loud!”

It appears that many of the people who play the game, when frustrated with a lack of easily spelled word opportunities, just resort to randomly throwing letters in a row or column, hitting “submit” and hoping for the best.  When rejected, they simply throw another batch of letters in a line and try again.

Like many things in popular culture, Words With Friends has increased its annoyance quotient by becoming a staple of Facebook.  Now, in addition to status updates like:

“Jerry Sandusky just made a new friend, named Bubba”

– or –

“Marie Antionette just had a piece of cake”

We can also have ones which say:

“Sally Jones just played ‘Xyllp’ in Words With Friends”

– or –

“Bob Smith just played ‘cat’ in Words With Friends”

Now I’m torn.  Who should be more embarrassed;  Sally for playing a word which doesn’t exist in any language, or Bob for settling for ‘cat’ when we can all assume that there must have been a better word available?  What kind of culture are we existing in when people are so cavalier about airing the dirty laundry of their limited vocabularies and/or their lack of gamesmanship?  Don’t get me wrong, in a pinch, I would spell cat for the measly 5 or 6 points it gets me, but I would never do so for everyone to see!  For the record, I would never spell xyllp, even if I had a triple letter block for the ‘X’, because it’s not a damn word!

Meanwhile, their competitors, oblivious to what’s going on, are busy looking for motivational posters to slap up on their Facebook walls, driving kids to soccer practice or maybe changing the litter box as they wait for notification that it’s their turn.  Games can stretch on for months as people pay attention to them when the spirit moves them.

As if the lack of a large vocabulary and any skill in spelling among W.W.F. players isn’t bothersome enough, the lack of attention to the game is the final straw.  I can recall board- and card-games played in my life, where one of the participants was preoccupied with something else.  Someone at the table would eventually slam their fist down and ask “Are we playing (insert name of game here) or not??!”  Game play allows, and is even enhanced by, a degree of social interaction and off-game topics of discussion, but when it’s your turn, it’s your damn turn.  Taking 3 days to get around to your turn is not “playing”.  It’s just a sad version of life-support for a pet you don’t really care about.

This all begs the question as to whether taking 72 hours to take your turn in a game is a more profound waste of time than writing a blog about it.

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemon-Scented Garbage

I was watching TLC the other night and saw several commercials for “Craft Wars”.  For those of you who have enough of a life to have avoided seeing the commercials or TLC itself, allow me to describe what this craft competition show will apparently be about.

“Hi Tori! By the way, I’m a big fan of your work. Oh…Okay, well anyway, this piece is my interpretation of a happy jack-o-lantern. It will make a great door hanging or as seasonal decoration. The crooked grin gives it a touch of whimsy!” (Image from blog.craftzine.com)

Three contestants are given crafting supplies including all the hot-glue sticks and glitter they could ever hope for.  Then, the host says “Your time starts…NOW!”  The crafter-contestants, who by their very existence make me feel like a superior life form, all scramble across the set to get to the bins of crap that they’ll be making “crafts” out of.  This is essentially the same format that’s used on shows like “Top Chef”, “Design Star”, “Chopped”, “The White Room Challenge” and countless others.  As if watching these scrap-booking, swatch-pasting zealots isn’t bad enough in and of itself, the whole thing is hosted by massive has-been mega-talent, Tori Spelling!  The description above was gleaned from my having viewed a 30 second commercial several times, while I was busy watching some other inane offering on TLC.

It’s truly effortless to sit here and complain about what passes for entertainment these days.  I mean, they make it so easy.  So I sat down to write my rants about just that, but then a deeper thought occurred to me.  With the recent celebration of Father’s Day, I was reminded of what my Dad used to say;

“Turn off that damn idiot box and go cut the grass, dammit!”

Oh wait, wrong Dad quote.  He also used to say;

“If you’ve got a problem with it, then come up with something better or shut the hell up!”

Good point, Dad (My Dad didn’t actually curse that much, but I sure as shit do).  I put on my thinking cap and came up with some programming  ideas of my own.  I’m going to email these ideas to TLC, NatGeo, HGTV, Bravo and A&E.  They’ll be welcome to use any and all of my ideas without having to pay me a dime, but I do want the title “Creative Consultant” and a link to my blog in the opening and closing credits.  Here we go:

The Rolls Royce of Eternal Rest – this baby is a serious upgrade.(Image from Jawdrops.com)

America’s Next Top Mortician – Three morticians are given a challenging stiff to prepare for a viewing and funeral.  They will each have a fixed number of hours to fully prepare the corpse for interment.  Some of the challenges will include pushy, unrealistic family members who want Aunt Bessie to look “more life-like”, ill-fitting clothes for the deceased, and convincing the family they should pay for the up-graded casket.  Finally, what final-rest competition would be complete without the hearse-obstacle course?

Janitors Got Talent – Everyone knows at least one janitor who insists on singing or telling jokes while pushing brooms and emptying trash cans.  Here’s a chance for janitors to shine like freshly scrubbed porcelain!  Each contestant will have to demonstrate their unique talent while brushing toilets, running a floor buffer and refilling the soap dispensers in the women’s bathroom.

Cryo-Bank Tellers  24/7 – This gritty, up-close slice of reality will follow the challenges of round-the-clock employees at a St. Louis sperm bank as they deal with the crazy demands of such a bizarre work environment.  Hand held cameras will follow them throughout the facility with copious amounts of digitized blurring of clients faces, specimen jars and more!  At least once every episode, one of the tellers will lament “The sign on the door said ‘Unoccupied’, Geez I hate when that happens!”  Hilarity meets revulsion when new staff members are pranked and directed to put their lunches in the wrong refrigerator!

Bus Wars – Broad Street Local – Parking Wars meets Cash Cab as Philadelphia’s public transportation passengers are asked impossibly difficult trivia questions.  Contestants are frustrated, angered and embarrassed to realize they can’t possibly win any money.  Tempers flare when the contestants realize that the host/driver has ignored their stops while waiting for one of them to answer the question!

You turbo-charge this thing, put a chain guard on it and go to work. (Image from social.kidspot.com.au)

American Baby-Nose Pickers – Poor little Tyler and Brittany can’t do it themselves with their little bitty fingers!  Whether they use the squeeze ball, a Q-Tip or their own massive adult fingers, Moms and even Dads just can’t rest until that little hanger is out of their babies’ honkers.  The contestants will have to face tough challenges like booger-eating older siblings and the nausea of onlookers.  Tension builds as we close in on the final weigh-in!

My Biggest Fat Gypsy Rose Lee Loser – Theatrical directors and personal trainers team up to direct a community theater production of “Gypsy”, starring the morbidly obese who compete to lose the most weight while dancing and singing the hit numbers from 1959’s Broadway smash!  Wardrobe issues and self-esteem are on a collision course in this emotional competition!  Contestants are pushed to the brink when they have to keep their appetites and salivary glands in check while singing the lyric “..have an egg roll, Mr. Goldstone..”

That’s all I’ve got for now.  I’m going to go ahead and send the link for this blog to all those networks.  Keep your eyes peeled in the months to come, I think I’ve got a few winners here.  Listen up network execs, as promised, these ideas are there for the taking, and all I ask is the “Creative Consultant” tag and a plug for my blog.  Be warned though, my next batch won’t come so cheap!