Turning inner space into outer space

January 9, 2016

These word games spell fun

Seven Little Words, Monkey Wrench and Moxie

When you learn a programming language, you’re often told that it is similar to learning any other language. Certain words mean certain things and there is a syntax to string them together into meaningful phrases.

That might explain how I can find beauty in both well-written code for a web page and well-written prose for a book or article. In any case, I never get tired of words — and if I can play games with them, then so much the better.

Lately, I find myself spending much of my spare time on a group of apps that just happen to be created by a small company in Maine called Blue Ox Technologies. The ox in their logo wears a tuque with snow on it, so I’m pretty sure it’s meant to represent Paul Bunyan’s mythical ox, Babe.

The company has had huge success with Seven Little Words, no doubt in part because of a mention in Oprah’s O magazine. According to the Blue Ox website, the game has been downloaded more than 10 million times since it was invented in 2011. It’s even made a crossover into the newspaper world, being published in many U.S. papers.

The app, available on several mobile platforms, is ingeniously simple — right down to the smiley face it uses for an icon. The object is to create seven words based on a list of clues similar to what you might get in a crossword puzzle. You also get the number of letters for each word.

To create the words, you tap on a four-by-five grid consisting of 20 chunks of letters. Each chunk has two or three letters.

For example, here’s a clue in one of the puzzles: “in jest: 9 letters.” The answer is “teasingly” — made up of “tea” plus “sin” plus “gly.” I find the game challenging, but not to the point of being aggravating.

The catch is that while the app is free, if you want to play it a lot, you’ll have to pay for puzzle packages. You start off with one free package, and you get one free puzzle a day. For me that’s enough.

Blue Ox has recently introduced a new word game called Monkey Wrench. It’s only on iOS so far, but I have a feeling it will be on Android and other platforms soon.

Monkey Wrench is akin to the find-a-word puzzles that have been around forever — but with a twist. The letters are in six-sided hexagons in stead of squares. That means the words you’re looking for could be meandering all over the place.

The clues consist of categories and blank spaces. I was happy in the latest daily puzzle to see the category Canadian Provincial Capitals with two words — one with 13 letters and one with eight letters. That one was easy, especially since the first letters are highlighted. In this case they were C and E.

It can be a lot tougher, though, if you get a category like NFL #1 Draft Picks and know nothing about the subject. Even so, it’s possible to make educated guesses with the process of elimination.

Monkey Wrench works like Seven Little Words for payment. It starts off free, but you have to pay for additional puzzle packs. A daily puzzle is always free.

One of the oldest games from Blue Ox is Moxie, which is totally free and available for iOS, Android and Kindle Fire. It’s a trickier to describe, but basically you’re creating words by either adding or substituting letters. Every time you create a word you get points based on the value of the letters. There are bonus points if you make a word from one of three special lists — animal, vegetable or mineral.

It’s great that it’s free, but the downside is that you might spend a lot more time playing than you might have otherwise. If you’re the competitive type, you’ll aim for the global list of high scores.

A fourth game from Blue Ox worth mentioning is Red Herring, which involves placing words in the correct category. I’m not too crazy about it myself, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like it.