Word Games Were Invented to Humiliate Me

Word Games Were Invented to Humiliate Me

In Christian theology, Purgatory is a place of penance, a pre-Heaven zone where the souls of the departed have to wait and spend time repenting for their sins, suffering for untold eons, until they are finally permitted to walk through the pearly gates. It’s not like Hell, which is eternal torture: Purgatory is just really annoying. In other words, Boggle. Or Snatch-It. Or Bananagrams. It’s appropriate that the names of so many word games have genital connotations, since whenever someone pulls one out, I know I’m about to be screwed.

It’s commonly assumed that since I make a living as a writer, I must enjoy and be highly skilled at word games. That would be false—very, very false. I totally suck at word games, and the fact that I’m “supposed” to be good at them makes it all the worse, since people glory in their victories over me like they’ve just beat Mike Tyson at Punch-Out.

Why am I so bad at word games? For one thing, my brain can’t juggle all those letters. When I look at a Scrabble rack and try to imagine the letters rearranging themselves into high-scoring words, I just see little bears riding unicycles in circles. This is also the mental shortcoming that renders me hopeless at chess, checkers, and any other game that involves imagining objects or symbols hypothetically arranged other than they are. I once lost five consecutive games of checkers to a 12-year-old who just sadly, slowly shook her head.

Then there’s the time pressure. Most word games involve some form of time pressure in the form of a noisy electronic timer or a silent sand-sifting timer that captivates me in horror, the sand pouring into the bottom half of the timer and sealing my doom as surely as if it were pouring into my mouth and nose. I can’t breathe, I can’t look away, and I certainly can’t come up with creative combinations of X, I, J, R, and U. The worst, though, are the human timers—those Scrabble opponents who have such good words ready on their rack, just waiting for me to make my low-scoring plays. They rock back and forth on their chairs like they’re about to pee their pants, sighing and tsking while I stare blankly at my hopeless heptad.

(See? You’re thinking, “He’s such a liar! You can’t know words like ‘heptad’ and still get a shitty score at Scrabble.” Oh, really? JUST WATCH ME.)

Finally, there’s the competitive pressure. It’s hard enough watching your opponents’ scores soar at Scrabble, or their hands cramp up from writing such long lists of words at Boggle, but the absolute worst involves games like Snatch-It, where your opponents can actually steal your words away from you if they can use the letters to make longer words. I used to live with someone who loved Snatch-It, and we’d arrange regular games with friends until I finally had to come out and declare that sitting there all night and having my hard-earned words stolen from me like ice cream cones from a baby, until each game would end with three sides of the table crowded with letter tiles and one (mine) nearly empty, was not my idea of a fun-filled Saturday night.

I’m being brutally honest here, but I don’t think I’m a failure at life. There are plenty of things I’m perfectly decent at—including brainy things like writing dissertations and playing Trivial Pursuit—which makes it all the more agonizing when I try to play a word game and my brain freezes up like a bike with a twisted chain. Jesus, if He’s up there, surely knows this, and if I’m so lucky as to go Up rather than Down when I die, I suspect I’ll be spending thousands of years in Word Game Purgatory, having my words repeatedly snatched from my grasp while bears on unicycles ride around in circles, mocking me and telling me I really should have been nicer to Boggle-lovers on Earth.

To paraphrase Das Racist, sorry I’m not sorryI fucking hate word games.

Jay Gabler