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  • Becky Adams

The Computer Is Playing Mind(less) Games With Me

Help! I'm trapped, trying to think of five-letter words, while the world rushes by.

The computer is a cruel mistress. Hey! There’s a 5-letter word: cruel. Maybe I should start with that one tomorrow. Ooh! Start! That’s a 5-letter word…

Do you know what I’m talking about? (About! 5 letters!) Sorry, I’m struggling with a new (to me) fad. Do we say fad anymore? I’m not sure. Nowadays, by the time I find out something is a fad, it isn’t a fad anymore. Most likely including the word “fad.”

Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, I noticed people posting pictures of weird grids of colored blocks, with a fraction and the title “Wordle.” The numerator varied, but the denominator was always 6. I ignored it, like I do with so many other things that I don’t immediately understand.

Then one day a Facebook friend explained in her post that it was a word game. You have 6 tries to guess a 5-letter word. Type in a word and the letters magically appear in the grid. When you press “enter,” the letters flip over just like on Wheel of Fortune, and each box turns different colors. Black means the letter isn’t used. Yellow means the letter is used, but not in that position. Green means that the letter is exactly where it should be to spell the word.

A word game? Involving spelling? That VAGUELY RESEMBLES WHEEL OF FORTUNE?? I clicked on the link, and I was hooked!

At first, I typed in any old word. Will any of the letters turn green?? How about now? Then I started trying to be strategic. I remembered the old Wheel of Fortune Bonus Round trick: the most frequently used letters are RSTLNE. I obsessively thought about 5-letter words that utilized the popular letters. As I dozed off at night, 5-letter words with multiple-vowel combinations would pop into my head, I’d be too tired to write them down, and I would wake up the next morning convinced that I had forgotten something brilliant.

The thing about Wordle is that you can only play it once a day. I started researching as intently as a Pfizer lab tech—do I figure out the word in fewer guesses first thing in the morning? At lunchtime? After dinner? Just before I doze off at night? Ridiculously, I would look at the clock at 10:30pm and think, well, if I stay up for 90 more minutes, I can play tomorrow’s Wordle! It would be a weeknight! And I would seriously consider staying up! I felt silly when I remembered how I used to reprimand Matt for staying up too late playing video games.

It’s embarrassing, folks.

I realized that I must rein myself in before I have another crisis like the Great FreeCell Debacle of 1997. Maybe you heard about it? I guess I can tell you now, the statute of limitations has probably expired, and they can’t discipline me for it anymore.

Once upon a time, people worked in offices without computers or voice mail. I repeat: without computers or voice mail. When you wanted to document something, you would write the information on a piece of paper. If you didn’t answer your phone, the call would bounce to the secretary’s phone, and they would write the information on a piece of paper. These were dark times indeed. Everyone had to learn cursive. Barbaric.

Then, in 1997, computers were installed in our offices. We had to learn how to use them. To help us become familiar with using a mouse, different versions of Solitaire were installed on the computers. We all started playing electronic cards, and I discovered FreeCell. In my defense, they told us to use the games to get comfortable with the mouse. I got very comfortable.

I played a lot of FreeCell. I played during lunch—my entire lunch. I started being on time to work so I could play some FreeCell. I finished my FreeCell game before I left for the day, even if I stayed at my desk for a few extra minutes. I started playing FreeCell every time I was on the phone. I started jotting notes with my left hand so I could keep playing FreeCell with my right. I thought about buying my own computer so I could play FreeCell when I got home.

You know how technology advances? It had advanced enough by 1998 that the bosses were able to track how much FreeCell everyone was playing. One day we came to work, and the Solitaire game collection was GONE. Completely deleted from the Start menu. I was furious because I had a heck of a winning streak going.

I also missed my game terribly! I felt the absence acutely. It was very difficult to re-adjust to life without a computer game at my fingertips. But…um…I did have more time to get my actual work done.

In 2018, my husband bought me a new computer with a giant monitor because I was back in college with significantly worse eyesight than I’d had the first time around. Whenever I was sick of doing homework or unable to think of a post to add to the discussion thread—I’d pop up that always-waiting-in-the-wings Spider Solitaire game. Just to clear my head for a minute. Or an hour. Something like that.

Over the past couple of weeks, I realize that I’ve lost a lot of time to Wordle and Spider Solitaire. If I’ve already played the daily Wordle, I sit at the computer playing my other game. I love the sound it makes when the cards zip up to the top of the screen. I also don’t have to worry about working on a third novel if I’m mindlessly moving pictures of giant cards around on my screen.

Aha! There it is. I’m not really trapped by the computer. The fence is just my fear of failure, the whispering question: are you any good at this? I could stand safely behind the chain link fence of maybe-you-shouldn’t, while opportunities whizz by like blurry race cars at night.

Or I could give it a whirl. (Whirl! 5 letters!)

Join me in climbing over the fence and trying something different. I’ll lace my fingers together and give you a boost.

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