A bookworm, a tiger, and my Poh-Poh
A word game took Twitter by storm, and transported me back to a simpler time.
In the midst of what seems like more bad news, worsening conditions and tightened restrictions, green and yellow boxes have captivated my attention.
Like many things that go viral on social media, I started seeing it everywhere: collections of colourful boxes arranged in unique formations with different combinations. What to make of this?
As I learned quickly, the boxes go by the name Wordle.
After reading a surprisingly touching article about the origins of this game, I decided to take it for a spin. I’ll let the article explain how you play, but the gist is Mastermind-meets-literally any word game on the planet.
I was immediately hooked. Maybe it’s the way it challenged me to dive deep into my knowledge of five-letter words, or perhaps overcoming my disdain for the game Mastermind — probably because I’m not good at it. Maybe it’s the satisfaction of sharing my results on Twitter with the satisfying grid of green and yellow squares.
Or maybe because it harkens back to a core memory: a fascination with words, something to bond over, and a computer game that didn’t feel like a waste of time.
I can’t remember when my Poh-Poh (my maternal grandmother, 婆婆) started playing BookWorm, or how she even became acquainted with the game.
Here’s the thing you need to know about my Poh-Poh: she is incredibly smart. Compassionate, strong, and sharp-witted. Four out of seven days were spent with friends, playing mahjong. She studied stock charts for fun. And she also loved puzzle and word games. Enter: BookWorm.
BookWorm is, quite simply, a simple word game. You connect letter tiles together to form words, ‘feeding’ the bespectacled bookworm on the left. Longer words get you more points. Further rewards include special tiles that are worth more points (which, ironically enough, are also green, yellow/gold). But, if you decide to take it easy, expect the game to get a little more complex as you navigate the fire tiles. Once a fire tile reaches the bottom of the game board, it’s OVER.
I have memories of being in my Poh-Poh’s room, watching as she literally destroyed this game. Despite English being her second language, I was intrigued by her ability to weave together the seemingly random letter tiles into words that were upwards of 900, 1000, 1100+ points.
I couldn’t say the same for myself: I got by with three letter words, maybe four or five if I got lucky, and the fire tiles would be out of control. 小蛇 — small snake, as we called him — and his entire library would be burned to a crisp.
That never mattered to her: there were a number of times where she’d be at level 70 or something and would let me take the wheel, and we all know how that would end. But having the opportunity to point out words that she might have missed, or her helping me when it seemed like there was nothing for me to spell out, was fun. Hours would fly by, and this seemed to be the one computer game I never got in trouble for playing.
Wordle reminded me of my Poh-Poh.
My Poh-Poh passed away in 2013 from cancer. I’m ashamed to even admit this, but there are days where I strain to remember what her voice sounds like. The passage of nearly a decade and everything that has happened in between has robbed me of countless memories.
When Wordle first came onto the scene, I initially ignored it. But when I started to see it more and more (and after reading the aforementioned article), I logged on.
On January 5, 2022, I played my first game of Wordle. This isn’t so much a spoiler since you can’t retroactively play a puzzle, and there’s a new one created every 24 hours. But the solution to that puzzle on Jan. 5 was the five-letter word TIGER. I got it in five tries.
Random. Arbitrary. Just another five letter word.
But let me throw something else into the mix: when the Lunar New Year starts this year on February 1, we’ll be celebrating the Year of the Tiger. And as it happens, my Poh-Poh was born on a tiger year.
I know, I know: it comes off as a bit coincidental. But something happened between my fourth and fifth try as I solved the puzzle. Maybe it was my Poh-Poh, whispering the answer in my ear the way she always had with BookWorm.
I hadn’t thought about BookWorm in a long time, because I simply didn’t have any need to. What’s harder to admit is that days, maybe even weeks, would go by without thinking about Poh-Poh. And that’s the hard thing about death: there’s a certain piece of me that will always be missing, because the person who once filled it is no longer here.
In a strange way, the coincidence of playing my first-ever game of Wordle and its accompanying solution transported me back to a better, simpler time when we would spend hours together, playing some game other another (like Scrabble, or online mahjong, or Word Tower). Or quite simply, a time when she was physically here.
I was reminded of not only her, but a unique bond that we had over a simple game. Ultimately, it would be word games like this that would fuel my love for words: I went on to do spelling bees and a ton of writing. I know, total nerd. But I wouldn’t trade it for a thing.
The world has been chaotic lately. I am grateful for the temporary distraction that Wordle has brought me. But even more than that, I am grateful for the way that it reunited me with a core memory — and even more, with someone who I love and miss so, so much.
In the meantime… if you happen to play Wordle, would love to hear what you think about the game, and how you do 😉
United in the Eucharist,