Word Play on the Mobile Screen

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Word puzzles are among the most successful games to make the leap from cardboard and wooden pieces atop the family dining table into apps on the glossy screens of tablets and smartphones. So popular is the Words With Friends app, for example, that an episode of "The Big Bang Theory" revolved around playing the game.

But it's not just Words With Friends; hundreds of word game apps are available. Some are more traditional and some are possible only because of high-tech Internet trickery.

Of all the word games I've played on my phones and tablets, the one that I've been most instantly amused by is the app Letterpress, from the developer Atebits, available only for Apple devices. It's a turn-by-turn, two-player game that is played over the Internet, something like a cross between Scrabble and the traditional Chinese board game Go.

You are presented with a five-by-five grid of letters, and when it's your turn, you tap the letters to make a word. Each of your chosen letters earns a point, and the letters are then shaded in your color. The same happens when your opponent plays. But there's a twist; you can "defend" letters by boxing them in with your colored tiles, so your opponent cannot use them to create his or her next word.

It's easy to learn and swift to play. But you will quickly find yourself cursing that you didn't spot the long word your opponent plays next, and you will try to think up obscure words just to protect letters. It's entertaining, and the clean and simple graphics do not distract from the play.

To tax your word powers even more, you can have several games running at once. If you try this, you will probably find an hour goes by without your even noticing. This may be one of the few downsides, apart from the fact that it relies on having enough people playing for you to find opponents to play against quickly. Though Letterpress is free, an upgrade to play more than two games at once costs $2.

If a more traditional word game appeals to you, look no further than Boggle. In its old-fashioned form, Boggle was a tabletop game for groups of players, but on the smartphone it works as a play-and-pass game, and also as a solo game against the clock.

In the game 16 cubes are marked with a letter on each face, and are juggled into the slots on a four-by-four grid. A cute animation mimics the way the real-life cubes move. Then, against the clock, you have to find as many words of three or more letters as possible, zigzagging from one cube to the next. In the physical game you would write the words down, but in the app you tap on each letter in turn and double-tap on the last one to complete the word.

The app keeps track of time and your chosen words, so you may even prefer it to the tabletop game. But it also confirms if words are valid, and at the end of the game you may find it depressing that though you successfully spotted, say, 27 words, more than 150 could have been found. It's free in ad-supported versions for Android and iOS; an iOS version without ads costs $1 on iTunes.

A totally different game -- a bit like a word search crossed with Tetris -- is SpellTower. At its core this game is simply about spotting words among a grid of random letters on the screen; when you select a word, by tapping or dragging, the letters disappear and the ones above drop down. Bonus tricks, like destroying surrounding letters when you find a word of five letters or more, add to the strategic aspect of playing this game. It has attractive graphics and just enough addictive gameplay to keep you coming back for more. It's $2 for iOS and Android.

Dropwords is a similar free Android app. Puzzlejuice, $2 for iOS, is also similar to SpellTower but is more Tetris-like as puzzle pieces drop down the screen over time. But the fussy graphics in both Puzzlejuice and Dropwords may distract you. They are played against the clock, too, so don't expect to relax while playing them.

For those rare people who have never played Words With Friends, it's worth trying out, and it's free for iOS and Android. Think of a game a bit like Scrabble, in which you score points by laying words on a grid, then add in online real-time play with people around the world.

If your conscience pinches you about wasting time, you can salve it with the thought that you are enriching and extending your vocabulary.

Quick Call

Skype has updated its free Windows Phone 8 app with the video messaging feature that has been available on iOS and Android editions for a while. Now you can record a short video message for a contact who is not available in real time on Skype.

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This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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