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Just a Peek

Big Words on the Small Screen: Scrabble for the iPod

My sister-in-law, Mary, thinks she is God’s gift to Scrabble tiles. No kidding: This woman believes she can divine key tiles from the bag so that she can create killer words. She plays as if the existence of mankind depends on it.

Playing Scrabble against her is both nerve racking and satisfying. There’s always a challenge when I come up with a triple score word that includes high-point letters like K, J, X, Q, and Z. The problem is that I don’t come up with those words often enough.

I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a Scrabble expert. Heck, I can barely remember how to spell my own name and I rely far more than I should on Mac OS X’s built-in dictionary when I write. Still, I like to play when she visits because, after it’s all said and done, we have a lot of fun. (Spoken like the true loser I am.)

I do wish I could practice play more often.

Well, thanks to Apple, my iPod, and EA Mobile, I can play Scrabble almost any time I want because Scrabble is now available for the iPod (5th gen, Classic, and 3rd gen nanos).

You would think that such a sizable board with all those wee tiles would be the last game you’d want to play on an iPod, especially on the nano’s dinky screen, and at first glance, I would agree with you. But play the game and soon you realize that you can see the board and tiles quite clearly thanks to the new nano’s brighter, bigger screen. On the Classic and 5th gen iPods the game looks and plays wonderfully. The letters on the wood grain tiles are clear, even when they are placed on the board.

(Hint: "Qi" and "Xi" are words! Qi is another spelling of "Chi" which, in Chinese philosophy, is the life energy in all of of us that is similar to The Force of Star Wars fame, and Xi is the 14th letter in the Greek alphabet. Useful when you are down to that last tile and need some big points.)

Even so, the tiles are tiny, and if looking at them makes your eyes cross you can magnify the section of the board where the active tile is (either by selecting that option from the Tools menu or holding down the center button for two seconds) and the magnification follows the tile around as you maneuver it. This saves on eyestrain and makes for much better game play.

The Click Wheel makes tile manipulation quick and easy.

Maneuvering the tiles is a pretty easy, too. EA Mobile lets you use the iPod’s Click Wheel to either scroll the tile across the board until you get to the position you want or you can lightly tap the Click Wheel in any of the eight standard directions. Pressing the center button sets the tile or selects it. In fact, EA Games should be commended for the way they’ve wrangled so much functionality out of the Click Wheel. You can rearrange the tiles, ask the computer for a little help, shuffle the tiles and more.

The side menu lets you tinker with your tiles however you please.

(Hint: If you are ever challenged over the meaning of the word "qua" you can confidently tell your opponent that it was not made up or taken from the movie Jerry McGuire. It means "To be; the state of existing." Kinda Zen, but you can’t argue the points.)

Because the Click Wheel is used to its fullest extend it can take a bit to get the hang of it, but soon you’ll find that using the Click Wheel is easy and intuitive.

Playing against the computer is fun and you can adjust the computer’s skill level to make your games more or less challenging. I had left the skill level at the default setting, which is "Normal," and I seemed to beat the computer handily quite often, so I’ve kicked it up a notch and the games are indeed tougher.

You don’t have to settle for a computer player. True to the board game version, the iPod version will accommodate up to four players in a pass-n-play mode. It’s a great way to while away a two hour flight with a friend, or, if you’re a bit more gregarious, the person sitting next to you.

Zoom-in magnifies the board for old or tired eyes.

(Hint: Placed properly, the word "quiz" can yield 72 points!! Woo Hoo!)

Other game options lets you view your stats, adjust screen brightness and volume, and more. There’s also a help section which explains the game and offers tips.

The bottom line is this: I’m becoming a huge fan of iPod games and I’ve enjoyed playing Peggle, Sodoku, and Tetris on my iPods. Each offer solid game play and make it seem as if the iPod was designed to play games instead of music. Now Scrabble can be added to my hit list. It’s old school gaming at its best and a great way to build mental muscle.

Winning against the default computer setting is easy. Kick it up a notch and see how you do.

Now I have a way to stay in practice for Mary’s next visit. I no longer feel like a 98 pound lexical weakling. My brainpan is busting at the seams with all sorts of Scrabble strategy. I shall crush her. I will humiliate her with brilliant wordplay. I shall blind her with my dazzling vocabulary. I’m gunning for you Mary! This time, it’s personal! Muuuaahahahahahaha!!!

Scrabble is, by far, my favorite iPod game and I suggest you GET IT NOW!

Review Item Scrabble
Manufacturer EA Mobile
List Price
Street Price
Minimum Requirements iPod Classic
iPod Video (5th genration)
iPod nano (3rd generation)
iTunes (to purchase and load the game)

* Note: My rating system goes like this:

  • Get it Now! - Highest rating and an absolute must-have
  • Highly recommend - Minor flaws, but a great product
  • Recommend - Flawed, but still a solid product
  • So-so - Problem product that may find a niche market
  • Avoid - Why did they bother making it? A money waster.

Vern Seward is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He’s been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

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