Ethics, Games

Woes of a Letterpress Addict

Almost two years ago, my daughter introduced me to the word game Letterpress, and almost immediately I was hooked. As a former English teacher, I had a lot of words and definitions tucked away inside my brain, and I thought this would automatically make me a successful Letterpress player. That, however, was not the case, and it took me quite a while to learn that the big secret to winning at Letterpress can be summarized in one aphorism: “Don’t just play A word; play THE word.” In Letterpress, you must find THE word that will give you increasing control of the 25-square board (what I think of as “increasing one’s real estate”), that will encroach upon the real estate of your opponent, and that will make vowels inaccessible to your opponent. Once I started to master those strategies, I began to win more frequently, and I morphed from a Letterpress aficionada to a Letterpress addict.

This blog entry, however, is not going to be a dry explication of Letterpress strategy. In the past, I have tried to convey to family and friends what I considered to be the fascinating back-and-forth of Letterpress games, but within a matter of seconds, I have seen their eyes glaze over with boredom. Instead, what I want to discuss is what DRIVES ME TO DISTRACTION about certain opponents and the Letterpress dictionary.

What is least bothersome to me—although bothersome nonetheless—is the absence of certain words (especially technical and newly-coined words) in the Letterpress dictionary. For example, a few days ago, I used the word “larping” (an acronym for “live action role play”-ing). That word, which would have won the game for me, was rejected by whatever dictionary Letterpress draws upon. Now, oddly enough, the Letterpress dictionary includes just about every archaic word ever created—especially archaic Scottish words—but it does not embrace newer words that have become part of common parlance, nor medical/technical/scientific/religious words that are part of specialized vocabularies. Specialized or not, new or not, a word is a word and I think the Letterpress Powers-That-Be need to get busy updating their dictionary and making it more inclusive. (Hey, Letterpress—“qibla” IS MOST DEFINITELY A WORD!)

Another pet peeve of mine is the number of Letterpress opponents who “resign” when they begin to lose a game. These games can last a long, long time—many days—and (at least on my part) they require a huge investment not only of time but also effort. I play around with a board, trying to discover just the right word required at a certain juncture in the game; on days when I am not all that sharp, or when the board is particularly challenging, I can end up spending almost a half-hour before making a play. Therefore, after many hours and much effort, if a game finally turns in my favor, I anticipate savoring my hard-won victory, and thus, I am frustrated when my opponent resigns rather than graciously accepting defeat. Such resignations are akin to the pouty child on the playground who scoops up the ball, bat, and glove and stomps home because the other team is winning.

There are other types of resignations that irk me—the person who resigns as soon as you play a long word, or a literary word, or a rhetorical term (I once had a person resign after I used “asyndeton”). But the players who resign when victory is no longer possible seem particularly petty.

And now, for the #1 frustration I have with Letterpress games: PEOPLE WHO USE CHEATING APPS ! ! !

For the longest time, I did not know that these cheating apps even existed. Then, I began to play more and more opponents who started out with the longest, most obscure words in the universe; words that became a verbal juggernaut that I could never stop, not in my wildest dreams. These kinds of players became noticeably similar in their style of play and choice of words, and that prompted me to do a little exploration about Letterpress strategies. I naïvely thought that these people had some kind of insight into the game that I might be able to acquire. HAH! “Insight” my petooty! What these people actually had was enough money to buy Cheater Press! Cheater Press (or another app like it) imports a photo you take of your game board, and then it provides a list of possible words you can play, with the high-scoring words at the top of the list. Basically, anyone who uses a cheating app is not playing the game; rather, such an individual simply provides a typing finger to the computer application that is REALLY playing the game. (Notice the “typing finger” synecdoche—which is a great word to store away for a future Letterpress game.)

I bought one of these cheating apps so that I could verify if I was playing a “cheater.” Now, when certain strange words become noticeable, and when I suspect there is some cheating going on, I snap a photo of the board and glance quickly at the list of suggested words in the cheater app. Almost invariably, the “cheater” is just going down the list, starting at the very top—how unimaginative and obvious is THAT?– using one perfect word after another. As soon as I see that I am, indeed, playing a cheater, I return to the game and play it to its conclusion, usually losing, of course. I refuse to resign, because I detest players who resign—but when the game is over, I do not ask for a “rematch.” I just move on to the next game, hoping that I have found an honorable player.

(Below is an example of one game where I am 99.9999999999% certain my opponent was cheating. My opponent’s words, in red, started out as pretty ordinary. I thought “pupped” was a bit unusual, but hey, I grew up in the country where bitches “pupped” a litter quite frequently, so I let that one pass. But “expunct” had that archaic sound, and who would have thought to use “dutchmen” without a capital letter? And who ever uses “centum”? Needless to say, the Cheater Press app indicated that my opponent was, indeed, cheating. And yes, I did end up losing this game.)


I was explaining my frustration with cheater apps to my daughter, and she reminded me that many of the words I play might make someone think I am using a cheater app myself. In fact, that has probably been the case at least three times that I can recall. Once, I played someone who was an excellent player, and our game was delightfully challenging. Toward the end of our hard-fought game, I was trying out possible words for my next play, and after a long free-associative look at “-ight” words, I discovered that the word “benighted” would probably win me the game. I made my play, and after about fifteen minutes, my opponent spelled back “C-H-E-A-T.” I was absolutely crushed—I still become all quivery when I recall my opponent’s accusation.

A few months ago, I found another opponent who was fun to play. We kept trading wins and losses in equal measure, but toward the end of our final game, I suddenly remembered a word I had recently discovered, “qameez,” one of those odd words that start with a “q” and do not need a “u.” (A qameez, pictured below, is a long tunic worn in Central Asia. This picture comes from


Well, as soon as I played “qameez,” I won the game. My adversary did not ask for a rematch, and I never heard from him again.

Finally, a few days ago I was playing a really exceptional player, a man who had truly mastered the art of finding not just “A word, but THE word,” and usually his words were not long or rarefied—they were just perfect for the moment. We were in the midst of a hard-fought game when an opportunity opened up for me to use a really unusual word—“gozzan” (a rust-colored deposit). Now, I spend hours looking for unusual words like “gozzan”; I have a long list of them as well as “q without u” words, and words with unusual letter pairs or anomalies (“maxixe” comes to mind). “Gozzan” won me the game, but—alas—that particular opponent probably thought I was cheating and has not asked for a rematch. So it goes.

The closest I have come to cheating is to check on the spelling of a word—for some reason I have some words that just won’t stay in my head, for example “gouache” and “gweduc.” (Yes, I did look them up just now!) But most of the time, I play my games with absolute purity; I do not consult a dictionary or any other source. (I hope the lady who called me a C-H-E-A-T runs across this blog and discovers the T-R-U-T-H.)

I love playing Letterpress, but I do have my peeves. So far, my annoyances have not been bothersome enough to make me give up the game. In fact, I have eight games that I am simultaneously playing on my iPad as I type this blog, and I believe I have time to make a few plays before it is time to start fixing dinner!