Ever since succumbing to Toronto’s latest exceptionally cough- and delirium-ridden flu a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been more than a little taken with Puzzlejuice, a new iOS app I discovered on my iPad during a long day bored out of my feverish brain in bed. Like the geniusy offspring of a steamy arcade interlude between Tetris and Scrabble, the bright charm of Puzzlejuice brings out the obsession in both word- and design-nerds – at least it has in me.
Like Tetris, the game enjoins you to fit diversely shaped square-ish blocks into perfect rows that reward your block-sorting acumen by exploding. In Puzzlejuice, however, completed rows don’t vanish, but rather become letters! Letters that you must then connect into more or less high scoring words. Only when you’ve drawn word-forming lines among the letters do the blocks crumble, thereby saving you from arcade suffocation as your screen fills up with unexploded blocks. As the blocks fall more and more quickly and you dash your finger across the screen with more and more haste whilst rifling your mental dictionary with a greater and greater sense of urgency (yes, our lexicon becomes urgent), the game rewards you with proof of the fruits of your literacy.
At least it seems that way when you’re playing. Yet most of the time the words I form are short, three letters long, crucial to concise writing but not particularly impressive or thrilling in the moment. Many of them I learned from the game, high scoring three letter words, like “qua,” whose meanings remain mysterious, but on which I rely. In light of the recent symposium run by The Toronto Review of Books, I wonder if this is another form of e-Reading, whether discovering nonsensical but nevertheless high-scoring words can be called reading, or writing, and I wonder why I couldn’t stop playing the game for a few days last week. Down with the New York Times and the New Yorker, the obsessed, readerly side of my brain seemed to be squawking, there is PuzzleJuice to play.
The developers describe this game as a punch to the brain, and maybe sometimes neurotic nerdy adults need such punches, or at least thank them for filling in blank – dare I say block-shaped – empty moments in otherwise interesting days. Constitutionally opposed to waiting, or to being too sick and hazy to read because of what I’ve heard called “viremial fog” by those who are in the know, this app has saved me from many dire moments between painkillers and meetings. And, OK, I admit, its colourful appeal has stolen an equal number of perfectly useful moments that might (might) have otherwise been fully productive.
At last through the haze of my fever last week, as I paused the game for a moment and found with horror that it just kept going in my head when I closed my eyes, I found a cause for the obsession Puzzlejuice had provoked in me. Not only does the game seem to recognize and reward verbal ability – a trait people like me find hard not to seek out in our friends – it draws out my desire to see order in the world. Let me fit the blocks into the right place, let me find the word that connects it all – before everything comes crashing down. In fact, playing the game encourages us to hope that everything will crash down – another gift.