Games! ‘Paperback’ and ‘Five Tribes’

Image By Rebecca Angel

One of my favorite things to do at a con is try new games. At ConnectiCon this year, my son and I played many and two stood out as the best: Paperback and Five Tribes.


My friend Tim brought Paperback with him to play with our group. He said, “It’s a deck-building game…” and my shoulder’s slumped since I rarely like those kind of games,  “…with letters to make words.” And I brightened since I love word games!

First off, the design and artwork is retro-mid-20th-century-pulp-fiction cool. Players buy letters to build a deck to make words. Letters have special abilities, and your goal for length or type of word varies on those abilities to help you win. Making words grew more challenging as the game progressed and fewer cards were in play, but the strategy to actual win is based on points and gaining paperback cards, and watching how everyone else is doing. It moved along well, and kept everyone’s interest. I lost because I wasn’t paying attention to the other players, too focused on making interesting words. Highly recommend for ages 12 and up.

You can watch a video of game play:

Five Tribes

“Crossing into the Land of 1001 Nights, your caravan arrives at the fabled Sultanate of Naqala. The old sultan just died and control of Naqala is up for grabs! The oracles foretold of strangers who would maneuver the Five Tribes to gain influence over the legendary city-state. Will you fulfill the prophecy?  Invoke the old Djinns, move the Tribes into position at the right time and the Sultanate may become yours!”

I like that fantasy description introducing Five Tribesa board game with mancala-based movement. My son and I play-tested this with a big fan of the game, who had his pre-teen daughter with him. Although it took some explaining, once we got going, everyone had a good time.

The game is brightly colored with fantastic artwork and tactile-satisfying pieces. Each round, turn order is determined by bidding. Then each player moves meeples around the board to land on a space they can gain influence. Like many modern games, there are many strategies to win. My son focused on gaining most of the land and specific color meeples, the gamer’s daughter collected resources and slaves, and I took as many djinn cards as I could. My son won.

We played it again the next day with our regular group of Con attendees and it was more fun now that I knew what I was doing. (Still didn’t win…)

And here’s a video of game play:

My son and I know what we want for Christmas this year…

Bring Back Obsolete Words

influence word choice, bring back obsolete words,
No blood, just vocabulary. (CCO public domain wilhei)

Human experimentation is banned unless the subjects are volunteers who have given informed consent. I believe the more casual research my son recently tried is exempt from those rules.

Let me explain.

My son worked with the grounds crew for a local park system. Being the sort of person who enjoys occupying his mind with more lively endeavors than weed whacking, he found other ways to keep himself amused. It may be helpful to point out that he and his siblings know many more words than they can pronounce. Their vocabularies are considered odd by others. Their dinner table discussions are, at best, eccentric. These tendencies can be almost entirely blamed on one habit: avid reading.

My son used this social liability as the basis for the human experimentation trials he conducted on his unwitting co-workers. The research took all summer. His subjects were not aware that they were part of the study until it was too late. The damage had been done. The results were in. I’m going to tell you how to conduct the same experiment.


You, the experimenter, can bring  nearly extinct words and phrases back into regular usage. (See, you’re providing a service to an endangered vocabulary, while at the same time smiling on the inside.)


Employing an outmoded word or phrase on a daily basis will subtly promote its usefulness and stimulate others to add it to their ordinary lexicon. Basically, you get people to say funny words.


1. You will need subjects. Rely on people you see everyday. Your children, co-workers, neighbors, or friends are excellent victims candidates for your experiment. The more the merrier. If you want to get all science-y, choose a group of people you interact with separately from all other groups. They will form your experimental group, while everyone else in your life will be your control group.

2. You will need a word or phrase you think shouldn’t have fallen out of popular usage. My son chose “dagnabbit,” one of the many oddly amusing words his grandfather used without a hint of irony. (That was a rich well indeed. Other possibilities from my paternal line included “holy mackerel,” “jehoshaphat,” and “tarnation.”)


This is a casual experiment, best done over a long period of time. Begin using your chosen word or phrase regularly, but naturally in your conversation. Pay no obvious heed to the word as it is adopted by others.

If people make a fuss over your use of the word, you may choose to insist it is back in style. Or you may use the opportunity to expand the experiment by promoting those subjects to fellow experimenters. Explain what you are doing in the most noble terms possible, then implore the person use his or her own outdated word or phrase in daily conversation. You’re simply enlarging the Human Experimentation of the Word Kind study, surely to enhance our world as we know it.


See how long it takes to firmly embed your word or phrase in other people’s regular discourse.


Have you gotten subjects to say funny words? Then you’ve proven the hypothesis and done your part to save endangered terms. Another successful Human Experiment of the Word Kind. BTW, my son’s co-workers were all using the word “dagnabbit” within the month. Oh yeah, humans are easy prey for experimentation. I’ve read enough dystopian novels to warn you: don’t take this knowledge too far…

The Value of the National Spelling Bee in the Age of Spell Check and Predictive Text

Yesterday 275 kids gathered in Washington, DC, to take a spelling test. Today, they’ll start spelling in the preliminary rounds until just 50 spellers move on to the semifinals of the National Spelling Bee. A few of them are here by luck. Most of the spellers, however, got here through incredible hard work and determination. This is no fluke. This is the culmination of hours and hours of intense studying, rote memorization, and the deep exploration of language. These kids are the best of the orthographic best.

Why bother?

Even our smartphones are now capable of correcting our spelling, and contemporary spelling conventions offer wide latitude in expression.  A legitimate conversation today might consist of this jumble of characters:  Sup? Nm, u? K, gtg, ttyl. While some have questioned the value in taking spelling seriously, I think it’s a skill for the masses. Spelling should not be the private domain of one subset of specialized geeks.

Rote memorization is not all bad. Remember your times tables? You do?  Well, that was rote memorization. And thanks to mnemonics like King Phillip Came Over For Good Spaghetti, you can quickly access information that lets you move forward in a hurry. Can you imagine how much more difficult geometry and algebra would be if you had to work out 7 x 7 = 49 every single time?

Words are the building blocks of thought. While we have generic words like “thing” and “stuff” to get us through those situations when we are at a loss for words, language allows for sophistication. Shakespeare might have written “Could I think of you as like that one thing? You’re better than that stuff.”  But a richer vocabulary offers the romance of “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate.”  If we can’t spell words, we can’t communicate our most nuanced thoughts.

Spelling is so much more than memorization. Spelling connects us to history and culture, to science, poetry, and mathematics. A word is more than the sum of its parts. Words tell stories and act as the doorway to all the realms of knowledge. For example, I was once given the word S-I-L-I-C-I-F-E-R-O-U-S in a spelling bee. I’d never heard the word before. I asked for the definition. Containing silicon. I asked for the etymology. Latin. I asked for the part of speech. Adjective.

With this information, I was able to construct the word in its entirety. I knew about silicon, and thus had the S-I-L-I-C-I beginning. The Latin root told me that the middle part of the word would be F-E-R rather than P-H-O-R and the fact that it was an adjective, not a noun, told me that the word ended in O-U-S rather than U-S. Siliciferous. One word can encapsulate an entire education.

When we encourage kids to learn to spell and applaud their accomplishments, we are celebrating the fullness of thought that can only come from human beings.

Rock on, National Spelling Bee contestants!