Word Games

As a writer, I love words. Obviously. I also love word games. I’m not terribly good at them, for the most part. For instance, when I play Scrabble, I am happier about playing a clever word than I am about playing a boring one that happens to be high scoring. So I always lose to a player who is all about scoring.

Last week, when we had our class “recess,” and it was really too cold to send the kids outside, I had the brilliant idea of teaching them my favorite word game, Jotto. I couldn’t find my carefully preserved pad, so I tried to explain it to them (because you can totally play it on any piece of paper) but I got the impression they weren’t really sure they were doing it right.

After class was over, I got online right away in hopes of tracking down a Jotto pad. It doesn’t hurt to have backup even if you assume you’re going to find the one you already have. I found one for a very reasonable price and ordered it. Then I kept looking, and found a scan of a Jotto sheet which I could save and print whenever I want. (The game is no longer produced.)I was thrilled. I printed some sheets and put them aside for today’s class.

I learned to play Jotto when I was 10. We were on holiday in what was then Rhodesia, and my mother taught me to play because my dad wouldn’t play with her anymore (she always won). It involves picking a secret five-letter word, which your opponent must try to guess by suggesting other five-letter words, and you tell them how many “jots,” or common letters the two words have. Of course at the same time you are trying to guess your opponent’s word.

At ten years old, I had a hard time thinking of a five-letter word out of the blue. I happened to be reading a very excellent book at the time, The Twelve and the Genii by Pauline Clarke, and the book was sitting on a table beside me. Aha! thought I. Genii is a five-letter word! It is also, it turns out, an extraordinarily hard word to guess, and as a result I won my very first game of Jotto.

Over the years I often played against my mother, and very rarely lost. As a result, I became very fond of the game. Once I played against both parents, sitting in our rented VW camper in a rainy campground in Germany. I beat them. Later, as a young wife, I played with a friend who was about an even match in both Jotto and Scrabble. I looked forward to our games and won about half the time. My cousins and uncle played a version of the game using four-letter words, but they did it all in their heads without writing anything down!

So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Jotto was a big part of my growing up years and I have never lost my enjoyment of playing. I couldn’t wait for class today so I could teach my students how to play properly using the sheets I’d printed up.

As it turns out, two of my students had to join us by video chat again, leaving only two students here. During the break, I handed them a Jotto sheet and explained the game to them, letting the two of them team up against me. I promised I would pick a word they know. In fact I picked a recent vocabulary word. They, to my great amusement, picked a word I had told them about that had stumped me in a Jotto game years ago–the word “canoe,” which happens to contain the exact same letters as the word “ocean.” It didn’t trip me up this time! Our time ran out before they guessed my word, so I ended up revealing it to them—gelid. I hope they enjoyed playing, because I guarantee we’ll do it again.

The icing on the cake was that my package came today too. I opened it up and exclaimed in delight. It wasn’t just a pad. It was an original Jotto game in its original box, the very box I remember from my childhood:

1-19-16 Jotto box

The box is stained, but otherwise in good shape. Inside, more delights awaited. The dorky 70s people on the little insert!

1-19-16 Jotto brochure

Not one but TWO pads!

1-19-16 Jotto pad in box

And, best of all, the original Jotto pencils!

1-19-16 Jotto pencil

I’m still smiling.

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