agreement, Bush was to go first with members of
his administration sitting next to him (except
Cheney who Kerry staffers felt would find some
way to cheat). Neither player is under oath, and
it would not matter as bluffing is allowed in
The game was played before a joint session of
Congress on National Literacy Day.
Within moments of drawing his first tray and
without consultation, Bush decides on a play. He
places the tiles slowly on the board while gently
humming a Willie Nelson classic--"You were
always on my mind."
The play is worth 22 points.
Bush places the word slightly to the right of
center to land the M on a double-the-letter
square. Kerry immediately suspects the * is used
to represent another D. A player need not divulge
what an asterisk represents unless challenged in
Although Kerry has read the rules and knows that
proper names are not allowed, he decides not to
challenge. He suspects Bush has not read the
rules, and Kerry hopes to exploit that reality
later in the game.
After considerably more time and much shuffling
of his tiles, Kerry finds a play.
Kerry uses the * to represent
the series of letters U-A in QUAGMIRE. An
asterisk in WildWords may represent one letter or
any series of letters. Striking two
double-the-word squares, the play yields a total
of 72 points.
G.W. is not amused with the
play. Paul Wolfowitz whispers something in Bush's
ear. Bush reflects for an instant and plays.
LIBERATE scores 66 points.
Because the play used all seven tiles, a bonus of
40 points is included in the score. There are
some cheers, but the play seems to bring out
mixed emotions in a few Republicans. Ironically,
in WildWords' vernacular, using all seven tiles
in a play is known as "bombing," with
the play, itself, referred to as "the
Kerry has an excellent tray with two asterisks
and immediately sees the possibility below to
similarly qualify for 40 bonus points. But Kerry
does not feel ABORTIONS is a good play at this
point in his political career, so he looks for
His clock ticking, Kerry
wonders "what in tarnation am I going to
do?" And that thought inspires him to find
another seven tile bonus play.
Kerry plays TARNATION. One
asterisk is placed on a yellow turn-to-wild
square, so it is put upside down. Even if that
tile had not been an asterisk, it would now have
the power of an asterisk to represent one letter
or any series of letters.
Since asterisk tiles can have different
representations in different directions, Kerry
can withstand a challenge by also spelling a word
that starts with Q, a word that ends with O, and
a word that starts with G. Kerry, if challenged,
intends to offer up QUAGMIRE (again), BOZO, and
Kerry's score for the four new words played is 67
points including the bonus.
Bush spends little time looking at Kerry's play
as something in his tray seems to excite him. He
Though LEADER is only 21
points, cheers are heard from the Republican
side. This play is actually very bad from a
defensive perspective as it opens up the
possibility that an opposing player will use all
seven tiles covering both a triple-the-word and
double-the-word square. Such a play is called a
TD (for triple-double and for
Kerry does not see a way to exploit the
opportunity with his tiles, so he exercises the
option to trade all his tiles without losing his
turn. A WildWords player--even a
non-politician--may do this once at the start of
Kerry's draw is fortunate and he finds a TD!
ARROGANT is worth 106 points.
The crowd goes silent. Replublicans are shocked
by the bad-mannered play, and Democrats don't
want to show any glee. This was supposed to be a
friendly game promoting literacy.
With a few winks, whispers, and nods between the
president, Colin Powell, and Condi Rice, Bush
makes a play.
WISHYWASHY is worth a
whopping 144 points! Kerry recognizes the word
but suspects it has a hyphen in it which, if so,
would mean a challenge would succeed and the play
would be removed with points forfeited. But
although Kerry thinks Bush did not read the
rules, he is very sure Colin did, and Condi has a
PhD. Could all three be wrong?
Kerry can't make up his mind
to challenge or not to challenge. His gut tells
him to challenge, but if he does and is
incorrect, he feels it could cost him the
election. Polls show that Kerry cannot win if
swing voters perceive him to have a weaker
vocabulary and fewer spelling skills than G.W.
Realizing that Bush will no doubt explain the
vertical play of *L as LIBERAL, Kerry lets Bush's
play stand and switches to a different tack.
bomb of UNEMPLOYMENT is worth 55 points.
Bush does not have a great tray of letters nor an
asterisk. Rumsfeld, who has been counting
asterisks played, advises Bush to exercise the
trade letters option. Of course, Rumsfeld is
unaware that Kerry played one asterisk upside
down on a turn-to-wild square. In fact, Rumsfeld
is assuming Bush will draw the best seven tiles
possible, independent of random chance.
Bush is not so lucky. The
exchange of tiles is what is known in WildWords
as a BLT--Bad Letter Trade. Bush has no vowels.
He is internally furious with Rumsfeld, but he
smiles and pats him on the back gently thanking
him for his advice and expressing his confidence
Bush feels he must answer
Kerry's play of unemployment, so he forms JOBS
incoporating two turn-to-wild squares.
red or lose-20-on-play squares are intended to
diminish the advantage of going first or punish a
play that uses two turn-to-wild squares. Bush is
forced to place the B on such a square. The play
is worth only 8 points even though 5 new words
Kerry wonders if Bush knows a
word ending in J, but decides it is not worth
risking his own turn to challenge an 8 point
Kerry seaches for another
high-point issue that will force Bush into
another low-point rebuttal. It's easier and more
fun than defining your own policies.
Bush thinks for a moment and
sees the word. A word starting with an asterisk
can sometimes be very hard to find. WEAPONS is
worth 68 points.
With Bush having considerably
more time left than Kerry, Bush decides to use it
all for a last play at which time he can invoke
the 45 minutes total time restriction that his
administration insisted upon.
Kerry is equally happy to see
that strategy as he has squandered much of his
time and would have little left for remaining
plays. You don't want to finish a game of
WildWords with weak plays.
Bush searches for a play with
religious or righteous overtones, but neither he,
nor his team, nor any higher father can find one.
Ashcroft suggests "speaking in
tongues," but GW plays an old standby
instead, and declares the game over.
is worth 29 points.
27 tiles remained including 3
asterisks. The CIA would later report that Bush
won, however, they had inadvertently given the
credit for UNEMPLOYMENT to G.W. A revised tally
is expected shortly after the elections.
The opponents congratulated
each other on their play. And both expressed the
hope that WildWords will lead to better verbal
skills in America, and world peace.
Note: WildWords is a very real, challenging, and
fun crossword game available in board and free
Internet versions. It is subject to the rules,
vernacular, and play outlined in this article.
Every statement about the game was true. You now
know how to play it.
The asterisk, turn-to-wild squares, and bluffing
create a game which is dramatically different
from the classic. For more information, take the
link to the Front Page. And feel free to share
this page with friends that have a sense of humor
or enjoy word games.
"This game is tons more
fun than Scrabble (TM Hasbro)."
- Mensa Judge, 2004 Mind Games
Famous Games Quiz