By 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 WildWords.

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 WildWords.

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 bomb."

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 other possibilities.

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 GUERRILLA.

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 plays quickly.

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 "TouchDown").

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 each turn.

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.

Kerry's 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 in Rumsfeld.

Bush feels he must answer Kerry's play of unemployment, so he forms JOBS incoporating two turn-to-wild squares.

The 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 are formed.

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 play.

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.

Kerry continues.

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.

TAXES 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

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   Copyright 2003 Peter Roizen