App Store Obsession: WordJong Daily Challenge

Before I broke down and bought an iPod Touch a couple weeks ago, I really wasn't convinced it (or the iPhone) would be a viable gaming platform. And while it still isn't ideal for certain genres, the things it does well - puzzle games and word games in particular - it does remarkably well. There are untold thousands of games (and lots of other applications and utilities) in the App Store, and I'm going to start writing about the really exceptional stuff I find in there so you, too, can piss away your paycheck two bucks at a time.

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WordJong Daily Challenge
Gameblend Studios
$4.99, currently on sale for $2.99

(Buy it from the App Store)

I used to have a weird nightly routine. I'd crawl into bed with my computer, load up an Alan Watts lecture, and play this version of Mahjongg Solitaire (the Java coding meant I could play the game offline - this was before Wi-Fi, kids). It was more fun than it sounds! But even if a pile of mahjongg tiles weren't enough to trigger my Zen nostalgia, I would still love WordJong, which adds a layer of Scrabble-in-reverse to my lonely old game.

The premise is simple enough: Tiles are stacked on the main board, and you use them to spell words. You're initially able to use any letter that has a free left or right side and that isn't covered by another tile; tapping a usable tile will drop it down to the word bar, and anything it was obscuring will be made available for you use. When you're happy with your word - you're free to experiment, undoing moves and selecting tiles just to see what letters are underneath - you tap the Submit button. Points are awarded for each in-game-dictionary-approved word, with a bonus for longer words or ones made with less-common letters.

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The catch is that, in order to complete a game, you need to use every letter on the board. If you rush through and find yourself stuck with something like X-C-R-S-S, you're able to undo as many moves as necessary, but you quickly realize the value of vowel conservation. Your first five-letter word will also earn you a "bomb" tile, which can be used to destroy any single letter. It can be helpful in a pinch, but it's worth ten bonus points at the end of the round if you can resist the temptation to use it.

Those points come into play in the Daily Challenge part of the game. Each day, an anthropomorphic challenger will present you with a new stack of tiles and a target score to beat. In Times crossword tradition, the easiest puzzles and lowest target scores come on Mondays, building to Sunday's weekly ass-kicker. An extensive archive of puzzles is available when you buy the game, and there's no restriction regarding which puzzles you can play on which days - you're free complete as many as you want in a single sitting.

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Word-game fans will almost definitely love this one, and the promise of a new puzzle every day makes this a great bargain, particularly at the current sale price. There's also a free-to-play browser version of the original WordJong at the game's official site, which is a good place to start (there is no free "Lite" version of Daily Challenge in the App Store).