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.

Transient

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.

Transient

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.

Transient

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).

Making a Comic, Part 3

Now that I had a couple characters to build on, things seemed to be getting a little easier. I still had no idea what kind of personalities these guys would have, so I decided to be the kind of artist who lets his creations speak for themselves. In other words, I kept drawing with no fixed goal in mind, hoping something would happen.

My favorite thing about drawing so far is that, after a few minutes, you sometimes go on auto-pilot. Alan Watts would call this your Floodlight Consciousness taking over - the mental state you're in when you're, say, driving a car for miles and miles without consciously doing anything. Sporty types would call this The Zone; it's where you want to be when you need to sink a 30-foot putt. I remember reading an interview with Lynda Barry, an amazing artist and human being, who says she draws monkeys every day as a kind of meditation. I kind of get that now.

Point is, when I finish a page of sketches and start looking it over, I'm usually kind of surprised by what I've drawn because I don't remember doing half of the stuff, particularly the good stuff. I really like the look of the long-necked little dude in the upper-right part of the page, but I don't remember what made me draw him that way. I've been thinking about a part for him in the comic, but I'm having a hell of a time drawing him again correctly. Now that I've drawn him, I need to teach myself how to do it again, and that's going to take some time.

Our homework assignment for the second week of class was to draw our characters in action - moving, gesturing, and generally doing things other than standing around.

Apparently, these guys spend their time jamming, fighting, and resting up for future jamming and fighting. Not a bad way to roll, I s'pose.

Here's one more, a full-page drawing we did in class. We had to make a dozen "string drawings" (essentially, wavy stick figures) to illustrate the way a body's parts are positioned while performing certain actions. Then we had to pick our favorite and make a full-page drawing of one of our characters in that pose. I chose one from the "comic distortion" set:

Up Next: They might have names!

Previously:

Making a Comic, Part 1
Making a Comic, Part 2

Zen and the art of podcasting.

Transient

One Sunday night back in the high-school days, when I was still in that stage where driving a car is still a wonderful novelty, I tuned in to WDUQ, my local jazz station, for an appropriate cruising soundtrack. Instead of music, though, I heard a voice that I haven't forgotten since. It was an Englishman, and he was talking about Zen Buddhism. That voice belonged to Alan Watts, and I spent just about every Sunday night listening to the NPR broadcasts of his old lectures. (Although "lectures" makes it sound like more of a chore, every one I've ever heard has been an absolute joy to listen to.)

Over the years I've amassed a pretty healthy Alan Watts audio archive - about two and a half days' worth - and I just found out that an Alan Watts Podast is now available. You can subscribe through iTunes, and if you'd like to catch up on the previous installments, the mp3 files are archived here. These don't seem to be complete lectures, but they're still great to listen to. Online so far: "Images of God," "The Sense of Nonsense," and the first part of "Coincidence of Opposites."

You can purchase lots of Watts's CDs and videos on AlanWatts.com. I've also heard rumors that his lectures are widely available on file-sharing networks. Like Soulseek. For example.

Do yourself a favor and check this out. Each podcast is about 15 minutes in length, it's updated a couple times a week, and it's totally free of charge. Listen to one with your morning coffee and you'll have a better day for it.