My mother plays anagrams

My mother plays anagrams

Los Angeles, California.

My 99 year old mother has been slowly declining for many years now. In her prime she and my late father played a game with other couples called “anagrams.” My parents were so good at this game that they never took the same side, it was usually men against women. The game didn’t come in a box and I’m sure they took an existing game and re-wrote its rules to suit themselves. It was over 100 tiles with letters on them, like scrabble tiles with no numbers. They honed the set based on letter frequency in words: 10 of the letter “E” and 1 of the letter “Z” etc.

The game they played was simple: turn all the letters face down, mix them up, then start turning them over. Here’s an example of how it went:

Turn over letter 1: “A”

Turn over letter 2: “T”

Whoever says the word “AT” first gets it for their team.

Turn over letter 3: “P”

Whoever says the word “PAT” first gets it for their team.

You can make new words out of the loose letters or use the loose letters to change any words already made, either yours or your opponent’s.

No proper names, words have to be in the dictionary (they had two book dictionaries on the table) and unlike my example above, they played with a rule that words had to be 5 letters long.

My father died in 2000 and my mother hasn’t touched this game since. Know that my mother, who is in the throws of serious dementia now, has a BA in English from NYU and was an editor at Viking Press and proofed many of John Steinbeck’s books (she knew him). In other words, she was and in some respects still is literate. She was also an extremely fast thinker and while my father was a very literate guy as well, my mother was the “one.”

Her old anagrams set was so broken down that it was impossible to use, and the tiles are too small for her to see now, so I made her a set of laser-printed tiles that I laminated to make them more durable. I made exactly the same set that they played with (same number of each letter).

We let go of the 5 letter word rule and once I got her going on it she came out of her dementia and started really cooking, using up all the letters making a variety of words, some complex with complex changes that blew my mind.

My mother’s helper, Marta had no idea my mother had this in her and her jaw dropped when she saw my mother in action.

Know that my mother cannot see all the words in front of her but I read them and from memory she used loose letters to alter them in creative ways. Most of us would need to see the words to work on anagrams, she was able to do the reconstructions in her head.

I only wish I’d started her on this sooner as she really enjoyed it and it’s a great brain exercise for her.

Moral: it’s not just about physical exercise, it’s also about cognitive exercise: Ya gotta keep your noggin working to keep your noggin working.


Just after the Macintosh came out there was a rumor about a programmable robot game called Chipwits that was coming out within year one. It sounded great to me and I was an early buyer of Chipwits.

Chipwits was one of those hard to describe applications: sitting on the fence between game, simulation, and programming instruction. As soon as I got it and ran it (from disk, of course) I realized that what sounded cool was going to take a bit of time to learn.

Chipwit in Greedville

Chipwits consisted of a number of “environments” or rooms with different layouts and different obstacles. The object was to program the chipwit to navigate the room, zapping bugs, eating pie, and turning when necessary before his energy level ran low.

Chipwits Brain

The programming was done, in typical Macintosh fashion, by dragging tiles around into logic arrays, then saving them and running the chipwit in a room. This was an interpreted environment so if the chipwit ran into problems a few clicks and you were back in his brain futzing with his logic.

What was great about this application was that it was hilarious while at the same time challenging and fun.

Chipwits was soon out of sync with the Macintosh world as more powerful programming languages supplanted MacForth and the program grew incompatible with newer systems. I like to think of Chipwits as my pre-HyperCard warm up with amateur programming. It was also a load of fun and as I remember it, a number of people in the Eugene Macintosh users group got deeply into it along with me. Wow, 20 years is a very long time.