Theater critic

I’m sitting in the living room, staring at my iPhone. My wife says something to me. I don’t respond. She says something else.

“What?” I say, looking up.

She’s not amused.

RSABBO. Rabbos? Babors?

She walks away, disgusted.

(Pierre Mornet/For The Washington Post)

Sabbor? Oh wait, of course: ABSORB!

The score thingy in the upper right-hand corner of the screen gives me points for successfully decoding RSABBO in the allotted two minutes. I don’t know exactly how many points it awards or even how it arrives at the totals. And okay, if you must know, I don’t really care at the moment, because —


As guilty pleasures go, I cannot say for 100 percent certain that TextTwist 2 gives me tons of pleasure. I can say, however, that it gives me loads of guilt. Because I play this infernal, addictive game way too much.

I’ve never been that much of a smartphone game-a-holic. Oh, I had an intense few months with Dots, engaged in a brief fling with Fish Out of Water, got mixed up for a spell with Draw Something — not a pretty picture. But TextTwist 2, well, that’s been a whole other level of trivial pursuit. Sitting anywhere — on a train, on a couch, in a theater waiting for a play to start (and the usher to tell me to shut off my phone) — I can tap on the icon, which looks like a “T” wrapped in an unraveled paper clip, and waste a truly ridiculous amount of . . .

EOTMIEN. Hold on. I’ll get it. Tick, tick, tick goes that stupid time clock!

The beauty of the hand-held word game is that it can be seamlessly integrated into the other distractions I count as shameful time-sucks. I can, for instance, spend a happy hour twisting text even as I have the television tuned to a complete waste of precious minutes such as “Survivor.” Yes, I confess: I am one of the 14 people still watching “Survivor,” despite it being on like its 490th remote tropical island and 12,000th immunity challenge.

I’m not going to delve too deeply here into my enduring loyalty to a show that features not a single activity in which I would ever want to participate. I will say only that the unchallenging mindlessness in which it envelops me is the perfect atmosphere for a recreation of far, far more value to society. I speak again, of course, of TextTwist 2. If you can imagine a person splayed on a sofa, with the TV blaring Jeff Probst’s immortal catchphrase, “Come on in, guys!” as fingers madly dance on a phone, you will be able to form a vivid impression of a quintessential 21st century American pastime: pointless multitasking.

My high score in TextTwist 2 is 780,916. It’s a number of absolutely no consequence. I can’t broadcast it because as far as I can tell, there is no online community of TextTwist 2 users who stay up late, trading their greatest unscrambled hits. Nor can you turn in your TextTwist 2 points for money, at the cashier’s window. And yet, I take some — dare I say twisted? — satisfaction from the achievement of my high score. And I am committed in some hopelessly devoted way to someday topping it.

ONETIME! Yessss!

I play the “standard” version of TextTwist 2, a format that gives you a jumble of five to seven letters — the “bingo word” — that you must solve to go on to the next word. In addition to finding the bingo word, you can add to your point total by tapping out as many of the smaller words you can make from the bingo word’s letters as will fit in the provided slots. Three missed bingo words, and the game is over.

I have almost no aptitude for numbers games like Sudoku and my craving for crossword puzzles has lapsed. But, ah, TextTwist 2, you remain a captivator, in your appeal to my compulsive delight in thwarting disorder, as well as in the ways you reveal your creators’ own vocabulary affinities (for gerunds and plurals) and confounding prejudices (why, why, why doesn’t a bingo word ever end in “ion”?).

“Are you twittering?” my wife asks, a slow drip of caustic judgment issuing from every syllable.

“No! I’m doing something far more important! I am rearranging the letters P-O-Y-A-I-M on this device so that life will at long last make complete sense!”

I don’t actually say this.


Which brings me to another point about this solipsistic endeavor — TextTwist 2 that is, not life. It’s essentially antisocial, which makes its pleasures even guiltier. Playing it in public, for instance, can be hazardous, because people sometimes want to, well, help. As is the case with the stranger sitting next to me on the Red Line who startles me out of my manic, thumb-activated, letter-manipulating reverie with an important announcement.

“Mints,” he says.

I, of course, know instantly that he’s not offering me a breath freshener. He’s helping me fill in the five letter words to be derived from IUEMNST. I want to reply, “Like I couldn’t have gotten that one myself, sir?” But I don’t. I thank him, because he looks so pleased with himself, to have been a help.

On the ride to Farragut North, I fill the ensuing MINUTES — that’s it! — sparring with my little electronic tormenter. I really should download a book, I think to myself.

Unless, of course, they come out with TextTwist 3.


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