Friday, February 25, 2022

Kenya dig it?

Tonight will be my Kenya premiere as Rosslyn Academy, an international Christian school in Nairobi, performs The Enchanted Bookshop. This represents my 18th country and only my second in Africa (Babka Without Borders was performed in South Africa two years ago).

I don't have any pictures from the production, but the poster looks great. Of course, if you license a play from my publisher, Pioneer Drama Service, they'll provide all the artwork you need, but it's always fun to see what the teachers and students come up with.

Break legs, all!

Friday, February 4, 2022






Yes, like millions of others, I've become a total nerd for the online word game Wordle. I love all sorts of word games, but there's just something simple, elegant, and oh-so-addicting about this one.

(Boggle is another favorite, but my family refuses to play that one with me any more because I never lose. Unlike games that involve a modicum of physical coordination like Jenga, which I've never won.)

The key to Wordle's unprecedented popularity is due to two things. First, you're limited to just one puzzle a day, preventing obsessed fans from burning out. And second, the game provides a colorful graphic of your results each day, which you can share on social media without spoiling the puzzle.

Not that I would ever do that.

But what I really appreciate about the game is that it doesn't just test your knowledge of the English language. It also tests your logical abilities.

In fact, there's also a whole strategic approach to the starting word. I've seen articles posted about the best words to use, but I refuse to read them. I'm worried that if I do, I'll get stuck in a rut, always depending on that optimum word to start each day's puzzle.

I'd rather keep it lively, changing my starting word every day. Also, I want to do it myself.

I suspect that those articles are basing their recommendations on standard letter usage in English. But here's the thing. Wordle doesn't use "normal" English words. The game's creator, Josh Wardle, wants to trip us up, so the database of words he programmed into his baby are unusual words, weird words, words that don't follow the common letter patterns found in English.

Words like WHACK or ROBOT.  Not necessarily obscure words. Just words that don't put the letters where you expect them (and they almost never contain the most common letter in the English language, "e"). So it's important to keep that in mind as you solve each day's puzzle.

That's why for my starting word, I include as many common vowels and consonants as I can. Words like STALE. ROAST. ALOUD. On my second guess, I try to include the remaining vowels.

After two guesses, I have a pretty clear picture of which vowels are included in the answer and four or five possibilities of where they might be located. Just plug in the remaining consonants and you're all set.

At least this strategy has worked for me. As of today, I've won 42% of my games in three guesses and 81% in four guesses.

Now I know a lot of people are confused by the proliferation of Wordle clones online. Don't be. The one at is the original game and, for now at least, it's free.

Many of those other versions require you to pay, are loaded with annoying ads, or--worst of all--allow you to keep playing over and over again until you're guaranteed to get sick of the game.

And then there are those people upset by the recent news that Wardle sold the rights to his million dollar baby to the New York Times, with the looming threat that it will some day be placed behind the newspaper's infamous paywall.

But never fear. There's actually a way to play Wordle for free forever. You see, everything you need to play the game are already coded inside it. All you have to do is right click on the web page itself and save the program to your desktop. Then, when you want to play, click on your desktop icon rather than going through your browser.

Tada! You've now got your own personal copy of the game. It'll even keep track of your statistics, just like the online version. Unfortunately, this will reset your stats the first time you play, so if you're been playing the game from the website, you'll lose that history. But if you start playing this way now, as I have, you'll have a nice new streak going well before the Gray Lady decides to take away everyone else's free access.

One more thing. If you're learning another language, you can turbocharge your learning by playing one of the handful of foreign versions.

I'm currently playing the Italian one. I'm still a beginner in this bella lingua, so there are a lot of words I don't know. But the nice thing is that all of the versions of Wordle prevent you from guessing combinations that aren't real words so you're not going to waste any guesses. And you're going to learn a whole bunch of new words.

Here are the other versions of Wordle that are available:





Enjoy! Or should I say divertitevi!

*** UPDATE ***

As of February 17, several media outlets are now reporting that the New York Times has started to modify the list of Wordle words, with some people even claiming that they've made the words much harder (I'm not convinced that's true).

That's not a big deal unless you downloaded the original version of the game and like to share how you do each day since the two lists of words will now diverge. On the bright side, it does give you twice as many Wordles to solve each day!

And for you geography nerds, there's not a Wordle-inspired daily puzzle called Worldle. It's either very hard (Liberia) or very easy (New Zealand).

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Tarheel Bookshop is music to my ears

Love seeing these talented kids working so hard as they rehearse for their upcoming production of The Enchanted Bookshop Musical. The group is the Jacksonville Performing Arts in North Carolina. The song is "What's Inside?", a catchy little number that Dorothy Gale, Tom Sawyer, and the rest of the literary characters sing after discovering a mysterious book with a hidden compartment.

If you want to know what's inside that book--or you're eager to hear more great songs from my partner in rhyme Stephen Murray--be sure to visit the musical's web page. One-minute clips from all the show's songs can be accessed from that page and are free to listen to.

The show itself runs March 11-12. Hearing how good the kids sound already, I'm sure it'll be a huge hit.

Much more than that groundhog was today.