PopCap Profile—Bookworm Deluxe Lillian Liss Octogenarian’s Bookworm Score is Higher Than Yours Lillian Liss laughs in the face of stereotypes. While many may typecast “senior citizens”as doddering Matlock-loving technophobes unable to program a DVR and flat-out intimidated by computers, this 86-year-old Arad, Israel émigré happily confounds such narrow preconceptions by regularly using Skype to keep in touch with her family in the States and by avidly playing Bookworm Deluxe on her computer. More precisely, Lillian doesn’t play Bookworm Deluxe so much as she absolutely crushes it. “My highest score is 115,592,540,” says this proud grandmother, “But I’m working on a game right now that’s well over 111 million and still going, so who knows?”
It’s possible that this lifelong avid reader and Scrabble fan was simply fated to play and excel in Bookworm. Back in 1943 Lillian purchased a reproduction of one her favorite paintings, “The Bookworm” by German romanticist Carl Spitzweg and it hangs on her wall today; in fact, the painting has been her computer’s desktop background for as long as she’s had a PC. “I had the feeling that Bookworm was created especially for me,” confides Lillian. “I loved the sample game but it left me hungry for more so I delightedly purchased the full Deluxe version.”
Shortly after installing the game Lillian was racking up the sort of scores any player would envy. Then again, she might have had a few advantages over the average player. Over a 55 year teaching career teaching ancient and modern Jewish history, ethics, arts and crafts, and much to children as young as 6 and as old as 16, Lillian shared her love of words and learning with her students—especially her new pupils in Israel where she taught English as a second language. Lillian’s proficiency at spotting words amid the jumbled letters of the Bookworm screen could be attributed to a skill she learned at six, courtesy of her apartment building’s janitor: she can flawlessly and easily recite the alphabet backward. All of this, coupled with a voracious appetite for reading anything and everything from comic books to novels to historical biographies, has worked to create a Bookworm-battling machine.
Although Lillian disavows in-depth strategizing, she does devote a fair amount of thought to every game. “I look for structures such as ‘ous,’ ‘ious,’ ‘tion,’ ‘sion,’ ‘ttle,’ ‘ddle,’ ‘able,’ and ‘ing’ to which I can attach a whole word. A double ‘ing’ in place is a thrill since it lets me build a ‘singing’or ‘flinging’. Double letters on the board are an alert for opportunity. I've also discovered that the right and left sides of the board often have matching letters, and so I can complete words backwards and forwards.” Lillian has also become proficient at moving letters around on the board in order to complete broken words she happens to spot.
Although Bookworm is a single-player game, Lillian has found an unlikely competitive incentive and it’s not by trying to trump a friend or family member’s score; rather, Lillian is battling a shadowy digitized figure that lurks primarily in her imagination. “I have a sense that there's something on the other side that's sizing me up and deliberately strewing obstacles in my path by tossing Z's, Q's, J's and X's onto the board whenever I've blundered. So I try to outwit that something on the other sideand force it to do my will by giving me letters I need.” She laughs and adds, “Occasionally, it works!”
While competing against her unknown adversary keeps Lillian engaged in the game, her primary motivation for playing the game is the same as that of most other players: relaxation and stress relief. Simply put, nothing relaxes Lillian as much as playing Bookworm Deluxe does. “There’s no sense of pressure with the game,” she explains. “When I play, all tension just drops away as I seek out words or as they reveal themselves to me.” Lillian also believes that mining the game board for high-scoring words comes with another benefit: it exercises her mind. “Playing Bookworm stimulates my faculties and keeps me mentally alert. That’s valuable for me at 86, almost 87, years of age.”
Her biggest gripe is the 12-letter word limit imposed by the game. Lillian quickly rattles off a list of words the game has denied her, “Sentimentality, individuality, inadmissibility, inattentiveness, unsubstantial, and picturization. The last hurt the most because I used the Z in it.” Additionally, Lillian would like a larger dictionary, some choices in background music, and the ability to make bets on creating words for extra points (with the risk of penalties if the player falls short).
That being said, Lillian has no real complaints. Whether she plays for a few minutes or a few hours, Bookworm is a reliable bright spot in her busy day. For Lillian, the appeal of Bookworm is enduring and simple. “Playing Bookworm provides me with a fun intellectual challenge and the thrill of personal achievement.” She smiles and concludes, “Other computer or videogames bore me. But not Bookworm.”