History & Versions

Bookworm was created by Jason Kapalka and was originally published by Popcap Games in 2002. It's a word search game that blends elements of Scrabble, Jumble and crossword puzzles.

The original version of the game, still freely playable online in a web browser, can be found at Popcap's site. The game is also available to be downloaded from Popcap's site for offline play, though they charge $19.99 for it.

Bookworm has been ported to a number of other platforms. It has been released for the Nintendo DS (in both cartridge form and as a DSi downloadable title) and the Gameboy Advance portable gaming systems, as well as for the Xbox Live Arcade, Blackberries, iPhones, the Amazon Kindle and Windows Mobile devices.


Gameplay Overview

Gameplay takes place on a board watched over by Lex the Bookworm. The game is played by one player at a time. A random jumble of letter tiles are deposited on the playfield, and players are tasked with making words out of them. Words must be put together from letters that are adjacent to each other. When a word is successfully created, the word's tiles are removed from the playfield and fed to Lex. Players receive points for each word created, with more points awarded for greater amounts of letters and greater complexity. Words must be at least three letters in length - no "an" or "no" allowed. Common first names generally don't count as words either, nor do place names such as cities and states. A window beneath Lex will tell you if the currently highlighted letters make a valid word (and what the point value is.)

New letter tiles will appear from the top of the screen to replace those removed by the previous word. Sometimes there will be red (or "flaming") letter tiles among them. These tiles provide the central challenge of the game as players must prevent them from reaching the bottom. If a turn is completed and a red tile is not used in the word that is created, the red tile will move down one space, incinerating the letter tile that was previously beneath it. The letter tile that is currently threatened with incineration can be "rescued" by forming a word with it, but the red tile above it will still move down one space. If a red tile reaches the bottom of the playfield, the game is over.

If a player finds themselves in danger of being wiped out by a red tile and can find no word combinations to remove it, there is an emergency "scramble" option that can be employed. This option replaces all of the non-colored letter tiles with entirely new letters, but it comes at a cost; the red tiles not only remain but get to move down a space immediately, and some new red tiles will be deposited at the top of the screen. The more this option is used, the more new red tiles appear.
There are two further modes of play to choose from. In "classic" mode, players do this in a series of turns that are not timed and only end when a word has been created (though the overall amount of gameplay time is recorded for your personal records in the paid versions of the game.)  In "action" mode, new red tiles are introduced every few seconds regardless of what the player is doing. If the red tiles are left sitting for too long in this mode, they will also incinerate the tile beneath them before the turn has ended.

Aside from preventing the red tiles from reaching the bottom, the overall objective of play is to rack up as many points as possible and progress through a series of rankings (usually accompanied by a comical picture.)

Basic Strategy

Sometimes colored tiles (other than red) will appear at the top of the playfield. They may also appear as a result of creating a particularly long letter combination. These colored tiles grant bonus points when used in a word.
(bulleted color tiles list)

- Green Tiles: Grouping two or three green tiles together in a word may create a gold tile.
- Gold Tiles: Two gold tiles in a word will make a sapphire, and three in a word creates a diamond tile.
- Sapphire Tiles: Two sapphires used in a word create a diamond tile.
- Diamond Tiles: In some versions these are Platinum tiles instead. This is the highet tier of bonus tile and grants the greatest amount of bonus points.

Periodically a "bonus word" will also appear beneath Lex on the left-hand side of the screen. This word grants bonus points if you can form it, and the point multiplier skyrockets if you can incorporate colored tiles into the bonus word. If you manage to put the bonus word together, the next bonus word will be worth even more points.

New players who are just starting out and getting familiar with the game will want to stick with Classic mode initially and begin with a simple strategy. As you look over the board each turn, the following should (generally speaking) be your priorities:

1) Eliminate any red tiles that have appeared.
2) Utilize any colored tiles that have appeared.
3) If neither of the above is on the board, make the longest and most complex word possible out of the available letters.
4) Break up clusters of the same letters that are lodged next to each other, especially if they are consonants. These can lead to trouble quickly if a red tile lands above them. Prioritize this task over making three-letter words elsewhere. To break up vowel clusters, look for opportunities for words that use two vowels in the middle - food, took, feel, shout, indeed, fear, and so on.

You should keep an eye toward making the bonus word if you can, but getting the right placement of tiles to make it is really a matter of more luck than skill, so it shouldn't really be a priority. Simply making it a priority to eliminate red tiles ASAP can actually take you quite far in this game all by itself.

Advanced Strategy

Once you've become familiar with the game, you can start looking into advanced techniques to maximize your points per turn.

- When you first begin to play Bookworm, you'll likely be happy knocking out lots of three-letter words. This strategy turns counterproductive in later levels, however, as three-letter words will cause more red tiles to be dropped onto the playfield. Creating lots of small words also disproportionately drains consonants from the available tiles. If you play a long string of nothing but three-letter words, you'll find yourself with big chunks of vowels bunched together and a bunch of red tiles that you can't get rid of! Always take the time to scan the field for words that are a minimum of four letters. In Classic mode this is no problem as you have no time limit per turn, and you should practice it here before moving on to Action mode.

- One exception to the above rule is that three-letter words that are made from the same vertical column don't cause red tiles to spawn. Use this to your advantage to quickly eliminate a red tile or reposition letters with no negative repercussions!

- There are some time-saving shortcuts when playing with a mouse. You can double click on the final letter of a word rather than scrolling over to the "submit" button. This can save vital seconds in Action mode. Likewise, you can de-select letters simply by right-clicking once anywhere on the screen, but this only works in the download PC version (or in any of the paid alternate versions), as the Flash player used for the web browser version won't allow you to right click.

- Let colored tiles hang around until you can put together a word entirely from them. A combination of all one color creates a huge bonus, and even a mix of colors adds a significant bonus over using non-colored tiles as part of the word combination.

- Let red tiles hang around if they are an easy match, such as a vowel like A or E, or a consonant like S. In later levels you will be dealing with 5 or more red tiles on the screen regularly, so you'll need to prioritize which to get rid of first. The one closest to the bottom seems like the natural choice, but if it is an easy match and headed toward a good mix of consonants and vowels, it may actually make more sense to take a couple of turns breaking up a problem cluster farther up the board.

- In "action" mode, it will take longer for red tiles to incinerate colored tiles that they are left on top of. A red tile that you cannot deal with immediately may be repositioned to the top of a colored tile to buy more time to handle it.

- Don't be afraid to use the "scramble" option when you are running low on consonants, even if the red tiles are not immediately threatening the bottom of the board. Higher levels of difficulty tend to introduce more vowels than consonants to the top of the board, so if you are getting vowel-heavy the only way out may be a random shake-up to get a spread of consonants back on the board.

- When you create a word, be sure to check for prefixes, plural forms or suffixes that can be attached to it before registering it.

- There is one unique tile in Bookworm that combines two letters into one - the Qu tile. This tile can seem like a bear to deal with, especially when it comes down as a red tile! There are actually quite a few possibilities for knocking it out, however - queen, quick, quiz, quip, quill, queer, quack, quote, quail, quinoa, quince, quest, quora, quorum, quad, quadrant, quadratic, quaff, quagmire, quake, quaker, quality, qualitative, quasi, quasar, quasimodo, queue and qubit. And don't forget plurals!

- A popular strategy used by advanced players of Bookworm is the "firewall strategy." With this strategy you focus from the beginning on creating a "firewall" of vowels and useful consonants along the bottom three or four rows of the playfield. You then leave this firewall intact for as long as possible while making matches along the top rows. The firewall provides a solid safety layer for red tiles that slip through your initial defenses.  In "action" mode, colored tiles should be prioritized in being shunted to the bottom, as they will hold red tiles on top of them longer than regular tiles will.

- Though you'll want to focus on stashing "high use" consonants like S, there is one exception that you should keep around. Try to keep at least one Z around, preferably two with one near each side of the playfield. You'll want them to counter any red Zs that come along. Z is a tough letter to match to a word, and most of the matches come from double Z words - jazz, fizz, and so on.

Outside Help

A big tip for improving your skill at this game is to simply increase your vocabulary! In many ways, Bookworm is a vocabulary test at its core. You may be leaving words on the table that you don't even recognize as being words, like "fen" or "fens" (a marshland), or "tare" (a type of weed.)

Some free resources for improving your vocabulary online include:

- Wordsmith's A-Word-A-Day - Subscribe to a mailing list to receive a new word in your inbox daily.
- - A wide range of small games played in a web browser and designed to improve vocabulary such as Hangman, word searches, crosswords and typing challenges.
- Test Your Vocab - Take a test and get a detailed ranking of your level of English vocabulary. Great to use as a benchmark to see if your vocabulary is improving!
- Englishtown - A series of free online classes to help improve English vocabulary. Many are centered around themes like the holidays, fitness, nautical terms and ordering food in restaurants.
- English Grammar Online - Covers English grammar and writing, with small games and riddles to improve vocabulary.
- Sheppard Software - Interactive games themed around certain topics like animals, science and history.