Go back to school with heady VocabU app

Nov 1, 2010
Games

It’s stunning how many words you don’t think about using on a daily basis. With so much of communication distilled down into simple emails and texts, it can be easy to forget what fun language can be. VocabU attempts to rekindle that fun with a bit of a challenge. Combining a classic word scramble, where […]

It’s stunning how many words you don’t think about using on a daily basis. With so much of communication distilled down into simple emails and texts, it can be easy to forget what fun language can be.

VocabU attempts to rekindle that fun with a bit of a challenge. Combining a classic word scramble, where you make words out of one larger word, with crossword-puzzle-like clues, VocabU presents a fantastic challenge for language enthusiasts.

Almost instantly upon using the app for the first time, the player is thrown into the game. One large word at the bottom of the screen makes up your bank of letters, and in the center of the screen are a series of definitions, along with blank spaces to fill to create the word being defined.

To give one example, “Traversable” is your bank word, and the definition given is “(Noun) The second letter of the Greek alphabet.” There are four blank spaces to fill, so the answer is “Beta.” The game continues like that for a total of ten definitions per level. Each correct answer gives the player a specific number of points, depending on the length of the word. Once you answer all ten of the definitions, you move on to a more difficult set of words.

If you get stumped on one of the clues, VocabU comes with a great system for supplying hints. Once you’ve answered a question correctly and picked up some points, you’re able to use those points either to get a different definition, or to reveal one of the letters in the word. You can pick any part of the word you want revealed, but you have to ration your points wisely for more difficult words you might need help on later.

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It’s such a great system that rewards patience, letting players really think before they have to give in and use some of their points to get help. Additionally, the fact that it penalizes players creates extra incentive to avoid using the clues just to blast through the game.

If I could levy one complaint against VocabU it’s that its difficulty doesn’t accelerate very well. The definitions given are much more New York Times crossword than, say, People magazine, which is fair, but some sort of escalating difficulty scale would probably make this app a bit more family-friendly. As it exists now, VocabU seems geared mostly for adults with at least some minor knowledge of science or world geography.

But if you’re up for a challenge, or at least willing to sit with your kid and try to tease some challenging vocab words out of an app, VocabU is a tremendous challenge. It’s easy to use, well-designed, and, most of all, quite satisfying to succeed at.

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Dan Kricke

Dan Kricke has been playing with electronics and writing about them for years. He loved his Sega Dreamcast and now the PlayStation 3. On the iPhone, he's a fan of sports apps and anything that offers new music.

 

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