People who know me will say that I’m all about words—English and French. I love learning them, looking them up in the dictionary, and playing games with them. Scrabble has been a longtime favorite and the Bananagrams game (basically Scrabble without a board) I got for my birthday was a real hit. The new Scrabble-like Words with Friends app on my cell phone has been a near obsession for the past month or so. No surprise then that I like televised game shows like Jeopardy and their French counterparts. The latest generation of TV games in France seems destined to attract a younger demographic: the hosts are young; the repartee is lively and full of slang. For one and all, new words are there for the learning, plus quite a bit more.
The game show with the unlikely name Harry is based on computers. Harry himself is a smiley face on a big screen and the four contestants log their answers via PCs on standing desks in front of them. The corny gimmick aside, it’s a good game. At first, the host, Sebastien Folin (who used to do the weather, by the way), gives a clue and the contestants must rearrange rings containing one or more letters into a word as quickly as possible. After several rounds, the slowest participant is eliminated and phase 2 begins. Depending on the day, remaining players may be required to remove one ring of letters in order to form the desired word, or they may have to add letters, or interpret a rebus as part of the word. For instance, there may be a picture of a doghouse, niche, whose sound combined with the letters in other rings indicates the word cornichon (“pickle”). Whew! Not easy at all! Then comes the semifinal where two contestants face off. The rings come in slowly one at a time and the fastest to interpret the clue and get the word right goes on to the final. Longer and longer rings of letters appear on the screen which the finalist has to solve; the number of correct answers determines the winnings for the day. Interesting for me is not only the use of synonyms and antonyms, but allusions to history, literature, and culture that the host patiently explains after each word.
Another thing I love is doing and creating crossword puzzles, so the game show Slam is right up my alley. Cyril Feraud, the host, asks three contestants to compare two words. He may ask what vowel or consonant is the same in two different terms, or what letter follows its neighbor in the alphabet in a certain word. Trickier than it sounds! Then the letter goes onto a projected grid; the contestant is given a clue and tries to guess the entry. Like good crosswords at home, the clues are often misleading, playing on words. Again, the host explains the meaning of the terms, often concerned with topics as varied as geography, cinema, animals, etc. The same procedure continues with just two participants and the final with the last remaining person. The show is called Slam because at any time contestants can slammer, that is, they can buzzer and try to complete all remaining entries to gain points and win.
Both are fast-moving games, but the friendly hosts also take time to ask the contestants to recount personal stories… how they got engaged, met their spouse, or what they do for a living. The shows are good ways to learn about French language and culture as well as universal trivia.