Dave Friedman at the Panera Bread® bakery-cafe on University Avenue in Madison, WI

The Power of Wordplay

The Madison Wordplayers’ meetings are more than just fun. See how the group got started—and how playing word games can boost your brain health.

It’s hard to miss Dave Friedman when he strolls into the Panera Bread® bakery-cafe on University Avenue in Madison, Wisconsin, on the first Monday of every month. He’s the guy carrying a box overflowing with more than a dozen word games. The rotating cast of games is met by a constant group of enthusiasts, The Madison Wordplayers.

Although Dave had lots of friends, most didn’t share his love for playing word games. Through a calendar listing in the local paper and some flyers posted in game stores, Dave found others like him, and Wordplayers was born in 1997. Sixteen years later, a group of six to 12 people still gathers once a month. Their meeting location: Panera. 

“Management has been very welcoming to us,” Dave says of Panera, adding that the staff always lets the group finish a game even if it’s a little after closing time. 

The evening always starts with a round of Spuddle, a British import that Dave describes as a relatively simple game that everyone can play together. The group has changed over the years, but it always includes people of a mix of ages, from college students through retirees, and a range of skill levels, from novices to expert wordsmiths. 

No matter your age, playing word games helps keep your brain sharp. And while expensive brain games tout that they can reduce the risk of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, researchers have found that the evidence is just not strong enough to prove this link. Even so, doctors who specialize in studying dementia suggest that doing challenging puzzles and engaging in hobbies and an active social life—just what The Madison Wordplayers offers—can have a positive effect on brain health.  

Whether you want to build a word game group in your home or at your favorite bakery-cafe, Dave suggests the following steps for success.

Keep It Casual

Dave says that he makes it very clear that all skill levels are welcome, and even though highly accomplished players participate, anyone can jump in and have fun. The games are competitive, but more important, they’re friendly. 

Stock Up On Games

Some of The Madison Wordplayers’ favorites: Spuddle, Catch Phrase!, Proclaim!, Taboo, 25 Words or Less, Up for Grabs, and Word Blur.

Include Everyone

To keep a congenial atmosphere, Dave starts with a game that involves everyone, but as people win different rounds, the winners get to pick the next game. 

Pick a Weekday

The Madison Wordplayers doesn’t try to compete with busy weekend schedules and has found steady success by always meeting once a month on a Monday. The monthly timing ensures a good turnout, as it’s not so often as to be onerous for people with a crammed calendar. 

Can’t find a group? Play a word game app against a computer or an online competitor. Some good ones to try: Word Warp, Scrabble, Moxie, Words with Friends, Letter by Letter, ScrabbleBlast, Boggle, and Puzzlejuice.