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Words With Friends, Smut With Strangers

01/28/2013 05:49 pm ET | Updated Feb 02, 2016

When a friend said he was cheating with the popular app Words With Friends, I didn't think much of it. Who hasn't cheated at online Scrabble? Then he clarified, saying he was using the app to cheat on his longterm boyfriend.

He met someone, and they are carrying on an inflagrante affair in the chat function behind each WWF game. Here they discuss scoring. Their chats then scroll up into the ether and vanish, leaving no history. For him, WWF operates as a speakeasy, a façade of innocently shuffled letters masking a backroom of outlaw lust.

Methods have changed, but infidelity transcends time. A mistress once employed a go-between to deliver lustful missives between her bodice and the hands of her steerage-class hunk. But the future is a foreign country; they do things differently here. Today's go-between isn't human and could be anywhere, at anytime.

How does one effectively deceive in the digital age? With dizzying ways to hookup, date or do some "networking," it's easy to get sucked into the vortex of potential pleasure inside your pocket. Twitter? Facebook? WhatsApp? These can be self-same sources of exposure. Clandestine is now a conundrum. Carry on an affair and whereabouts can be tagged, locations revealed, phone security breached. You may as well drop breadcrumbs all the way to the bathhouse.

Privacy is a thing of the past. If Human Resources follows your social media feed, rest assured a partner's suspicions will be raised if you're constantly messaging, face bathed in the orange glow of Grindr. What's the workaround? An addiction to online Scrabble.

A family-friendly, seemingly innocuous game is the perfect front to launder passion. Words With Friends engages the brain ("Just warding off dementia, dear!"), and as the thinking man's crack, you can always have more and it never makes you fat. Should a craving arise, you can instantly, in the middle of the night, begin new games with strangers in Ireland, Sydney, Ohio -- wherever a fellow word slut fiends for a fix.

Scrabble ranks right up there with Zumba as a relatively healthy addiction, but it's not as innocent as it may appear. Like any relationship, it can snowball to the obsessive-compulsive exclusion of everything else. At social gatherings, WWF addicts may excuse themselves to the toilet where, like a trained bulimic, they frantically purge out a few scrambles.

Soon they get better at discovering how to double up, outmaneuver and out-strategize their own games. Maybe this is the way people start to look at everything they should enjoy: marriage, business, the Tour de France. Nothing is what it seems. Whatever is ostensibly stable, healthy and constructive is not necessarily so when exposed to the open.

Instead of encouraging candor, a world without privacy better illuminates the lengths one will go to keep a secret. Now, as in the past, a go-between scrambles the conception of success into a word that means little more than clever cheating.