PAIRSinPEARS and APPLELETTERS are two new word games published by the producers of the Major Fun award-winning Bananagrams. Despite temptations to review them together (you’ll find them on the same page on the Banagrams site), they are each each different enough, and fun enough, to be worthy of a separate review. Hence, this.

Bananagrams, as you remember, comes in a banana-shaped cloth bag. PAIRSinPEARS comes in a pear-shaped bag. Like the banananess of Bananagrams, the pear-shaped bag is about as pearish as PAIRSinPEARS game gets.

Open your PAIRSinPEARS pear-shaped bag and you’ll find a set of rules, 4 complete sets of alphabet tiles, A-Z, each in a different pattern (hollow, filled in black, filled in with lines, filled in with dots) and the cutest ever teeny tiny magic slate.

PAIRSinPEARS is an excellent and engaging challenge for any word-lover. But parents and younger players will discover that the designers of PAIRSinPEARS have paid a lot of attention to how younger children could get involved. First of all, the tiles are larger, and easier for little fingers to manipulate than those you would find in the other Bananagrams games. Next, the entire first page of instructions is devoted to word recognition exercises designed specifically to help younger children become familiar with the properties of the tiles: spelling out someone’s name using two different alphabet sets, find matching pairs of vowels or consonants, putting three letters of each set in alphabetical order, making rhyming words, making homonyms.

Then there are two actual games described, both for 2-4 players, both taking less than 5 minutes per round. The main difference is that in the second game, you keep score.

The first game, eponymously named PAIRSinPAIRS, is designed for ages 5 and up. Players divide all 104 tiles between them and then race to be the first to complete a target number of pairs of intersecting words using matching tile patterns. The challenge is compounded by the scarcity of vowels. Since there are exactly four complete alphabets, there are only four of each vowel.

The challenge is as much to perception as it is to vocabulary. It’s amazing how difficult it can be to distinguish between stripe- and dot-filled letters, especially when you’re under pressure.

In the next game, PAIRPOINTS, for ages 7 and up, players not only have to create more word pairs, but they also have to consider score. Here’s where the magic slate comes in handy. Players can use any of the 4 kinds of letters, but they get twice the score when the letters are all of the same kind. This sets up a delightfully dissonant cognitive chord.

In addition to making words and distinguishing patterns, players have to decide when to go for the extra score or go for creating another pair. And even when they get all the pairs they need to end the round, they can choose to continue improving their score, making still more pairs.

Banagrams players might find PAIRSinPEARS especially appealing because, as in Banagrams, you don’t have to take turns.  PAIRSinPAIRS, however, is a clearly different game. It is just as much an invitation to highly focused word play as Bananagrams, but it offers a significantly different, though equally enticing challenge.

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