The Culinary Nerd Plays Free Rice…And Plays, And Plays, And Plays…

Hello, my name is Barbara, I am a Culinary Nerd, and I have a problem.

With addiction.

I can’t stop playing Free Rice.


Well, besides the fact that it is a vocabulary game that tests your language skills by giving you words, and then four choices of definition, which, for a literary nerd like myself, is irresistible, (yes, in addition to being a Culinary Nerd, I am also a Literary Nerd) but for each correct answer you give, 20 grains of rice are donated to the United Nations World Food Program. The money comes from the advertisers who support the site, and the words come from professional lexicographers, and the time to play–well, that comes from me multitasking while I am doing other
stuff at the computer.

The game is bloody addictive–there are words in fifty levels of difficulty, and after the first few words, a baseline level of difficulty is set for you. Then, to quote the FAQ:

FreeRice automatically adjusts to your level of vocabulary. It starts by giving you words at different levels of difficulty and then, based on how you do, assigns you an approximate starting level. You then determine a more exact level for yourself as you play. When you get a word wrong, you go to an easier level. When you get three words in a row right, you go to a harder level. This one-to-three ratio is best for keeping you at the “outer fringe” of your vocabulary, where learning can take place.

And, as the FAQ states, that while there are fifty levels, it is rare for anyone to go higher than forty-eight.

I’ve gone to level fifty several times, though most of my playing time is spent around level forty-six or seven.

The truth is, the damned game, which is played for the best of purposes, has hit my self-competitive streak, where in everything I do, I try one-up myself every time. So, once I hit level fifty, I wanted to work towards staying there. So, I am learning all kinds of new words, like “psalterium” which I guessed correctly meant “third stomach.”

Or, “weasand,” which means “throat,” which I neither knew nor guessed correctly.

Zak and Morganna make endless mock of me for it, but I am hooked. It is too much fun, learning new words, or puzzling out what an unfamiliar word probably means from divining the root word, and going from there. I just love stuff like that, and because English is a language which has root words in it from many languages: Anglo-Saxon, French, Latin and Greek, primarily, it makes these sorts of games so much more fun and challenging to play.

So, other than telling everyone who loves words and feeding people to go play, and to be prepared for the jibes of your friends and family once you get addicted, do I have any words of advice?

Well, I have noted several things about the words chosen for the upper levels.

Many of them are archaic, meaning, they are seldom in use any more. Many of them have to do with arms, armor, carriages, horses and ships, which have little commerce in modern life. (Which means all you SCA geeks and readers of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Patrick O’Brian will be in your element.)

Many of these words have French or Latin roots, with a smaller number of them from the Greek. If you have any knowledge of any of these languages, you will do well at Free Rice. I, nerdy woman that I am, have had five years of Latin in school, and three of French, so…yeah. Many of the Greek-based words are medical terms which you can pick up by watching those doctor shows on television, though I got a lot of mine by once being a pre-veterinary/pre-med student. (And growing up watching M*A*S*H obsessively. That helped.)

If you are from the UK, you will notice a great number of primarily archaic, but some modern British. slang terms which seem quite strange to Americans, (and thus they have a higher difficulty level) than you would guess. I got those from being a great reader of English literature and a big fan of lots of the shows on the BBC, past and present.

And there are a lot of terms relating to food: French and Latin-based primarily, so all the foodies around here should get it.

In fact, I would say that anyone who reads and writes a lot (like, um, say, bloggers) and anyone who cares about feeding people (that would be foodies), would not only do well with this game, but would feel good about it.

Even if it does label you as a big old egghead for life, and makes you the object of gentle derision for your immediate family.


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  1. We’ve been a little obsessed with Free Rice as well. Nice post!

    Comment by Ann — December 11, 2007 #

  2. I loved the idea when I saw people first post about it some weeks ago, but I never actually looked at the site! Today I finally did, and now I’m on level 45/46–and have donated 1500 grains of rice. I foresee this filling stray minutes spent waiting…

    Comment by Erin — December 11, 2007 #

  3. Is there a support group for people addicted to Free Rice? If so, sign me up!

    Comment by Lydia — December 11, 2007 #

  4. Oh, hilarious and cool this is. And it’s like studying for the vocab section of the GRE…but painless!

    Comment by Heather — December 11, 2007 #

  5. Thank you for pointing this out…I think. You weren’t kidding when you said it’s addictive!

    Comment by Winslow — December 11, 2007 #

  6. Oh goodness. Barbara, you pernicious lady.

    I love it too much, I think!

    Comment by heather — December 12, 2007 #

  7. Barbara, thank you thank you! This is not the first time you have made my day and it is about time that I thanked you. I’ve been a reader for over a year and I continue to look for new posts daily with joy and anticipation. Thank you for letting us know about Free Rice!

    Comment by Julie — December 12, 2007 #

  8. I’ve been playing this for a while now, I love it that it can teach you new words too. My level is 49 but have reached 50 quite a few times.

    Comment by Toffeeapple — December 12, 2007 #

  9. I’ve been playing this for a while now, I love it that it can teach you new words too. My level is 49 but have reached 50 quite a few times.

    Comment by Toffeeapple — December 12, 2007 #

  10. I’ve been playing this for a while now, I love it that it can teach you new words too. My level is 49 but have reached 50 quite a few times.

    Comment by Toffeeapple — December 12, 2007 #

  11. That is so cool!

    I went up to 50 and then just had to keep doing ‘one more word’…….

    Boy, do I know a lot of archaic words. And, by knowing them, can share food with others.

    **goes to post the link elsewhere**

    Comment by wwjudith — December 12, 2007 #

  12. Wow,I feel like a piker for my measly 45/46 ave. Thank heaven for all those historical romances I used to read….

    Comment by Maven — December 12, 2007 #

  13. I no longer get mind being put on hold while on the phone. Wow…a calorie free addiction:) Thanks.

    Comment by Maureen — December 12, 2007 #

  14. Yes, I am pernicious.

    Heather–the next thing you need to do, now that you have started playing Free Rice, is go to either the Village Bakery or Krogers and get yourself some Snowville Creamery milk. It is cheaper than Ohio Family Farms–and it is divine. DIVINE, I tell you.

    It is so damned good.

    Go. Stop playing Free Rice for a minute and go. And taste it.


    As for the rest of you–keep playing. It is great–as Maureen said, who cares about being put on hold anymore? Play when you watch TV and see how many words you know when you are not even paying attention. Play, play, play.

    Hee hee.

    Comment by Barbara — December 12, 2007 #

  15. I discovered free rice about three or four weeks ago and have become obsessed! It is so hard to stop playing. But hey – you’re improving your vocabulary and helping others at the same time. I can’t see anything wrong with that! Play on!

    Comment by Jessica — December 13, 2007 #

  16. oh man, i really didn’t need to know about this during finals. fun, though. I’ve hit fifty once but mostly i’m between 46 and 48

    Comment by bread and roses — December 13, 2007 #

  17. Damn it Barbara – I really don’t have time to be addicted to this. Why didn’t you suggest something less addictive like morphine?

    Dick – Stuck at 46

    Comment by Toy Man — December 14, 2007 #

  18. FYI – one pound of raw long grain rice contains about 29,000 grains = 1450 correct answers.

    Comment by harry — December 17, 2007 #

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