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Words With Friends leads to international friendship

The word in play is amazing. A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.

It is the word Vickie Swanson, a Henderson resident, and Helen Smith, who has lived in Australia more than 60 years, attribute to the relationship that has developed over two years while sparring on the online Scrabble-like game Words With Friends.

They have played more than 1,000 games, scored millions of points, learned hundreds of new words and, more importantly, created a friendship that is priceless.

“We found a friendship halfway around the world that has been able to enrich both our lives,” Swanson said. “A friendship like this is amazing. I feel like this was meant to be.”

Playing turned into instant messaging, which then transformed into phone calls and conversations through Skype.

“I just knew I couldn’t go the rest of my life without meeting her,” Swanson said.

Six months ago, Smith and her husband, Jon, decided they wanted to take their first trip to America and visit Swanson and her family in Henderson.

“They wanted to see a typical American family,” Swanson said. “I don’t know if that’s us, though.”

The Smiths arrived in Las Vegas on April 3 and were ushered into the Swanson family as though they had been lifelong pals.

Before their connection, Smith and Swanson were two people who just wanted to play a game with no intention on developing a new friendship.

A few years ago, Swanson started playing Words With Friends with family members and strangers.

Halfway across the globe, Smith’s children got her an iPhone.

“I did not want it,” she said.

Reluctantly, she took it and learned different games, including Words With Friends.

Smith’s screen name is Jolen — a combination of her husband’s name and hers. Swanson’s screen name is Redoaker after her hometown of Red Oak, Iowa.

One day, Jolen was matched with Redoaker.

“For the longest time I didn’t know if it was a he, she or it,” Smith said.

It was just a friendly game until one day Swanson messaged Smith through the game to say, “It’s a beautiful day in Las Vegas.”

Smith responded hours later saying it was a beautiful day on the Sunshine Coast, a region of Australia.

This opened the door to more conversation as both were curious about the other’s country and culture.

“We kept finding we had a lot in common,” Swanson said.

As far as playing, Swanson said they are pretty evenly matched.

“She has a slight edge being a schoolteacher,” Swanson said.

But they weren’t just competitors. They were invested in each other’s lives.

Now every time the ping of the phone sounds, Smith and everyone in her family know it’s probably Swanson.

They began talking about their connection to other family members and co-workers, always having to explain how they met.

With a slight hesitation, Swanson said she would reply by choosing her words carefully.

“We met playing a game,” she said waiting slightly to finish the sentence, “online.”

Taken back at first by her boldness to begin an online friendship, Swanson’s co-workers now ask for updates about Smith.

Smith has a couple of other regular partners from around the globe.

“I have one person in New York I play regularly,” she said. “But right now, they are still a he, she or it.”

Swanson is the first player Smith has met in person.

“My son asked me what kind of contingency plan I had just in case I didn’t like her,” Smith said. “But it’s Vickie. I felt like I already knew her.”

She flew to California and made her way to Las Vegas for a one-night bus stop before continuing on a West Coast tour. Her plan was to return to Las Vegas to visit Swanson after the tour ended.

Instead of taking in the sites as the rest of her tour group on the stop in Las Vegas had, there was only one thing Smith wanted to see: Swanson.

They spent three hours catching up in the cafe of Circus Circus.

“People (on the tour bus) kept asking what all I saw in my night in Vegas,” Smith said. “I saw Vickie. We had a lot of catching up to do.”

After the bus tour ended — going through various California and Nevada sights — she returned for her stay with Swanson.

First they took a trip to the Grand Canyon, followed by flying together to Hawaii.

Both hope it’s the first of many adventures together.

“We made a deal not to play on the iPad while we were together,” Swanson said. “I’m sure as soon as she leaves, she will be playing once she is on the plane.”

They have talked briefly about their next big adventure.

Before arriving, Swanson rushed to renovate her kitchen, bathroom and make sure the house was in tiptop shape for Smith’s visit.

“So I keep asking when Smith is going to remodel her house,” Swanson said, with a wink and a smile knowing that it would signify her visit to Australia.

Contact Henderson/Anthem View reporter Michael Lyle at or 702-387-5201.