Hanukkah is as fun to celebrate as it is difficult to spell. This year, why not incorporate your iPhone into your enjoyment of the Festival of Lights? When you note how many Hanukkah-themed apps are in the App Store, you might think it’s a miracle. I’m only reviewing six apps here, but with luck a few of them will be fun enough to stretch for all eight nights.
The first two apps I looked at aim to merge multi-touch with the menorah. iMenorah is a $3 app from Jutanabet, while Mobile Menorah is a $1 app from LilBros. The apps approach their tasks surprisingly differently: Mobile Menorah’s candelabrum is a graphic. Mobile Menorah lets you set the number of candles to show, and set a timer for how long they’ll take to burn down. Whether you leave the app open, or check back later, you’ll see the candles as they burn down to nothing. You can light any or all of the eight main candles by dragging the shammas (the ninth candle whose purpose is to light the others) to them, although the dragging and actual lighting feels a bit fidgety.
iMenorah, on the other dreidel-spinning hand, uses an actual photograph for the virtual Hannukiah. The multi-touch candle-lighting in this app is smooth and not at all finicky like Mobile Menorah, but comes with a serious caveat for Hanukkah purists: The app always presents all eight candles, and you must start by lighting the eighth (i.e., the leftmost candle). That means you can’t light the night-appropriate number of candles if that’s your desire. A nice bonus, though, is the basso profundo voice that sings the Hebrew Hanukkah blessings when you’ve finished setting all eight candles ablaze. These candles burn down too, but without the realistic wax drippage that Mobile Menorah sports, and at a much faster (and less realistic) pace.
Of course, watching Hanukkah candles burn is far from the most fun part of the holiday. (That would be the gifts and the food, but no iPhone app will do a good job at giving you either.) But when you’re ready to have some fun dreidel-style, the App Store has plenty of offerings. Two homophonically-named apps, Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel and Dreidel, Dredel, Dradel, offer—surprise!—virtual dreidels to spin, and they won’t cost you even a single piece of Hanukkah gelt.
Dreidel, Dredel, Dradel from Excelltech plays a MIDI version of “I Had a Little Dreidel” and features the better-looking dreidel, but incorporates some weird physics and a disappointing “double-tap” to spin mechanism. Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel from Maui Media Lab instead incorporates a more satisfying “swipe” mechanism, but inexplicably places the dreidel on a tiled matzah background. That’s most definitely the wrong holiday, and there’s no chance that unleavened bread would make a good dreidel-spinning surface. On the plus side, Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel reminds you what each spin means, if you can never remember what happens for Hay vs. Shin.
Dreidel Tap, which is also as free as the Macabees, is rather ridiculous. Against what seems to be the same MIDI dreidel soundtrack that Dreidel, Dredel, Dradel employs, you’re tasked with tapping on the floating dreidels. Don’t touch a burning candle though, or you’ll lose a life. You have three lives to tap on as many dreidels on successive levels as you can manage. As a free app, Dreidel Tap would be worth even twice its asking price.
Finally, there’s Super Dreidel from No Bars. If you really want to play the game of dreidel, and have no dreidel and no pennies, M&Ms, or other tokens, this is the dreidel app for you. You can play with two to eight human players, setting the initial bank roll, the betting rules, and the number of rounds. Super Dreidel’s soundtrack—again, of course, “I Had a Little Dreidel”—sounds a bit better than the other apps with music. While I appreciate its “Vegas” and “Turbo” rules meant to help make the game go faster, Super Dreidel’s scoring and ante updates (which become more frequent in the “faster” modes) are annoying unskippable and take a frustrating amount of time to go away. Still, it’s got the rules down pat and is worth giving a… wait for it… spin.
These are all fine if not spectacular apps for celebrating Hanukkah iPhone-style. If you’re looking to get your iPhone into the Jewish holiday spirit, Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel and Super Dreidel slightly edge out their competition, and the menorah apps are really a matter of personal preference. Happy Hanukkah, and happy tapping!
[Lex Friedman wants to eat some latkes.]