What happens when a celebrity such as Alec Baldwin gets kicked off an American Airlines flight for refusing to stop playing the Scrabble-like game Words With Friends -- even after flight attendants have asked passengers to turn off all electronic equipment?
A flood of people rush to play the game on Facebook, and Zynga, the company that makes the popular word game, releases an image of a Words With Friends board that reads "Let Alec Play."
A spokeswoman for AppData, a company that measures app use on Facebook, said Words With Friends has increased its daily active user count by 100,000 since Tuesday morning, from 5.4 million players to 5.5 million players.
As for how Zynga is responding to the deluge of publicity, a spokeswoman for the company said it had no comment. However, if you go to Zynga's Facebook page, you'll find that company officials are clearly delighted.
This is Zynga's latest update:
"Word of the day: ALEC (adj.) Typically associated with "smart" as its prefix to refer to wise guy, or smarty. Worth at least 8 points! this one goes to the smart ALECs out there -- playing our game at the risk of getting in trouble!"
Everyone is laughing it seems, except American Airlines.
The airline company, which tried, and failed to get in touch with Baldwin via Twitter on Tuesday, released the following statement on its Facebook page:
"Since an extremely vocal customer has publicly identified himself as being removed from an American Airlines flight on Tuesday, Dec. 6, we have elected to provide the actual facts of the matter as well as the FAA regulations which American, and all airlines, must enforce."
The statement goes on to explain that "the passenger" declined to turn off his cellphone when asked to do so by a flight attendant at the appropriate time, and ultimately stood up -- with the seat belt light still on for departure -- and took his phone into the plane's lavatory. He then proceeded to slam the lavatory door so hard that the cockpit crew was able to hear it -- even though the door to the flight deck was closed and locked.
According to the airline, "the passenger was extremely rude to the crew, calling them inappropriate names and using offensive language."
American Airlines concludes that its employees had no choice but to remove him from the flight.
Of course, the world at large might never have realized that Baldwin's tantrum was inspired by having his Words With Friends game interrupted if he hadn't named the game in a Twitter post he wrote about the incident.
"Flight attendant on American reamed me out 4 playing WORDS W FRIENDS while we sat at the gate, not moving. #nowonderamericaairisbankrupt.”,” he tweeted on Tuesday.
Baldwin's Twitter account has since been deactivated.
It was also a publicity bonanza for Zynga that Baldwin's spokesman, Matthew Hilitzik, released a statement explaining that his client "loves 'Words with Friends' so much that he was willing to leave a plane for it."
Zynga seized on the incident, launching a viral campaign, "Let Alec Play," which made the rounds across social networks minutes following Baldwin's tweets.
The move raised eyebrows in Hollywood, where even grizzled seen-it-all entertainment publicists were impressed.
"That was the most brilliant PR move I've seen this year," said John Vlautin, who runs SpinLab in Los Angeles.
-- Deborah Netburn
Left photo: A Zynga statement on the Alec Baldwin matter: a Words With Friends board spelling out "Let Alec Play." Credit: Zynga
Right photo: Alec Baldwin in "The Aviator." Credit: Andrew Cooper / Miramax Films