Keeping Up With Alexa Commands

Keeping Up with Alexa Commands: #26

Learn the newest things to ask Alexa in this weekly series. Highlighted below are all the new or newly-promoted Alexa commands from Amazon this week. While duds are rare, I weed out the good from the bad, so you don’t have to. If you’re looking to get the most out of your Echo devices, you’ve come to the right place.

Below covers 20 commands, most of which are new to this series and grow the extensive list of 305 things to ask Alexa that I’ve recorded so far. Keep scrolling to see the full lineup or use the table of contents to skip to a category that most interests you.

Things to Ask Alexa

New here? To give you some background, each week Amazon releases new Alexa commands—whether brand new, newly-updated, or newly-promoted—within promotional eblasts. But these feeds aren’t for the faint of heart. Amazon doesn’t provide explanations for how to use these commands. What’s more, sometimes there are duds or entirely broken commands in the mix. That’s why I created this weekly roundup called “Keeping Up With Alexa.” 

Each week, you’ll not only see the full list of things to ask Alexa from Amazon, but also you’ll receive a full walk-through of how each works with added commentary from me on which commands are actually worth trying (skip the duds!). 

Audible

“Alexa, take me to Hogwarts”

Journeys to Hogwarts cover art

Apparently, even wizards are going back-to-school this month. Here’s a new command for all you Harry Potter fans out there. 

Once given this command, Alexa starts the short 30 minute Audible story called Journeys to Hogwarts. The story combines short excerpts from several of the Harry Potter books with added background audio to fully immerse you into the wizarding world of J. K. Rowling. Think of it like experiencing the world from Harry’s perspective with sounds to reflect what he would actually hear in the story—the rattling of the Hogwarts Express train, footsteps and bustling at King’s Cross, the flapping wings of Hedwig, and much more. 

If you’d like a bit of fun, whether or not you’re familiar with the Harry Potter franchise, this command is definitely worth the shot. Just make sure to give it a try sooner than later, as it’s only available for free until September 30th. 

“Alexa, buy Little Fires Everywhere on Audible”

Did you know Hulu’s original miniseries called “Little Fires Everywhere” featuring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington is based on a book? You can purchase the audiobook version of it with this Alexa command. Amazon is giving it another nod this week. 

Games

“Alexa, open Categories Game”

Categories Game Alexa Skill Icon

From what I can see, this Alexa Skill is a solid addition to your word game choices with Alexa. It opts out of the typical setup of most word games and won’t have you spelling out various words. Instead, you’re given a category and asked to come up with a word associated with that category. 

For instance, when I use this command and start the game, Alexa picks the letter “R” and “TV Series” as the category. Then Alexa asks me to come up with a TV Series that starts with that letter. The only problem is—I’m drawing a blank. Do you know of one?

When I throw other random words at Alexa, I get a “BOO” response back. Looks like bad answers aren’t accepted.

The game scores a rating of 3.5 out of 5 stars and has over 1,700 reviews. The top concerns are related to the game accepting wrong answers a bit too often or having janky and confusing responses where it’s difficult to keep the game in motion. The game also has some in skill purchase to buy additional categories, but so far that’s all that I see so far.

Overall, if you’re into clever word games, add this command to your list to try out this week.

“Alexa, open Escape the Room”

Have you ever heard of an Escape Room? Over the last few years, these rooms have popped up in most major cities around the world. I actually tried my first one in Vancouver, Canada. An Escape Room is a giant puzzle room you’re locked in and, as the name suggests, your whole goal is to figure out how to escape through solving puzzles with an overarching story.

My wife took me to one for my birthday a few years back, and wow, are Escape Rooms tough. We only got half way through the puzzle before running out of time. I think it was set to an hour. Still, it was a lot of fun, although fairly anxiety-inducing. 

So, how about this Alexa command? Does it live up to the real thing? Let’s find out.

Escape the Room is an Alexa game where instead of being trapped in a physical one, you must suspend your disbelief and imagine yourself in a virtual room. This game, much like the live version I described above, is also structured around solving puzzles in order to find your way out. 

When given this command, Alexa plays eerie music and then explains how to play the game and what commands are available. Next, Alexa gives me a few different rooms to choose which I’ll be trapped in, like with an easy-level room called “The Jail Cell” to a much harder-level room option named “Spaceship.” 

Seeing as I was stumped with the live version before, I selected the easy room. Alexa then describes the environment and asks what I want to do. I find myself telling Alexa to look around the room and inspect things like a vent, door, pipe, and pillow. During the whole process, I find items which help move the story forward.

One thing that’s tough with this game is with visualizing the room itself. You’re only given a description from Alexa, no sound effects or a video reel on the Echo Show, making it really tough to fully immerse yourself in the game. If you can get past this hurdle (after all, this is the challenge with any Alexa game), then you’ll have fun with this one.

Overall, I’m siding with the other reviewers who ranked the skill at 4 out of 5 stars. It’s a fun experience with minor gripes. While the skill is free to activate, keep in mind it does have in-skill purchases. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I did manage to find my way out! Let me know if you brave the Spaceship room. 

“Alexa, open the Starfinder game”

Lovers of Role Playing Games (RPGs) will really enjoy this skill. It’s one of the most in-depth games I’ve come across on Alexa. Read the complete walk-through from last week’s edition.

Jokes

“Alexa, fire photon torpedoes”

Fire when ready, Captain
Fire when ready, Captain

One of Amazon’s favorite jokes makes another appearance. Command Alexa to destroy your enemies with these bad boys.

“Alexa, give me a pancake joke”

I could go for some pancakes.
I could go for some pancakes.

How many pancake jokes exist, really? I know a grand total of zero, so Alexa has me beat. When I give the command, Alexa says the below joke with some…surprising innuendos…or is it just me? 

Did you hear the story about maple syrup?
It starts off kinda sappy. Then it gets pretty steamy and the ending is really sweet.

If you do end up trying this command, let me know in the comments below what joke you get. I wonder how many Alexa knows about pancakes. 

Music

“Alexa, play Control Alt Repeat on Amazon Music”

Control Alt Repeat Cover

Here’s a cool feature on Amazon Music, which is similar to my favorite feature on Spotify: weekly updated playlists with new music. If you’re a big fan of Amazon Music and you like hearing the latest songs (honestly, who doesn’t?), check this out.

Control Alt Repeat is a playlist that Amazon updates each Friday with the newest music in the Alternative genre. For instance, when I use this command, Alexa starts playing the song “Visitor” by Of Monsters and Men.

I’m a fan and excited that Amazon is adding new content like this. I hope Amazon continues the trend of creating playlists that update each week. The next step—that is, if Amazon really wants to compete with Spotify—is to make playlists that are unique and customized to your music tastes. Spotify’s Weekly Playlist is honestly the main reason why I choose the service.

 I’ll check back next week to see what new songs Amazon adds. Show us more, Amazon!

“Alexa, sing a lullaby”

Amazon highlights this command as the featured command of the week. That got me excited as I’ve spent the last month using white noise for my newborn almost every day. While I’d love to add more variety into my nightly rotation, unfortunately, I’m not a fan of this command after all. Let’s dive in as to why. 

When I use this command, Alexa sings a song called “Drift Away.” And according to Alexa, Alexa doesn’t need to sleep. Cue audible “womp, womp” from me. When I give the command again, Alexa sings the same song. I had hoped there would be variety.  

I’m sure I can find better lullabies on any music service that doesn’t involve Alexa’s voice, like this one I just found, Relaxing Children’s Classical, on Amazon Music.

“Alexa, stop playing music in one hour”

If you don’t know about Sleep Timers, you’re missing out. Sleep Timers are a—dare I say it?—magical Alexa feature. When you use this command, Alexa will stop playing whatever is currently playing after one hour. The best part is Alexa won’t bug you once the hour is up. The music simply stops playing, which is perfect for when you’re fast asleep.

Learn more about how I tested this command from July 13th’s Music commands section.

Productivity

“Alexa, add ‘call with Sarah’ to my calendar today at 4 PM”

Nothing new here. Alexa can add events to your calendar while adding some extra magic to make calls even easier with Alexa-enabled devices.

That said, one thing did happen this week that is newsworthy. Amazon is working with AT&T to add deeper call integration with your Echo devices, like making Alexa calls right from it—no phone needed. Drop a message down below if you have a chance to try this out. I’d love to hear about the sound and connection quality of your call.

“Alexa, how do I keep my family in sync?”

Don’t waste your time on this feature unless 1) you have multiple Echo devices, and 2) you like the idea of having an intercom in your home.

And sadly, no, Alexa isn’t talking about these guys…

Boy Band NSYNC from the ‘90s.
Boy Band NSYNC from the ‘90s.

Alexa means the “Drop In” feature. But because Alexa doesn’t offer up a good explanation, I’m inclined to say skip this command altogether. Instead, try one of these below if you have at least two Alexa-enabled devices at home:

  • “Alexa, drop in on Echo Dot” from May 4th
  • “Alexa, drop in on all devices from May 25th

“Alexa, remind me to pay the bill on the first of every month”

Amazon’s reminder system is one of the most-used features for me personally. And with this command, Amazon is letting us know that Alexa can now create reminders that recur every month or even every year.

With one command, you can have Alexa notify you every month to do something. For example, to pay the bills. When given the command, Alexa first asks what time I’d like to be reminded. Next, Alexa confirms I’ll be reminded on the 1st of every month at 10:00am from my Echo Show. 

And when I check the Alexa App, this is what I see:

Alexa Monthly Reminder Screenshot
Alexa Monthly Reminder

You can use this feature for all sorts of things, like membership expirations, birthdays, medicine reminders, and anything else you might forget to do. It’s awesome that Alexa can understand the phrase “first of every month” for reminders now. This is a solid example of how Alexa is getting better, day by day.

Smart Home

“Alexa, find action movies on Fire TV”

Skip this command. It doesn’t buy you much other than a few clicks on your Fire TV. It’s not with the effort.

And as the command suggests, it requires a Fire TV to make use of it. Instead, I recommend ditching the “on Fire TV” part of the phrase. Then you can use this command on the Echo Show to get identical results.

“Alexa, open Photo Booth”

This pops up as Amazon’s newly-promoted command of the week frequently… too frequently. And frankly, it’s just not that interesting or useful. Skip this one, especially if you don’t have an Echo Show for it in the first place.

For curious minds, click through to my previous newsletter edition for a beefier writeup of this command

“Alexa, set the background to my photos”

And speaking of frequent, here’s another command from Amazon that is often newly-promoted. Amazon does this as it’s likely still not well-known. Have you given it a try yet? 

Fair warning, you do need an Echo Show or a Fire TV to make use of it. Learn more about setting up background photos

Everything Else

“Alexa, what can I make with chicken and spinach?”

Turns out, you can make all sorts of things with chicken and spinach. Alexa has you covered with providing the dish inspiration and recipe. Learn more about how Alexa works from April 17th’s Cooking commands.

“Alexa, tell me three things to know”

When I first read this command, i immediately thought of this guy:

Not the Will Smith version. Let’s forget that one happened.
Not the Will Smith version. Let’s forget that one happened.

But alas, a genie doesn’t pop out of Alexa. Instead, when I give this command, Alexa mentions these three news stories:

  1. Trump discussions about mail-in voting continues 
  2. Steve Nash is the head coach of the Nicks
  3. The Rock is battling Covid-19

So in short, nothing about wishes from a genie. Turns out this is a news command. With it, you’ll get info about three news stories that Amazon deems important. It’s not clear how Alexa gets these stories or where they are taken from.

Because Alexa doesn’t mention any sources, and political updates are included, I recommend skipping this command altogether. It’s important to know where your news is coming from. Instead, check out one of my favorite news sites to get the latest in politics. 

“Alexa, remove chicken wings from my shopping list”

Remove stuff from your Alexa shopping list with this command. Pretty boring ability if you ask me, but I’d love to know if you end up being a huge fan of this. 

“Alexa, what’s the temperature at 6:00 AM?”

Alexa does a decent job of giving the forecast for the day, but tends to generalize what to expect for the morning versus evening. If you’re wanting a more specific forecast for just an hour out of the day—like for your morning commute—try this command. 

When I say this command, Alexa responds with: “tomorrow at 6am, it will be 76 degrees.” That’s it. Right to the point.

But sadly this result isn’t nearly as handy as Dark Sky. I’m still bummed Alexa doesn’t have a skill for it.

Takeaways

The first takeaway is that newborns are exhausting. If you’ve been following along to the weekly series of over 300 Alexa commands, then you’ll have noticed my commentary since August up until recently has been slim pickings. But luckily, I’ve gotten some rest and am now back at full speed. So without further ado, here are this week’s highlights. 

As the chart shows, the categories are more well-balanced this week with several sections taking up the lead with offering the most Alexa commands. This is unusual (and great) considering Amazon usually opts for Alexa Skills as the primary frontrunner. Instead, Amazon most notably beefs up Alexa’s reminders feature with a new capability. To learn more, jump to Productivity Commands.

And speaking of Alexa Skills, Amazon shows us several Alexa Games this week. Most notable being Starfinder (a past favorite of mine) and a pretty cool way to experience an Escape Room.

Head on over to Alexa Jokes to find none other than… pancake jokes? Did you know that was even a thing? Just ask Alexa. 

Last but not least, even wizards find themselves going back-to-school this month. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, you’ll want to drop on by the Audible Section for this week’s command.

Looking for more things to ask Alexa? Sign up to receive these weekly updates. 

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