How Far Away Are Computer-Generated Crosswords?

[Image courtesy of ESLTower.]

There’s no denying that computers play a large role in the world of crosswords today.

Some companies use computer programs to generate their unthemed crosswords, no human intervention necessary. Computer programs like Crossword Compiler aid constructors in puzzle design and grid fill, allowing them to build and cultivate databases of words with which to complete their grids.

And, of course, with those little computers in your pocket, you can solve all kinds of crosswords (like those in our Daily POP Crosswords and Penny Dell Crosswords apps).

Heck, computers are even getting pretty good at solving crosswords — just look at Matt Ginsberg’s evolving crossword program, “Dr. Fill.

An article in Smithsonian Magazine posed the question, “why haven’t computers replaced humans in crossword creation?”

The answer, as you’d expect, is simple: computers are just fine at plugging words into established grids and generating basic, unthemed crosswords.

But unthemed is the key word there.

When people think of The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, The American Values Club, The Crosswords Club, or any of the other well-respected crossword outlets in the market today, I doubt unthemed puzzles are what comes to mind.

And when it comes to creating themes, innovating, and playing with the conventions of crosswords in order to create puzzles that surprise and challenge solvers, computers simply don’t have the chops.

They might be able to solve puzzles, but as far as I can tell from my research, there’s no program out there capable of generating and executing a theme with any sort of wordplay element involved.

[Image courtesy of Crossword Compiler.]

There is an art to creating an exciting grid, an intriguing theme, or a new puzzle mechanic that solvers have never seen before. The creativity of constructors is truly boundless.

And, it seems, the potential for crossword grids is just as boundless.

Recently, Oliver Roeder of FiveThirtyEight challenged the puzzle fans in his readership to calculate how many different crossword puzzle grids were possible.

He offered the following conditions:

  • They are 15-by-15.
  • They are rotationally symmetric — that is, if you turn the grid upside down it appears exactly the same.
  • All the words — that is, all the horizontal and vertical sequences of white squares — must be at least three letters long. All the letters must appear in an “across” word and a “down” word.
  • The grid must be entirely connected — that is, there can be no “islands” of white squares separated from the rest by black squares.

Now, obviously, all of those rules can be violated for the sake of an interesting theme. We’ve seen grids with vertical symmetry, islands of white squares, and more. Heck, plenty of grids allow words to go beyond the grid itself, or allow multiple words to share puzzle squares.

[“Cutting Edge” by Evan Birnholz. A puzzle where answers extend
beyond the grid. Image courtesy of The Washington Post.]

But assuming these rules are standard, what total did solvers come up with?

None. They couldn’t find a total.

One solver managed to calculate that there were 40,575,832,476 valid 13-by-13 grids following the above conditions, but could not apply the same technique to 15-by-15 grids.

40 billion valid grids. For a comparison, there are 5,472,730,538 unique solutions for a 9×9 Sudoku grid, and I previously calculated it would take 800 years to use every possible 9×9 Sudoku grid.

Of course, that’s 40 billion 13-by-13 grids. The number of possible 15-by-15 grids must be orders of magnitude larger.

Consider this: There were 16,225 puzzles published in The New York Times before Will Shortz took over the NYT crossword. The current number of NYT crosswords in the XWordInfo database is somewhere in the neighborhood of 25,000 puzzles.

And they’re one of the oldest crossword outlets in the world. Even when you factor in the number of newspapers, magazines, subscription services, and independent outlets for crosswords there are these days, or have been in the past, we barely scratch the surface of a number like 40 billion.

Maybe by the time we’ve run through that many, AI constructors will have caught up.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

In Crossword Clue Parlance, it’s M, or K, or Grand

[Image courtesy of BikeNoob.com.]

A thousand of anything is a lot. Sure, the Proclaimers made it sound longer by mentioning 500 miles and then 500 more, but we’re still talking about 1000 miles there. That’s a lot of miles.

I wrote my first post for PuzzleNation Blog in August of 2012, nearly six and a half years ago.

This week, I uploaded my one-thousandth blog post on this site.

You might think after three posts a week for years, I’d be burned out. But it’s quite the opposite. I enjoy exploring the world of puzzles, delving into history, cracking the memes and riddles that go viral, interviewing all sorts of puzzle creators and fans, trying out new games and puzzles, talking about our awesome puzzle apps like Daily POP Crosswords and Wordventures

And sharing all of that with the PuzzleNation audience.

It’s a privilege, it really is. In many ways, I’ve become the voice of PuzzleNation, and I take that responsibility seriously. I try to both inform and entertain, and I’m constantly hunting for something new and unexpected to offer you.

[Image courtesy of Forbes.com.]

And speaking of you, the PuzzleNation readership, it kind of blows my mind how many different ways I get to interact with you.

I mean, first and foremost, there’s PuzzleNation Blog. Three times a week (and sometimes more), I meander up and down the seemingly endless avenues of the puzzle world and discuss them with you. What a treat.

And then there’s Facebook and Twitter, where I not only discuss all of our projects, but I can play games like the Crossword Clue Challenge every weekday and try to outwit you. (Spoiler alert: I rarely do.)

I also have opportunities to answer questions, share posts and information from fellow puzzlers, and engage with people one-on-one, something that feels increasingly elusive these days.

There’s Pinterest and Instagram, as well as in-person events like the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament and the Connecticut Festival of Indie Games.

And honestly, I want more of that. So let me ask you something, fellow PuzzleNationer…

What do you want to see from PuzzleNation Blog in 2019?

Is it brain teasers? Original puzzles for you to solve? Behind the scenes content about our apps? Tutorials on how to solve various puzzles? More interviews with constructors and other puzzle/game designers? More puzzle history? More reviews?

Comment below, or on social media, or even in person. Tell us what you want to see. Let’s make the most of this platform, shall we? =)

[Image courtesy of Bogoreducare.org.]

I’ve gotta say, it’s a little daunting to be celebrating one thousand blog posts with you.

I know some of you have been with us since practically the beginning, and I’m grateful. I know some of you have only recently started following us, and I’m happy to welcome you. Some of you I know by name, and many of you I don’t know at all — but I’m hoping to change that in the future.

In any case, thank you for your support, your enthusiasm, your ideas, your comments, your feedback, your shares and likes and clicks and hearts and thumbs up and app downloads and reviews and everything else we’ve shared. I look forward to many many more.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Puzzly Ideas in Time for Valentine’s Day!

Every year, we offer up some puzzly ideas for celebrating Valentine’s Day. Usually, we post it the same week of the holiday, but you know what? Even if they’re designed to be last-minute ideas, we thought we’d switch things up and offer a bit more lead time.

Yes, Valentine’s Day looms large, and sometimes it’s hard to find that perfect way to express your love for that certain someone… particularly if that certain someone is the puzzly type.

But we’ve got a few suggestions…

puzzle-pin-valentines-day-craft-photo-420-ff0299vala16

Jigsaw puzzles are the perfect metaphor for relationships, as they require separate pieces working together to complete the picture.

There are necklaces and other pieces of jigsaw-themed jewelry, as well as do-it-yourself jigsaw patterns you can utilize. You could depict anything from a favorite photo to a specific Valentine’s message in the completed image.

4903-13710

Now, you can always start with something simple, like a subscription to a puzzle service like The Crosswords ClubThe American Values Club Crossword, or Matt Gaffney’s Weekly Crossword Contest. New puzzles every week or every month are a great gift. (Especially the Valentine’s Deluxe Sets for the Penny Dell Crosswords app! *wink*)

If they’re more into mechanical puzzles, our friends at Tavern Puzzles offer several brain teasers that incorporate a heart shape.

heartpuzzle

But if you’re looking for something more personalized, why not make a crossword for them yourself?

(Yes, you can also commission a top puzzler to do one for you, but you’d usually want to get the ball rolling on something like that well before Valentine’s Day.)

Now, to be fair, crosswords can be tough and time-intensive to make, so if that feels a little daunting, why not try a Framework puzzle instead? It involves the same crossing style, but doesn’t require you to use every letter.

valentine-s-day-love-wedding-criss-cross-word-game-romance-themed-puzzle-also-known-as-fill-blanks-crossword-puzzle-36632791

[This grid is presented fill-in style, in case you
don’t want to use crossword-style numbering.
Check out the original here.]

It allows you to maintain a terrific word list all about you and your significant other without all the effort of filling in every square crossword-style.

Or you could write the object of your affection a coded love letter! All throughout history, people have employed different tricks and techniques to keep their private messages away from prying eyes, and you could do the same! Whether it’s a simple letter-shifting cipher or something more complex, make sure your message is worth reading. =)

[Image courtesy of YouTube.]

Have you considered a puzzle bouquet? You could grab some newspaper crosswords and origami them into flower shapes for a fun puzzle-fueled spin on a holiday classic.

img_8721

Or you could hide jigsaw pieces around the house that, when put together, spell out a Valentine’s message or a picture of the two of you.

Put your own spin on the idea. A little bit of effort can go a long way, plus it doesn’t cost anything.

With a little more effort, you could whip up a scavenger hunt! You could leave clues around leading to a gift, or a romantic dinner, or some other grand finale. Maybe offer a rose with each clue.

Show off how much you know about him or her. You could make each clue or destination about your relationship or about your partner, allowing you to show off how well you know them… where you first met, favorite meals, favorite movie…

If you don’t want to leave things around where anyone could nab them, keep a few small tokens on you, giving one for each destination reached or clue solved. Heck, you could enlist a friend to text clues to your special someone once they’ve reached a particular destination!

Or for something less formal, you could make a game of your romantic wanderings and play Valentine’s Day Bingo.

valentines-bingo-stripes-blank-blog

[I found this blank template on Makoodle.com.]

Maybe go for a walk or take your loved one out to dinner, and see if they can get bingo by observing different things. A couple holding hands as they walk, a Valentine’s Day proposal, outrageously priced flowers…

The possibilities are endless when you put your mind to it.


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

Answers to our National Puzzle Day Starspell!

For National Puzzle Day (aka International Puzzle Day), we laid down the gauntlet for you, fellow puzzlers.

We challenged you to put your vocabulary skills and your word-forming knowhow to the test with a Starspell puzzle specially constructed for the holiday (as it featured all the letters in the phrase INTERNATIONAL PUZZLE DAY)..

The goal was to form common six-letter words by moving from letter to connected letter in the Starspell diagram. You were allowed to repeat letters, but only so long as you left the letter first and then came back to it.

We found 28 six-letter words. Did you find more than that?

Here’s our list: ALATED, ATONED, DEALER, DELETE, DENIED, DENOTE, DEPEND, EATERY, ELATED, EYELET, LAUREL, LENDED, LENDER, NEATEN, NEATER, NOTATE, PEALED, PENDED, REDEAL, RED-EYE, REINED, RELATE, RENDED, RENDER, REPEAL, REPEAT, TENDED, TENDER.

Did you find any that we missed? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

It’s National Puzzle Day!

Hello hello, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers! It’s National Puzzle Day (aka International Puzzle Day), and we hope you’re having a fabulous time!

As you might expect, we’re overjoyed to be celebrating this puzzliest of days with you, and we’ve got a few things going on today in honor of the holiday!

You can log into either the Penny Dell Crosswords App or the Daily POP Crosswords App for terrific deals, so be sure to check them out!

And that’s not all! We’ve got a marvelous little puzzle for you as well!


Today we’re testing your vocabulary skills and your Boggle mastery with a Starspell puzzle!

The goal is to form common six-letter words by moving from letter to connected letter in the Starspell diagram. A letter may be repeated in a word, but only after leaving it and coming back.

The letters in today’s puzzle, appropriately enough, all come from the phrase INTERNATIONAL PUZZLE DAY!

We found 28 six-letter words. How many can you find?

Good luck!

How are you celebrating National Puzzle Day, fellow puzzlers? Let us know in the comments below!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!

A National Puzzle Day Event a Few Days Early!

Tuesday is National Puzzle Day, aka International Puzzle Day, but as it turns out, a day is simply not enough for the folks at Barnes & Noble. They have been celebrating National Puzzle Month for the whole of January!

And tomorrow, January 26th, all 630+ Barnes & Noble stores will be hosting a puzzle contest to celebrate National Puzzle Day/Month!

All ages are invited to participate in a variety of puzzle activities with fellow players; complete jigsaw puzzles from start to finish; jump in on a fun word search; or challenge your vocab with crosswords.

We’re also featuring Curious Jane activities full of ideas! Participating players will get a free activity booklet to take home—while supplies last.

Don’t miss this special offer for puzzle fans: Buy 1, Get 1 50% Off All Dell Penny Puzzles from January 25th to January 27th, in stores only.

There’s still time to sign up for their event; check out their Facebook, Instagram, or website for more details.

Not only that, but I can tell you for a fact that the puzzles they’re offering for the event itself are top-notch! How can I be so sure?

Well, our friends at Penny Dell Puzzles are the ones who crafted those marvelous puzzles for the participants! How cool is that?

Will you be attending the #BNPuzzleParty tomorrow? Let us know in the comments below! We’d love to hear from you!


Thanks for visiting PuzzleNation Blog today! Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to stay up-to-date on everything PuzzleNation!

You can also share your pictures with us on Instagram, friend us on Facebook, check us out on TwitterPinterest, and Tumblr, and explore the always-expanding library of PuzzleNation apps and games on our website!