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Puzzle Power 3.1

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For some time I've been on the lookout for a program to help me create a professional-level crossword puzzle, something I can submit to the New York Times to stump the brainiacs out there. I'm not sure I've found such a program yet, but I'm definitely getting closer. In the meantime, teachers and newsletter editors have a new option for entertaining students and readers.

Riddle Me This

Centron Software's Puzzle Power 3.1 is a collection of eight programs for creating all sorts of puzzles. It includes: Wordsearch Creator, Kriss Kross Creator, Quote Falls Creator, Cryptograms and Cryptoquizzes Creator, Anagrams Creator, Double Anagrams Creator, Cross Sums Creator, and its most useful tool -- the Crossword Creator. How did people ever do this without computers?Installation from the CD is easy and straightforward. Printed documentation is minimal, but the program installs a Manuals folder with SimpleText files explaining how to use each program. And, the crossword program comes with a tutorial.

The first step in putting together a crossword puzzle is to create the grid -- with Puzzle Power 3.1 you can choose from 5 by 5 up to 30 by 30 spaces. You can add words in several ways: by typing them, importing an external dictionary file, or using the included Merriam-Webster's dictionary. You also can easily create a new dictionary file using any program that can save as ASCII text (SimpleText works great) with words separated by returns -- that is, one word per line. This method also works in Puzzle Power's Wordsearch, Anagrams, and Kriss Kross programs. The next step is adding clues to each word: simply insert a colon after the word followed by the clue (for example, Phish:Jam quartet from Vermont). You can always change clues later, or leave them blank if you plan to make them up as you build your puzzle. Once you have compiled a list (up to 2,000 words), save it as a text file and import it into the respective puzzle program.

Finding a Perfect Fit

Luckily, you don't have to arrange your words to fit into the grid -- a nifty Fit All Words feature places as many words as possible into the selected grid size (trying different arrangements until you find one you like). But then comes the hard part.

Crossword Creator usually cannot fit all the words to fill every square in the grid; instead it inserts solid black blocks only at the ends of words, leaving many blank white squares in the puzzle. As a result, puzzles aren't symmetrical or complete: making them so requires that you manually insert blocks in a pattern of your own choosing and design. A word of warning: if you try to fit the words by repeating the original command, all your hard work will disappear.

How then, do you fill these spaces? Using Webster's dictionary you select the area in which you want a word to fit and the dictionary will find something dependent upon your parameters (which letters you already have, how long the word is, and so forth). This is good for a general puzzle, but if you're creating a puzzle with a theme -- computer terms, for example -- you can't count on the dictionary to be this selective with word choice.

Crossword Creator has some cool additional features: the ability to add PICT files as backgrounds and to export puzzles as either pictures or Java-based HTML pages.

Wrapped in an Enigma

The Puzzle Power suite of applications is targeted primarily at teachers and parents, for creating educational puzzles, and it does a great job. Puzzle Power makes it easy to create challenging and brain-teasing anagrams (similar to ones you might find in the Sunday paper) and complex word searches. And if you've had enough of word games, just move into the Cross Sums Creator and hone your math skills. Plus, the app can save puzzles as PICT files for easy printing. The programs will accept any combination of keystrokes as useable words, enabling puzzle creation in a number of languages.

Power Puzzle 3.1 delivers a great bunch of programs for creating brain teasers that ensure students do more than just throw spitballs during English. Although this set of programs doesn't completely fulfill my quest for building perfectly themed crossword puzzles, the apps make it easy to create high-minded games for a wide audience.

Puzzle Power 3.1: A suite of puzzles.Crossword Creator
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