28 November 2008

But wait, there's more ...

Glad you enjoyed my last post! Here are answers to questions :

Roxie asked : How was it done before? Multiple Scrabble sets and then patient copying onto graph paper, then typesetting, then excruciating editing?

Word search puzzles are actually not too difficult to write by hand (there's even a whole chapter in my Dummies book on how to do this!) - if you write your list of words out in grid paper, so you can see which letters come first, second, third etc, it's not too bad. You can write a medium-sized one from start to finish in an hour or two. The key is to avoid too many overlapping words.

Crosswords by hand - now that's a MUCH harder proposition!!

Chamber's Crossword Completer : Alternate Letter Word List
was (and still is) very helpful. It lists words by letter pattern (A_A_, then A_B_, then A_C_ etc; and then _A_A, _A_B, _A_C etc - up to 17 or 18 letter words), so you can use this to find words that fit into the puzzle (word search or crossword). Very good for compiling (as well as solving) crosswords. This is what I used when I started out writing crosswords, over 20 years ago!

Still Roxie : So, do you do five puzzles of one type a day, or is it better to mix them up and keep your brain fresh?

I mix them up, at most I'd do two of the same sort in one day. Some of the Quiz Words are so huge and complicated, I spend most of the day working on just one or two puzzles, which skews my daily tally (and makes me panic!).

Penny said : OMFG!!!! How do you do it without going insane??!!!

What is this going of which you speak? ;)

Emma said : What a cool post! I'd often wondered how it was done.

Glad you enjoyed it! Keep in mind that this is just how I do them (and there are no instruction books out there, as a puzzle writer you have to figure out the method for yourself). Many (most?) of word searches you'll find in puzzle books nowadays are entirely computer generated. The writer simply puts in a set of words, and the computer does the rest.

Programs can do an OK job of creating a word search, but there tend to be certain patterns within the puzzle (eg words starting with the same letter clustering together), and the 'back fill' letters can be repetitive. I think a hand-crafted one is better!

Here is one of my Winder Words under construction - this is the only puzzle type in the book which I still have to construct by hand, as the words twist around in right angles (not in straight lines). I don't know of any software that can handle this style puzzle, and it's too complex a job for Hubby to add into my software quickly. So it's back to the grid paper, pencil, and eraser, and counting letters!

Creating the finished artwork in Illustrator is also harder, especially the Answer file which I have to create by hand (in the program) rather than it being automatically generated by Project X.

The big challenge with these puzzles is to avoid multiple choices for a single word. The orange-circled letters are the starts of words. The tiny letters in the top of some squares are the letters which must NOT appear in that square, to avoid a particular word being able to be found along several paths. Even with this, sometimes it's unavoidable. I also have to check these by hand, which is a pretty tedious task.

Can you tell I've hit a bit of a wall? Two posts in two days, procrastination city .... I'm having trouble staying focused, getting to my daily targets at the moment, and am seriously exhausted. I can have a bit of time off this weekend, but also need to get work done both days.


  1. I love those winder word puzzles - haven't done one in ages! It's been really interesting reading how you do these.

  2. Thanks for explaining this. I couldn't imagine how you were doing this without pulling all of your hair out and sitting in a corner drooling. I think I'd still be bald and drooling. What a process. I had no idea how much went into each puzzle.

  3. Is there anything we can do to help? I could probably come up with a list of 200 weaver's words. Cooks might be able to create cooking terms. Skiers, gardeners, angora rabit breeders etc could do the same. Would that speed the plow at all?

  4. My 9 year old DD announced to me, last night, that she loves to do word searches. So now you have rock star status and I have gone up a notch because I know you.

    She thought that I wouldn't be able to buy your book until my next visit to Aus. She was thrilled when I told her that it would be available here in North America.