Friday, March 22, 2013

Puzzazz review (Puzzle No. 3,276)

I did finally get around to getting the Puzzazz review committed to ASCII.  Look for the full review below this week's The Nation puzzle.

Link to puzzle

Degree of difficulty (by standards of this weekly puzzle): hard.  A bit of a British feel to this one, with more cross references than usual.

Hozom's comment: Turnabout is Fair Play (but not exalted), in which reversals and their indicators are discussed.  Reversals play well with others: they are easy to integrate with other clue types.

[full Puzzazz review below the fold]

Now let’s look at Puzzazz.  First off, it’s a platform, and not a puzzle itself.  The puzzles are created by independent constructors.  That means two things: first, the app is free, so there’s no risk to go download it and try it out (thus saving you the time of reading the rest of the post).  Second, the number of puzzles available on the platform will grow faster as more constructors join in and existing constructors issue more puzzle files. 

The most unsatisfactory part of Puzzazz comes right at the outset: the program takes a terribly long time to load.  If it’s still in memory it will switch back in right away, but if you’ve been using several other apps, you’ll wait and wait some more.  That’s frustrating when you want to do a little solving while you’re waiting for the train. 

There’s another slowdown stemming from the interface.  The developers have created a virtual bookshelf of puzzles.  When the program starts, you have to scroll to the shelf with the “book” you want to choose it and tap its spine.  The cover of the book appears on the shelf, and you have to tap again to open it.  That takes you to the table of contents, where it’s one more tap to resume the puzzle you were working on or open a new one.  By then the train is pulling in.

Once you have the puzzle open, the interface is intuitive.  On the iPhone and iPod Touch, the grid is on top, the clues are in the middle, and a virtual keyboard is on the bottom.  On the iPad, the clues wrap around the grid as in a newspaper puzzle.  iPad users get the choice of having the grid on the left or on the right, for left-handers and righties.  Either way, tap the square you want to enter a letter in, and key it in.  The insertion point moves along just like AcrossLite.  Or scroll through the clues and tap one: the insertion point jumps to that spot. 

Other features will be familiar to AcrossLite users: across the top of the screen there are pen and pencil options, a magnifying glass to zoom in on the grid (necessary for most iPhone users), and a light bulb icon for puzzle checking, answers (single letter, word, or whole grid), and in some puzzles, hints. 

The hint system is particularly well-suited to cryptic crosswords.  You can ask it to tell you the type of a clue (anagram, charade, etc.) or to show you the division between definition and wordplay (it inserts a line, but won’t tell you which half is which).  This will be a boon to novice solvers.

Puzzle e-books are typical in-app purchases.  All the available books appear on the shelf, recent additions are tagged “new,” and purchased e-books are marked with a purple dot.  Each e-book includes at least one free full puzzle, and you can view a portion of all the rest.  This is another important feature for cryptic lovers, so you can get a feel for the constructor’s style and degree of difficulty. 

Most of the virtual cryptic books (including “Out of Left Field,” the first compilation by Hot and Trazom*), contain 20 puzzles and cost $4.99.  Other constructors currently publishing on Puzzazz include Brian Grier (as Brendan and Virgilius), Todd Rew, Mike Selinker, and Wayne Robert Williams. 

Presently, the Puzzazz cryptics are all block puzzles.  While there are some bar crosswords in other Puzzazz e-books, and the block cryptics include a few variety puzzles, the novelty grids you might see from Hex or Richard Maltby aren’t available yet.  Nor does the platform support variety crosswords like Rows Gardens or acrostics.  There are some very different puzzles though, including maze-like word-tracing puzzles, rebuses, and a book of mystery puzzles that demonstrate the breadth of puzzles you might eventually be able to get. 

Other limitations of the program include a lack of numbers and special characters on the keyboard, which prevents the app from handling the kind of themed crosswords sometimes seen on weekends: like the ones where each instance of the letters “star” is replaced by an asterisk.  Likewise, it can’t do crosswords where you have to put two or more letters in a space.  Perhaps the developers will address these shortcomings in a future edition of the app. 

One more feature is worth talking about: “Touchwrite.”  As you might guess, it’s an option to replace the keyboard with finger swipes across the screen to enter letters.  It’s quite intuitive and works just fine, with few mis-entries once you get the hang of it.  Most crossworders will prefer the keyboard, but it’s good to have this option available. 

So download the app and give it a try.  It’s a convenient way to check out (and support) different cryptic constructors as well as a way to take your crossword habit with you wherever you go. 

*–Puzzles 3,196 through 3,215

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review.

    We agree that app launch has been taking too long. Our next update, which will come out in early April, fixes it. And an update in May will make it easier for you to get right back to where you were the last time you launched the app.

    We actually do support variety puzzles like Rows Garden, acrostics, and barred cryptics, and we're the only app that does. We just don't have any content of that sort yet. Same thing for crosswords with rebus entries (more than one letter in a square). There is one crossword in T Campbell's Crossworlds I that has numbers in it. T also has a crossword with more than one valid answer (like the famous CLINTON/BOB DOLE ELECTED puzzle) which we support properly. The first puzzle in the Year of Puzzles (see will give you a good idea of how powerful our engine is.

    Glad you like our TouchWrite handwriting recognition. It's particularly popular on iPhones, where there just isn't much screen space. TouchWrite lets a crossword continue to look and feel like a crossword.

    BTW, Brian Greer's last name is spelled with two e's.

    Roy Leban
    Puzzazz Founder


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