A Gentle Introduction to
Crossword Software is the stuff you need to have installed before you can start playing around with crossword puzzles on your computer. Why do you need to install stuff?
Just as you need to install a word processor like Microsoft Word before you can edit a document, and you need to have a browser like Internet Explorer or Firefox running to surf the Web, you'll need to install some software that understands crossword puzzles and lets you play around with them.
But what software exactly, and where do you get it?
When I took the big leap from paper-solving to computer-solving — mainly to produce crossword puzzles for my website — I couldn't find much helpful guidance on the Web. Most crossword websites seemed to assume I already had a good idea what I was doing. Well, guess what? I didn't! And nor do you, right?
So, whether you're thinking of solving or making crossword puzzles on your computer, I hope this introduction to crossword software will get you off the starter's block.
I guess the first thing you need to decide is whether you want to make crossword puzzles or solve them (or both of course!). So I'll start with software for solving crossword puzzles, and then move on to software for making crossword puzzles.
Crossword Software for Solving Puzzles
Just to clarify what I mean by 'solving puzzles' here...
There are tools that simply enable you to solve crosswords on your computer, and then there are tools that help you solve clues. So I'll call the first type of tools 'crossword solvers' and the second type 'clue solvers'.
Crossword Solver Software
When it comes to crossword solvers there really is only one software application you need. It's called Across Lite, and the good news is that it's completely FREE.
Across Lite takes a crossword puzzle that you've obtained from somewhere (from a website, say) and displays the puzzle on your computer screen, allowing you to solve it using your mouse and keyboard. When you open a crossword using this software, it looks like this...
You can use this software to solve any crossword puzzle distributed in the so-called Lite format. Usually you'll be told that a puzzle is in this format, but if not just look at the file's full name and make sure it has a .puz at the end. (That end bit of a filename is called the file extension and is used to tell the computer what programs can be used to open the file.)
Fortunately, most major crossword distributors (especially online newspapers) provide their puzzles in the Lite format, so you'll have no shortage of puzzles to solve.
You can get the Across Lite here. It's very quick and easy to download and install - just follow the clear step-by-step instructions at website download page (that's the link I gave you in the previous sentence).
Clue Solver Software
Solving crossword clues is a very tricky business, and even computer programs find it pretty challenging. So much so that programs tend to specialize - some are designed to solve American Style (Standard) crosswords, while others are tailored to solve British Style (Cryptic) crosswords.
For American Style crosswords, you don't really need to install any special software. All you need is access to the Web. Why? Because there is a website that offers a terrific free service for solving crossword clues. All you do is enter the clue and anything you know about the answer (number of letters and known letters) into a webpage that looks like this...
After searching its massive database, the clue solver will return the answers that it thinks best match the clue, like this...
The website that provides this excellent service is called One Across, and if you're a regular crossword solver I suggest you bookmark it right now!
But what if you're into Cryptic Crosswords, I hear you ask?
Well, this time the answer is a very clever piece of crossword software called Crossword Maestro. Unlike One Across, which is available only over the Web, Maestro is a crossword software application that you download to your computer, which means you don't need have an internet connection to use it.
Produced by an artificial intelligence expert of world-renown, Maestro is designed not only to solve the cryptic clues you enter, but also to tell you exactly how it interpreted the clue to get the answer. This makes it a great way to learn how to solve cryptic crosswords, as well as enabling you to sleep tight knowing that final answer that had you scratching your head all day ;-)
Here's a screenshot showing you how the Maestro worked out the answer to a clue I gave it this morning, which was...[Laugh at round ends? It's tough (4)]
You can get Maestro here.
Crossword Software for Making Puzzles
When it comes to making high quality puzzles, the crossword software of choice is an application used by virtually all the major newspapers in America, and by virtually every professional crossword constructor. It is called Crossword Compiler, and its features are so extensive that it's quite a daunting task for me to summarize them.
Basically, Crossword Compiler enables you to fill in any crossword grid you specify with words from any crossword dictionary or list in its database (which is the largest of its kind in the world!). It will create a crossword in a few seconds, although for a really good puzzle you should always tweak it manually.
When you're done, Crossword Compiler allows you to output the puzzle in loads of formats. You can publish it as an Across Lite puzzle (which I explained above), or as a very professional-looking PDF, or even to your Blog or Web page so your readers can solve it online!
The main reason I got Crossword Compiler was to publish crossword puzzles on this website. Here's a screenshot I took while I was constructing one of my Diamond Crosswords for the Word-Buff Stuff! newsletter...
This great tool isn't free, but if you check out the features and tutorials at the Crossword Compiler website, I think you'll understand why ;-)
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