One of the most enjoyable things about developing a site like this is you get to look at a lot of different word games and figure out what makes them tick. Once you get past the cosmetic differences and gimmicks, most games still revolve around a handful of basic vocabulary challenges.
We’ve started rolling out a series of changes in our visual design and layout which are intended to make our word game solvers easier to use from a mobile phone. This will occur in waves through the summer, as permitted by my work and family schedule…
It’s always interesting to find words lurking inside other words – so we went hunting. For this exercise, we used our word unscrambler to find anagrams and word fragments. We also used a word pattern analyzer to find words which contained that fragment. The results have been assembled in a narrative (more or less) for your general amusement.
Lets start with a handful of direct anagrams:
“Drat…..I just can’t make anything good with these tiles….”
If you haven’t muttered this under your breath a few times, you likely haven’t played Scrabble very much.But are you muttering this because of a mental block or truly bad tiles? Within the vast universe of possible Scrabble racks, what does “good” look like?
The serious Scrabble player would state that the effective value of a hand depends on where you are in the game. The early game favors scrabble racks that “play well with others”, giving you relatively large words with common letters that can easily be patched onto an open board. The end game favors prefixes, suffixes, and small words you can sneak into an open space. Bonus squares and the opportunity to build on large (5 – 7 letter) existing words also boost your score. All of this is true.
But here is a simpler way to approach the question: what if we look at the highest scoring word you can create using just the letters in your rack?
Mathematically, this question became: for a standard Scrabble rack, how many points of words (aka. the expected value) should the average Scrabble rack contain?
We added two new solvers for boggle-style word games this weekend in response to some user feedback. Our original boggle solver was intended to find words in a 4 x 4 letter grid. The two new solvers extend our offerings to include a 5 x 5 boggle solver and a 6 x 6 boggle solver.
The technical side of this project turned out to be fairly straightforward. As discussed in the article we wrote about building a fast boggle solver, we approached the problem as a twist on our existing scrabble solver. We took key elements of the logic behind our scrabble solver (which checks the possible permutations of a rack of letters) and adapted it to check the possible paths through a 4 x 4 matrix. To create the new solvers, we simple expanded the scope of this search to support a larger matrix.
If we turn the clock back a year, I would be busy packing up the minivan and starting our long slow trip down to southern Alabama through some pretty nasty storms. Later that evening, I’m going to write a small Python word game solver script that ultimately evolved into the code behind this site.
Like many developers, I’d had dreams of building “a product” of my own. I even had a couple of piles of code sitting around from various attempts over the years. Most of these were built around pretty solid concepts – the sort of ideas you could walk into a room and pitch to rational adults. Projects like games, a stock analyzer, and data tools. I’m imagining the “startup weekend” pitch for Hyenas:
“Team, we intend to become a market leader in the scrabble helper, hangman solver, and boggle cheat space. This site will offer illicit services to a large audience of low-revenue visitors and entertain them for hours on end.”
Keep your cell phone handy: the reaction footage from the MBA’s will be comedy gold.
I’m going to share two little secrets.
The first is that I’m a huge Falling Skies fan. I don’t usually have much time to watch television between work, family, and various side projects (a word game solver and other experimental sites). But these guys managed to hook me during their first season. How is the interesting part…
Summer is here and we’ve started a new tradition in our house, as part of our continuing effort to reduce the amount of television our kids are watching. About three or four times a week, we will break out some old fashioned board games and play them around the table. We’ve got two kids – a five year old and a six year old – so everyone is old enough to get in on the fun.
There is a stigma to monetizing your side projects. I take exception to this. Building useful software is hard work. Maintaining it takes even more work. Adding a revenue stream to a project helps make it sustainable. This is good for everyone involved.
This is a big issue in the open source community. Github and Google code are littered with the remains of half completed and unmaintained libraries. This is a loss to everyone involved: the volunteers that built the library, the brave souls who were early adopters, and the community at large. And when the open source ecosystem fails for a particular space, our end-users have no choice except to turn to a corporate provider.
One of the more interesting elements of building a site like this working through the right level of “assistance” to provide a player. The goal, of course, is to make the game more fun for a player and (being pragmatic) do so in fashion which perpetuates their interest in the game. A lot of this thinking went into the design behind our words with friends helper .
We opted for a minimalist approach – enter your letters and we give you a list of possible words. The player is free to play them how they wish – keeping them involved in the strategy of how to put down their tiles while we help out with crunching through the dictionary of potential words. This gives a nice balance of help without making the game too easy…