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GF! Archival Version Copyright 1995-2004

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by WizardWorks

Ups: Inexpensive, engaging variation of crosswords; Vast number of puzzles; creative multimedia applications. 

Downs:   No random or automatic selection; graphically limited; not remarkably different from print puzzles.

System Reqs: P200, 16MB RAM, 50MB disk space, 8X CD-ROM

Okay, hands up--how many of you have whiled away hours at work playing those free, online versions of your favorite puzzles and games? Solitaire, blackjack, and crossword puzzles are enduring cubicle favorites, and now with WizardWorks’ New York Times Crossword Puzzles game, you can enjoy one of your workaday distractions at home!

Perhaps you’re wondering why anyone would drop twenty-or-so bucks for a type of game that is widely available for free in any number of incarnations on the ‘net. Well, for starters, most crossword puzzles, in print as well as online, lack the rigors of what many crossword connoisseurs consider the most satisfying in the genre, the New York Times puzzle. WizardWorks’ game offers players over a thousand of these challenging brainteasers on one disk, including samples of the daily puzzles as well as the granddaddy of crosswords: the Sunday puzzle. The puzzles are listed chronologically, from the mid-80’s to 1994, and the first twenty or so are large, at times difficult, Sunday crosswords. Once players successfully complete a puzzle, a checkmark appears next to its date on the list, and players can choose another. While puzzles are organized chronologically, players can highlight and play any date they wish, in any order. Unfortunately, players must always choose their puzzles. An automatic and/or random puzzle generator would be a welcome feature to this game.

Even though this game requires players to be pretty deliberate as far as game selection goes, it’s not without its bells and whistles. For example, like so many of the online crosswords, this game allows players to solve in “normal” and “expert” modes. However, in what is likely an attempt to emphasize this game’s multimedia features, players solve the WizardWorks puzzles in “Smart” or “Silent” mode. While both modes are timed, the (ironically titled) “Smart” mode shows players their mistakes by x-ing out and emitting the sound of shattering glass for every pane in which players enter an incorrect letter. Purposely typing incorrect characters in Smart mode, by the way, is a great way to blow off steam when puzzles get too tough. There’s something satisfying about all of those smashing noises.

When players correctly input an entire word, on the other hand, the game congratulates players with the sound of a lid resolutely spinning onto a jar. This feature occurs in both modes, and is the only mechanism that indicates to players solving in (the also ironically titled) Silent mode that they are successfully completing the puzzle. If players don’t hear the lid upon filling in a series of across or down panes, then it behooves them to take another stab at the word in question. If even one pane includes an incorrect letter, then players will never get the satisfaction of having successfully completed a given puzzle. So what if it won’t go on your personal record? It’s about self-respect.

So what finally distinguishes this game from the revered print puzzle, not to mention the hundreds of hundreds of online versions available to devotees of the form? Strategically, nothing. But WizardWorks offers players another dimension of crossword puzzle solving by giving them thousands of the best examples of the genre. In addition, this title allows players to customize puzzles in the same way they can customize their desktops, screensavers, and browsers by offering them a custom color pallet. Additionally, every player has the chance to finish even the most intimidating New York Times crossword by means of “reveal” buttons that allow one to solve difficult clues at the letter and word level, as well as a unique feature that allows players to “guess” a letter or word without actually having it divulged to them.

In closing, some purists might ask if a crossword puzzle pc game is really necessary. A crossword puzzle nut myself, I contend that asking questions about fun pastimes, especially those that require one to use wit, ingenuity and vocabulary is really better left to party-poopers and boobs. So while WizardWorks The New York Times Crossword Puzzles game won’t change how you think about crossword puzzles, it makes scads of them accessible in an engaging, humorous format that will provide hours and hours of entertainment.

--Greg Matthews