That Puzzle Guy's Blog The USA Today crossword's worst nightmare


Divide and conquer

With my long-windedness out of the way, at least for now, I'd like to point out a new game from ThinkFun that the good people there were kind enough to send me. PathWords is a game that "combines the best of Tetris and Word Search." Presented with a grid of letters, you have to fill the grid completely with polyominoes so that each covers a word spelled from one end to the other. As with many ThinkFun games, the provided puzzles range from Easy to Expert.

As you might guess, I jumped right in with the Expert puzzles. I got through the ten challenges on that level in one sitting. While none of them took a particularly long time, there were points where I had difficulty and had to try various placements before succeeding. I was pleased that harder puzzles made use of decoy words instead of resorting to more obscure vocabulary.

The set of shapes chosen for the polyominoes is interesting; there's one triomino and one tetromino, both L-shaped, and the rest are pentominoes. The S-shaped pentomino with 180-degree symmetry is noticeably absent. Each puzzle specifies which tiles to use for it; I wonder if the difficulty could be ramped up in some cases by withholding this information, although this might open the door to multiple solutions. This, actually, is a general concern for designing harder puzzles by any means. Too many decoy words, for instance, might open up a possibility the designer missed.

I found myself wishing for more puzzles, which made me wonder if this game would someday be a phone app with lots more challenges. This might be a lot to ask, however, again because of the need to have uniquely solvable puzzles. With the ocean of possible words to use, computer assistance would be considerably more complex than it was for, say, the Rush Hour app.

For now, if you like playing around with shapes and/or words, I think you'll enjoy the hybrid that PathWords brings!