Games Interactive: Wordplay

Setting the Battleships aside for a bit, I skip to the “Word Play” section, where Games Interactive puts all its word puzzles that aren’t crosswords. Disappointingly, it doesn’t feature cryptograms. The cryptogram is a form that really benefits from a computer interface, removing the drudgery and letting you focus on the figuring out.

Instead, has four puzzle types: Bulls Eye (or Bullseye, or Bull’s-Eye — the game isn’t terribly consistent about this sort of thing), Quote Boxes, Mind Flexers, and Solitaire Hangman. Why these four out of all the nonstandard word puzzles Games Magazine has ever done, I don’t know. Solitaire Hangman is an especially odd choice. The whole appeal of it in the magazine was the ingenious cross-referencing mechanism they had invented for playing Hangman in a static, printed medium. Think about it for a moment. How do you make it possible to look up the positions of one particular letter without making it too easy to inadvertently get extra information about other letters? It’s not an easy problem, and the puzzles provided a way to observe and appreciate the solution they had come up with. Whereas in the computer version, it’s just, well, Hangman. There have been computer Hangman programs for decades, and this is not fundamentally different from any of them.

gi-bullseyeThe Bulls Eye puzzles give you a set of words to be matched up one-to-one with a list of unusual criteria, like “consists entirely of letters from the second half of the alphabet”, or “can be broken into two words for men’s garments”. Some of the answers are difficult at first, but they get easier as you use up the possibilities. It’s called “Bulls Eye” because the word list is presented in a circular formation, which is a bit rough and hard to read in the game. There’s no in-puzzle reason for it to be this way. I vaguely recall a puzzle like this from the magazine had some clues that actually took advantage of the arrangement of words, like one of the clues made reference to the relationship a word bore to the words immediately surrounding it or something. But there are no clues like that here, and so the words might as well be just arranged in a list. You page through the clues with “Next” and “Previous” buttons. The instructions state that you can also navigate the clues by clicking on numbers, but there are no numbers to click on. Just another symptom of what went wrong with this whole collection.

Mind Flexers are similarly based on matching words or short phrases with clues, although it blurs the distinction between clues and answers. The idea is that both items in a pair describe the same thing through puns or other wordplay, frequently involving inserting or moving whitespace. For example, “pet duck” gets paired with “touchdown”, and “dozen” with “meditate”. With these pairs of definitions, often one straightforward and one not, it has something of the same feel as a cryptic crossword, albeit far easier. It does start feeling repetitive before long, though, even in the small selection found here. That down-in-the-sense-of-feathers gimmick gets used a lot.

Quote Boxes are made by taking a quotation, arranging it in a grid, chopping it up by columns, and then mixing up the letters in each column. It’s the closest thing this game has to those cryptograms whose absence I was lamenting, and is susceptible to some of the same solving techniques, such as looking for common words like “the”. It’s a serviceable puzzle form, meatier than the others in this section but not too long or difficult, even though it’s senselessly put into groups just like the Battleships. The choice of quotations is decidedly middlebrow and inoffensively bourgeois, even when the source of the quotation is Ayn Rand or Virginia Woolf. It somehow seems even moreso when accompanied by the game’s fedora-jazz soundtrack. I haven’t looked at Games Magazine in many years; is this really the sense of taste it had? I can’t really say I object. I’m pretty middlebrow myself, if I’m honest. It just seems more obvious here than I remember.

At any rate, I’ve made my way through the entirety of Word Play in a single session. I wasn’t planning on this, but I kept making such good progress that it seemed a shame to stop. This whole section seems like it must be what they had in mind in setting up the main menu. I could even imagine requesting puzzles at random from here, if there weren’t so few. Goodness knows “I want to play six rounds of hangman” isn’t an unreasonable thing.

1 Comment so far

  1. matt w on 13 Jun 2016

    The mention of fedora-jazz reminds me that Games Magazine was originally owned by Playboy. One time there was a joking allusion to that somewhere (I think just a picture of the bunny) and it was shocking to me. At the time I was a sheltered eleven-year-old who had wound up with a subscription to the magazine when Pizzazz went out of business (not sure why we had a subscription to Pizzazz rather than Games in the first place, my brother and I were far more interested in crosswords than Leif Garrett) and thought of Playboy as the porniest of pornography, but still, this sort of thing may explain why they decided to stay middlebrow and inoffensive.

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