Games Interactive: Clueless

gi-cluelessLike the Cross Numbers, the Clueless is a form that arguably fits better in the Logic category than Special Crosswords. The basic idea is: You have an empty grid and a word list, and you have to fit all the words into the grid by deductive reasoning and/or trial-and-error. Unlike a conventional crossword, or even a Cross Numbers, the grid is highly asymmetrical, which is probably necessary to make the thing work.

As with the World’s Most Orneries, the Clueless puzzles are listed by unique names, rather than as “Clueless #1” or whatever. But it’s easy to tell whether a given thing in the list is Ornery or Clueless, because the Orneries all have a three-star difficulty rating, while the Cluelesses are all rated at one star. I really don’t agree with this rule. Some of the Clueless puzzles are vastly more difficult than others. One of the most useful tools in solving them is that the words come in different lengths, which cuts down on the number of places each word in the list can go. If, say, there are only two twelve-letter words in the list, that makes a very good starting point. But one of the puzzles uses only words of eight or nine letters, and another goes to the extreme and makes all the words the same length, just to take that crutch away from you. As of this writing, I still haven’t solved the latter. It’s the only one I haven’t solved.

Having at least attempted all of the Cluelesses, I have to say that I was a little premature in declaring that I had seen the game at its worst. I remember these things having problems, but I don’t remember them being as bad as they seem to be now. There are occasional typos, in both the words in the word list and in the solutions. That’s pretty much a given, considering the rest of the game. But typos in the word lists here are worse here than in other crosswords, because they can prevent you from entering the word into the grid. See, you don’t type the words in. You just click on a word in the list and a space on the grid. And it doesn’t take if the word doesn’t fit with the letters crossing it, even if it would fit if it were spelled right.

But the worse part is the Index Out of Bounds errors. When you enter a word, it gets greyed out in the list. Sometimes this makes something go wrong. The list stops displaying correctly, stops rendering at some point halfway down and throws an error whenever that point in the list is visible. This only happens with some of the words in some of the puzzles, and in most cases, it’s recoverable: just go to the next page and it’ll continue just past the point of the error. But that isn’t the case for the puzzle titled “Mars Attacks”.

In Mars Attacks, the word list is screwed up from the get-go. Click on a word, and it’ll enter a different word, one further down. Early in the list, the word you get is the one immediately below your selection. The gap between selection and result increases every once in a while as the list goes on. On top of that, entering pretty much any word makes it impossible to page to the portion of the list containing that word again without provoking errors that make it impossible to do anything other than quit the puzzle.

A rational person would just regard this puzzle as unplayable and move on, but then, a rational person would have given up on the whole game by now. After probing the puzzle enough to figure out the above, I realized that the only safe way to enter the words would be in the order they appear in the list, so that I never had to scroll the list backwards. To do this, I pretty much had to solve the puzzle on paper first. In the better-behaved Cluelesses, I found that using the point-and-click interface to try out ideas was a considerable aid to solving. But never mind, I couldn’t do that here. Once I had a full solution, I had to enter it without any mistakes, and even that took me a few tries. This took a measure of stubbornness well beyond what the game deserves.

But you know something? It’s not the most stubbornness I’ve ever needed in a game. Not by a very large margin. The puzzle isn’t supposed to be like this, but the experience is still recognizably ludic.

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