I must admit, personally I'm not a devotee of crosswords. Nevertheless, if ever I'm planning an educational visit, I try to include a crossword based on the theme of our visit in the children's workbooks. The idea of a computer program which allows the input of a list of words and ends by producing a printout of a crossword and clues or a solution was, therefore, very welcome.
Crossword allows the user to select any size of grid between 10 x 10 to 20 x 20 squares. The words to be included are typed in and there are editing facilities incorporated to allow changes to be made before the crossword is created. The software selects words by order of length and the first two words are fitted in random positions within the grid. All subsequent words are attached to existing words on the screen, matching up letters in the words. The program continues to attempt all the words in the list until no more of the chosen words can be joined onto the crossword. Users may then enter additional words in order to "fill in" the crossword more thoroughly - to a maximum of 50 words.
An option is incorporated to retry the crossword (using the same words) if the user is not ahppy with the spread of the words throughout the grid. This facility is only available while the computer is trying to fit in the words. Once the "extra words" request is shown it is no longer possible to re-try, which is unfortunate, as it is only at this point that the user can seen how successful the program has been in fitting in the words. In order to retry again, it is necessary to enter the "List and Edit" mode and retype the words which were not included at the first attempt as by this time the list includes only those words accepted.
I tried the program using one of my crosswords (11 x 11 squares), which held 29 words. This program succeeded in fitting in between 11 and 16 of these words.
When the crossword is completed, the "Enter Clues" option allows the user to type in clues up to 35 characters long. It will work through all the "Across" clues first, prompting with the clue number and the word for which the clue should be entered.
The printing option asks for printer information: serial or parallel, baud rate, high/low resolution format - the low resolution version fills the blank squares with black; the high resolution gives a "somewhat unusual" printout and fills the blank squares with Xs. A special version of the software is supplied on disc to cater for BBC linked to an Epson printer, and this produces a very satisfactory grid.
I'm sure a lot of young enthusiasts will enjoy using the program to compile their crossword to dumbfound their classmates, parents and teachers. The inclusion in the notes of a number of screen photographs showing how the program produces alternative grids for the same list of words and examples of the way in which they might add additional words to fill in the blanks would be helpful to them, i.e. becomes more than a teacher's utility. When used in this context, I found the results somewhat disappointing.