I first started working crossword puzzles a few years ago while staying with a sick family member in the hospital. I used a cheap puzzle book then, and since that time I’ve been searching for a paperless solution. Sadly, I’ve come up empty handed. Puzzle software, interactive web sites, smartphone apps – I’ve tried them all. And for one reason or another, each failed to impress. So, since 2005 I’ve been stuck with tried-and-true printed puzzles, pens (or pencils) and fading hope.
But today, after nearly five years of looking, my search is finally over. It ended two weeks ago when I got my hands on Crosswords [iTunes Link], an iPad app that’s – in short – all of my digital crossword puzzle wishes come true. For me, Crosswords is the answer to a techie prayer: the pen-and-paper crossword experience without the pen or the paper.
Printed Puzzles, Crossword Puzzle Books RIP (2005-2010)
Crosswords for iPad
If you’re a logophile iPhone user, you may have already heard of Crosswords. This popular app from Stand Alone, Inc. has been available in the App Store for nearly two years. If you do happen to own the iPhone version, you’re in luck, because the app is universal and ready to install on your iPad right now for no additional charge.
Crosswords allows you to download and work crossword puzzles from a wide range of online sources on the iPad. As of this writing, the app is $9.99.
Getting started with Crosswords is simple. You’re given a list of Puzzle Providers from which new puzzles are downloaded. The Puzzle Providers can be customized via the in-app Settings menu to personalize the selection. Free puzzles comprise the bulk of the built-in sources, but premium providers like the New York Times are also included if you’re willing to pay for content. When new puzzles are published, they are downloaded directly into the app. There’s also a section for the user to purchase future puzzle packs from Stand Alone when they’re made available.
Once you’ve chosen a puzzle, it’s displayed screen-left, with the clues on the right (in landscape mode, the clues flank the puzzle, as seen below). To select a field, tap either an associated letter block or its clue; the selected letter block is painted yellow, while the complete field (across or down) is highlighted in blue:
You can choose between entering letters in pen – black letters – or pencil for light-gray guesswork. The app keeps track of your game play and allows you to post your solve times to the Crosswords web site or Twitter.
The interface is viewable in Newspaper Style (all white background with black lines, words and numbers – shown above) or with higher-contrast black styling.
As previously stated, I’ve waited years for this. Crosswords for the iPad – unlike the screen-limited iPhone version – is perfect for me, and nearly perfect in its implementation. The larger screen makes puzzles comfortably viewable, either in their entirety or as a zoomed section. The input tools are natural and intuitive; Crosswords actually makes the iPad’s onscreen keyboard shine.
In short, the interface is simple, elegant — just right.
Highlight Mistakes is an optional tool which highlights incorrect letter entries. This is particularly useful when you’re in the mood for a quick game but have neither the time nor the inclination to work a puzzle for long periods, constantly checking for mistakes. This single setting changes the entire feel of a game, taking the challenge down a notch when you’re in a more casual mood.
You can set the app to automatically download newly released puzzles on startup or they can be downloaded manually. All puzzles are stored for offline play. When you leave the app mid-puzzle, you’re taken right back to where you left off when you run Crosswords again.
The only feature I’d really like to see in Crosswords is the ability to play with friends with iPhones or iPads over Wi-Fi. Crossword puzzles are usually solitary affairs, but when there’s the opportunity to play with an interested friend or family member, this option would be cool. Another wow feature would be the option to write on the screen with a compatible stylus rather than using the keyboard.
At $10, this app isn’t cheap, but when you consider the limitless free puzzle updates, it’s sort of a no brainer.
If you’re an iPad owner and a lover of crossword puzzles, Crosswords is more than an option; it’s a must. You’ll love it. And if you’re a true crossword devotee, you may just come to think of your iPad as a crossword platform that’s also a computer rather than the other way around.
Crosswords was provided by the developer for this review.