I liked word search puzzles a lot when I was a kid, so I thought I'd try making one for today's elephant.
The first word search puzzles appear to have been created by Norman Gibat in March 1968. Published in the Selenby Digest—a free advertising paper distributed at supermarkets and other shops in Norman, Oklahoma—the puzzles became highly popular throughout the region. Schoolteachers asked for reprints to use in their schools, and one teacher even sent copies around the United States to teachers in other parts of the country. At some point, one of the puzzles found its way to a major news agency, and the format was syndicated.
Around the same time, Spanish puzzle creator Pedro Ocón de Oro was working on a similar word game that he called Sopa de letras, meaning "alphabet soup" or "letter soup". The first Sopa de letras book appears to have been published in 1976.
Word search puzzles—also called "word find", "word seek", "word sleuth" and "mystery word"—consist of a series of words hidden within a grid. The object is to find all the words in an accompanying list by circling either whole words or the individual letters in each word. Usually there are letters left over, which sometimes form a secret message or phrase.
In addition to the word search puzzles found in puzzle books and newspapers, there are word search puzzles that can either be played online or downloaded to solve by hand. There are also numerous computer generators for word search puzzles, which allow the puzzle-maker to input a series of words, which are then magically transformed into a puzzle grid.
For today's elephant, I decided to try making one of these puzzles by hand. It looked relatively simple: make a grid, then fill it up with theme-related words that run in various directions.
Easier said than done. It goes quite easily, of course, for the first few words. You can even have them intersect one another and latch on to one another without any trouble at all. After a while, however, it gets very difficult. The spaces that remain are too small for the words you still want to use, or there's one stupid letter in the way. If you are rash enough to remove this letter, the resulting domino effect is likely to take down several other words with it.
I started by sketching out a grid measuring 16 squares by 16 squares, for a total of 256 squares to fill in. It sounds like a lot, but it's not that bad when you use longish words.
After I had my grid, I simply started filling it in with elephant-themed words. I used scientific words, foreign words, compound words, descriptive words, and very short words. I stuck to words I've used in previous blog posts, but the list is definitely eccentric.
As mentioned above, once I got to a certain point, it got tricky. As you can see from my working copy below, the process involved a lot of crossing out and correction fluid. I also wanted to be left with a "mystery phrase" at the end, which required me to have a precise number of blanks available.
Once I'd finished working out the puzzle—which took me nearly two hours—I was ready to make it presentable.
At first, I was going to draw it out by hand. Then I realized that it would be much easier if I produced it using a word-processing program.
After formatting the whole thing, I tested it to make sure everything was okay. This took about an hour, because, of course, it wasn't okay. Some of my original words had been swallowed up in others, so I crossed them off the list—no use searching for what's already been fully circled. Other words had been changed so many times that they were now misspelled, so I either had to substitute new words or find a way to rejig what I had. And then there was the "mystery phrase", which moved around so many times I had to test the puzzle again. Twice.
To make it pretty, I was going to draw an elephant around the outside; however, I'd spent so much time making this already, that I didn't want to add some kind of computer illustration to the mix. I also thought about printing the puzzle out, drawing around it by hand, then scanning it, but my document scans never look quite right, so I decided to leave well enough alone.
I wanted to include this as a PDF download, but I don't think this blogging platform allows it, so I've included it in image form. The image is not as sharp as I'd like, despite my best efforts, but I think you can download it this way, if you're so inclined. For those of you who decide to actually try it, I'll post the solution to the mystery phrase in tomorrow's post.
This was much harder than I expected it to be, but it was an interesting process. I would probably try this again, although I'd be torn between trying to make it all up on my own, and just using a puzzle-generating program.
Elephant Lore of the Day
According to a nineteenth-century British officer serving in India, elephants can be remarkably tender nursemaids to human babies.
The officer reported seeing the wife of a mahout, or elephant-keeper, place her baby in the care of an elephant while she went to do some marketing in a nearby village. The baby, of course, was not content to remain where it was placed and, as soon as its mother left, would begin to crawl away.
Sometimes this led the baby to crawl beneath the elephant. At other times, the baby would crawl into the greenery where the elephant was feeding. Each time, the elephant would gently lift the baby out of harm's way, or remove any obstacles in the baby's path. If the baby was about to venture beyond the range of the chained elephant's trunk, the elephant would stretch out its trunk, and deposit the baby back within reach.
According to the officer, the child didn't mind in the least, and in fact may have viewed the whole thing as a bit of a game.
|Boy with elephant, from Ashes and Snow, 2002.|
Photo: © Gregory Colbert
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