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If you're a crossword enthusiast, you probably know about The Times crosswords.

This gadget gives you 800 of their crosswords, together with some useful tools to help you solve the puzzles, at a cost of only 5.5 per puzzle.

 
 
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The Times Electronic Crossword Game

800 Crosswords in the palm of your hand
 

This is a small handheld unit crammed full with 800 of The Times' crosswords, giving you plenty of brain teasing and distraction for several of the longest journeys.

Easy to use and not outrageously expensive, the Electronic Crossword Game is a fun gadget for crossword lovers.

 

 

In the UK, the daily crossword published in The Times newspaper is legendary among crossword devotees.  It comprises a very stylized manner of clues, and its many daily followers in the UK compete both with themselves and between each other to see how quickly they can complete it each day.

Books have been written about how to understand the clues and successfully complete the puzzles, and of course, books of collected puzzles have also been published.  Now here's a new electronic device that stores an incredible 800 crosswords, licensed from The Times, giving you access to who knows how many hours of intellectual stimulation, and hopefully a larger measure of pleasure than frustration.

What you get

Franklin's 'The Times Electronic Crossword Game' comes in a cardboard box much like a software product.

Inside is the unit itself, the two AAA batteries that it uses, and a short user's guide.  Franklin advise that the batteries provide about 140 hours of usage.

If you lose the user's guide, don't despair.  Franklin helpfully keep a copy of it available on their website, too.

The unit measures 3.25" x 4.75" and is about 0.5" thick.  It weighs 3.6 oz with batteries.

With the LCD screen and keys all exposed, it is somewhat fragile, and unfortunately does not come with any type of carrying case.

The unit has a one year warranty, which probably would not extend to damage incurred while traveling with it in your suitcase.

Note that the unit is supplied by Franklin Electronics, a different company to Franklin Mint.  Franklin Electronics offer a range of electronic devices such as PDAs, translators and dictionaries as well as this puzzle/game.

What it does

This is an electronic version of the famous Times of London crossword puzzle.

In total, the unit holds 800 different crossword puzzles, and there are more than 22,000 clues for these puzzles - an average of 27.5 words to be filled in per puzzle.

Puzzles are available in two levels of difficulty.  The 'quick' puzzles are relatively simple, the 'cryptic' ones are both larger and considerably harder.

Quick puzzles have a 13 x 13 square matrix with a varying mix of black squares and empty letter squares.  Cryptic puzzles have a larger 15 x 15 matrix.  These are the same dimensions as on The Times' website (where you have to pay to access the crosswords).

Needless to say, this unit is vastly smaller than a book of 800 crossword puzzles would be, and unlike a book of puzzles, you can use the unit over and over (or lend/give/sell it to someone else after you've finished with it).

In addition to the crosswords themselves, the unit can also provide some help to you as you try and puzzle them out.  If you only know a few letters of a word, the unit can help you find words to fit in with the letters you know and the gaps you don't know.

And if you think you have an anagram type clue, an anagram solver will help you decode these clues, too.

There are also two types of - well, to be blunt, cheating - available for you if you get stuck.  You can ask the unit to show you a single letter, at the space your cursor is at in the puzzle.  And you can also ask the unit to show you an entire word filling up the area in which your cursor is located.

And, if you really admit defeat, you can ask the unit to complete the entire puzzle and fill in all missing words.  And only you will know that you didn't complete the puzzle yourself.

Using the device

An immediate frustration was trying to put the batteries into the unit.  Each of the two AAA batteries goes into a separate compartment in the unit, and the covers to both compartments have locking screws on them.  You'll need to have a miniature Philips screwdriver to be able to open the battery compartments and put the batteries in.

You might choose to travel with spare batteries, but you'll probably have problems if you try and take even a miniature screwdriver with you through airport security.  Perhaps the best solution is to throw the screws away - the battery covers snap in place reasonably securely.  If the unit came in a protective carry-case (which, alas, it doesn't) there'd be no need for these bothersome screws.

Franklin don't tell you how long a set of batteries last in the materials they provide, but they've told me to expect about 140 hours of active usage - more than enough for a lot of crossword puzzling.  The unit automatically switches off if you haven't touched it for a short while (you can choose how long before the auto switch off, ranging from 1 to 8 minutes - we recommend you keep it on the default 1 minute setting).

Once you've installed the batteries, you simply press the red power button on the side of the unit and it is instantly on and ready to use.

The unit conveniently remembers where you are and what you've entered when it is turned off (either by you or automatically), so you don't lose anything.  Any time you turn it on, you're immediately returned to the place you were last at.  And because it powers on almost instantly, there's no inconvenience at all when/if it powers off automatically.

The screen is a monochrome LCD with black letters on a green background.  Unfortunately, it is not back-lit, making it difficult to read in poor lighting conditions.  You can vary the size of the font (three settings, small, medium, or large) and also the contrast setting (ie the best angle to view the screen at) but the lack of a backlight is a handicap in just about all lighting situations, and particularly anywhere that doesn't have strong light available to shine onto the screen.

It was also difficult to see where the cursor was on the screen.  The cursor is shown as a subtle flashing outline in the letter box, and with the unlit screen, it did not stand out very noticeably.  As you move the cursor, it jumps to skip over the black squares, so after a few arrow key presses, the cursor can be quite a long way from where you thought it was.

The unit is easy to understand and I was able to do most things without needing to refer to the 20 page user guide.  The keyboard is large enough to be moderately easy to use, while not making the unit inconveniently large to carry, and the various function control keys are sensibly labeled and intuitive in operation.

Although it is easy to understand how the unit works, it is not necessarily very easy to use while working through and solving a puzzle.  When I try and do a regular crossword, I tend to 'cherry-pick' through the clues, trying out easy clues first, and then going back to work on harder clues that have some letters now visible in the answers, and so on and so on.  This is easy and instantaneous when all the clues are visible on the page, but can become much more laborious and slow using this electronic equivalent.

The quick puzzles were relatively simple to work through, and the cryptic puzzles were much more difficult indeed, truly in the quirky tradition of The Times, so whether you're a relative novice (like me) or an expert, you'll find plenty to challenge and reward you.

Make your own puzzle

You can also build your own crosswords.  You can make up to four of your own crosswords, using any one of many different templates to fill out.

This can be quite fun, because you can use the same tools that help you solve puzzles to then help you build new puzzles, assisting in creating words to fill in the remaining gaps after you've entered the easy parts.

Summary

If you enjoy crosswords or know someone who does, and if you/they are anticipating a long boring trip, then this small little gadget might provide a great way to while away the many hours.

The unit is not without its flaws, and many people might prefer an old fashioned book of crosswords instead.  But if you're a gadget lover as well as a crossword lover, or if you're trying to minimize what you have to pack and take with you, then this unit might well appeal.  And unlike a regular puzzle, it can be used over and over again, and also contains interactive support/help routines.

The Times Electronic Crossword Game is available on Franklin's website for $59.95, or from Amazon for only $44.95, which works out to only 5.5 per puzzle.

 

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Originally published 8 Apr 2005, last update 08 Jul 2017

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

 
 
 

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