Tuning Spork shows how .jpz beats out .puz

Frequent commenter Tuning Spork (not his real name) just posted a new puzzle called “Roundabout” to the Island of Lost Puzzles. This 19×19 puzzle makes good use of several technical advantages that the .jpz crossword file format offers:

  • Rebus entries are not limited to 4 letters.
  • Square numbering can deviate from what .puz files can handle (there’s a number in the central square despite there being no black square above or to the left of it).
  • Diagonal clues are labeled as, for example, 110NE and 65NE, and included in the clue list. (In Across Lite, diagonal clues are wedged into the Notepad.)
  • Customized message to solvers in lieu of a generic “happy pencil” message.

You’ll need Puzzle Solver to open roundabout.jpz. You can download it free here.

Special thanks to Will Johnston for helping Spork to turn his vision into an actual crossword puzzle we can solve on screen but offline.

Tuning Spork has launched the first volley. Now we turn to the other creative geniuses in the crossword business: What can you do with the .jpz format that .puz never allowed you to do? What new ways can you bend our brains? How will you surprise and delight us with never-before-seen twists on the crossword concept?

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32 Responses to Tuning Spork shows how .jpz beats out .puz

  1. arthur118 says:

    I print out puzzles in order to do them on paper. When printing this puzzle it comes out on 4 pages; one for the grid (and some clues) and three others for the rest of the clues. This was after instructing the app to use the first shown, three column format.

    What do I need to do to get a one page puzzle ala AcrossLite?

  2. John Haber says:

    Exactly, if there’s a print version, I’ll give it a try. (I’m assuming that even to get it on four pages took downloading the app. I’d just as soon not, for software I might never use again.)

  3. pannonica says:

    The Solver navigation is still deplorable (e.g., no moving laterally to adjacent entries, two-step process for deleting letters) and the feat of shoehorning diagonal entries (and including nonstandard numbering), while impressive, creates a virtual sinkhole that is very difficult to extricate oneself from.

    The ability to fit six (or more?) letters into one box, while nice, makes for something nearly illegible, and also requires inconvenient use of the mouse. I’d prefer being able to enter the full complement of letters (using Insert, à la AL) but to have only the first visible until the box is highlighted (via keyboard navigation or mouseover), whereupon the full fill is temporarily superimposed over the area.

    Also, the layout is difficult to customize. For instance, try stretching just the right side of the window. It doesn’t work, so you have to enlarge it diagonally or vertically and then adjust the divider between grid and clues. And even then, the grid is top-aligned and can’t be adjusted to the center of its pane, even though some of us might prefer it that way.

    The application may grant the constructor greater flexibility but it belies its name by not being all that friendly to the solver.

  4. Dan F says:

    Yeah, that’s a very cool puzzle, and the “congratulations” message was cute, but Crossword Solver is still a hot mess.

  5. Meg says:

    I print out and solve on the sofa. Crossword Solver needs to add the “Ink Saver” option, so black squares come out gray. I hate wasting all that toner. I hope the designers are reading these comments.

  6. Joe Cabrera says:

    I love the idea of all this functionality, but at heart I’m still pretty old-fashioned in my solving habits, so I really want to print my puzzles completely on one page, with the grid in the bottom right, and lighter black squares.

  7. Tuning Spork says:

    I suppose a “real” published puzzle with this same gimmick would be accompanied by a .pdf version… same as is done now with Across Lite. This is an example of how it would be at least more feasible to solve as a .jpz than as a .puz for those who prefer to solve on screen.

  8. Amy Reynaldo says:

    I can’t be the only speed-solver who is fine with the Crossword Solver/Puzzle Solver on-screen interface. I know Dan and Ellen and Joon don’t care for it, but it works for me. (I think there are Across Lite navigation tricks they use that I’ve never tried.) Like Spork said in his Island of Lost Puzzles forum post, the active clue is displayed above the grid, so the crazy clue list didn’t throw me off. (I’m more a grid navigator than clue-list navigator anyway.)

    I seldom wish to print out a puzzle, so the printing issues don’t vex me but I can see how they would make Puzzle Solver a poor choice for people accustomed to Across Lite’s print options.

    In any case, we may all need to become more flexible in how we retrieve puzzles online from here on out. CrosSynergy simply will not be in .puz, and we’ll be seeing more puzzles in ,jpz and/or the open-source .ipuz format. (See http://www.ipuz.org/ for details on this new format, which covers crosswords of all sorts, sudoku, word searches, acrostics, and more.)

  9. Alex says:

    As far as printing goes, I could fairly easily make a .jpz to .pdf converter that would have the grid in the lower right with a gray square option. The problem with printing .jpz puzzles with gray squares is that occasionally there will actually be gray squares in the puzzles themselves. But with the CS puzzles never even having circles, I doubt it will come up.

    If you have problems with the Crossword Solver interface, I strongly suggest you take to the official Crossword Solver suggestion forum and let Antony know what you think. The more suggestions we get there, the more likely we are to get something done.

  10. Al Sanders says:

    I’m clumsy in any online format, so I didn’t find Crossword Solver any better or worse that any of the other apps. I liked how you could use either mouse button to switch direction. As a dedicated paper solver, I second the call for gray square printing.

    Did anyone notice that the ISBN clue referenced Patrick Berry’s “Crossword Puzzle Challenges for Dummies”? Nice touch.

  11. Will says:

    In the .jpz format, it’s easy for the puzzle maker to set the block color to a dark or light gray instead of pure black. So this could be “built in” to .jpz puzzles. I agree that it’s a shame that Puzzle Solver doesn’t have a 1-page printout for large puzzles.

    I don’t understand Pannonica’s query about “no moving laterally among adjacent entries.” You just use the Return or Enter key to move quickly through the Across clues, the Down clues, and then the Radial clues.

    This is just like Across Lite except that Across Lite also allowed you to use Tab key for the same purpose. I think Java prevents that with Puzzle Solver. You can also use arrow keys to move around. (In the Roundabout puzzle the “special” lights do confound the arrow-key navigation a little bit.)

    Currently active clue is red and surrounded by red highlighting, and crossing word clue is also in red letters — just like in Across Lite. (But in the Roundabout puzzle, because Across & Down clues were combined, you don’t see that two clues are red at the same time unless you scroll within the clues.)

    One drawback — although you can have non-horizontal and non-vertical lights, you can only have two “sections” in the Clues area, so you either have to group special clues with the Across and with the Down in some way, or do what we did here, which was group Across & Down, then group the special clues separately. I just don’t think that Antony Lewis imagined a rectangular puzzle would have a need for more than Across and Down as a way of dividing up clues.

  12. Alex says:

    Will — Pannonica is referring to the shift-arrow functionality of Across Lite, which for some of us (me included) is essential for navigating the grid.

  13. Erik says:

    I actually loved Crossword Solver until doing this puzzle. For some reason, the grouping of the Across and Down clues together causes some clues to not show up without emphatic toggling of the arrow keys. (Plus, it’s just not right. Down clues ain’t where they should be. It’s messing with my head!!)

  14. pannonica says:

    Exactly, Alex. I forgot to mention the Home/End functionality, as well as the CTRL-DEL command for erasing an entire entry. I find them all useful.

  15. Anne E says:

    This new software may improve functionality for constructors and onscreen solvers (I wouldn’t know, I’m neither), but for paper solvers, it’s a huge step backward. As a paper solver, there’s absolutely no way I’m going to use a program that takes four pages to print out a single normal-sized puzzle, and I echo all the comments about gray vs black square printing options. I also want to have the option to shift the grid to various parts of the page, and to change fonts, both of which are easily done with .puz. If Crossword Solver as it currently exists is going to be the only way to retrieve certain on-line puzzles in the future, well, I guess I won’t be retrieving those puzzles. My choice!

    (This is not a comment on Tuning Spork’s puzzle, by the way, which I haven’t done.)

    I’ll be interested to see how ipuz develops.

  16. John Haber says:

    BTW, I’m a paper solver but not because I’m a neanderthal who hates computers. I’m not a speed solver. Period.

    I don’t concentrate on a puzzle at my desk, say. I don’t try to get it all done in one sitting as fast as I can. Puzzles for me are things to look at while in transit or killing time. I print it out, stick it in a pocket, and look at it now and again on bathroom breaks, in the subway, on Saturdays while walking between art galleries and ducking in and out, while needing a reward after a couple of hours of work, whatever. I don’t enter things until I’m sure of them from crossings. I linger, in fact, and yet in a very real sense I don’t make or use time for crosswords at all. If I had to, I wouldn’t have time in life for them.

    Maybe I’m conditioned in part by preferring cryptics. If you can solve the latest Maltby in under 10 minutes at your desk, more power to you.

    Oh, by the way, I also solve more slowly on screen, because I like to see the entire grid and set of answers at once as on paper. I always get caught when solving on screen in too much back and forth.

  17. John Haber says:

    BTW, regarding persuading Alex to create a pdf converter or Antony to add functionality, couldn’t the setter just type the thing into puz for the rest of us for now? You wouldn’t have the glorious reward of seeing whatever rebus should appear in a square, but somehow we’ve lived without that for a while.

  18. wij says:

    John —

    The whole point of this puzzle was to do something that the .puz format doesn’t allow — diagonal lights, numbered squares that don’t have black square adjacent, special numbering of clues, etc.

    A .puz format of the puzzle could be created, but the eight radial clues would have to be put into the Notepad, and the numbering of the .puz diagram would not match the .jpz version, and it would be hard to refer to one of the radial clues because it would not have a number in its starting square, etc.

    The request for a .jpz to .pdf utility is one that I hope will eventually come to fruition. It would be great in general to have 1-page printout of any .jpz file. Others have mentioned the flexibility of choosing grayscale level of black squares, and location of diagram within page, too.

    Since CS puzzles are all 15 x 15, and they never use rebus or circled squares, we can make do with the existing Puzzle Solver, which is fairly successful at 1-page printouts for that puzzle size, but I’d still like some kind of improved printout capabilities for .jpz puzzles in general.

  19. Tuning Spork says:

    Granted, the print-out version sucks. (I hadn’t noticed that ’til y’all pointed it out, since I never print out puzzles that I don’t have to.)

    I also see that Pannonica, Dan F, Al Sanders and Erik are the only ones who’ve actually solved using the applet — which was the whole point of posting the puzzle — to show what Crossword Solver could do that Across Lite can’t.

    Just recently, the New York Times ran a .pdf-only puzzle. Many Wordplay commenters complained mightily that they were being cheated for not having a printer at home. We’re just trying to square that proverbial circle that’ll address all concerns and make the occasional oddball puzzle, at least, potentially solvable for on-line-only solvers.

    Wow. So many quaint paper-only solvers. Who knew.

    This almost kinda sorta feels like cooking a meal for ten days and taking care that all of the herbs and spices are balanced just right and setting it down on the table only to watch, in horror, as the kids immediately slather ketchup all over it. But only kinda. :-D

  20. joon says:

    spork, i also did the puzzle in * solver. i didn’t comment on it because my thoughts were adequately expressed by other people—interesting puzzle, but the grid navigation was, amazingly, even worse than a regular puzzle in * solver. there were times when i literally could not figure out a way to get it to show me the clue i wanted to solve.

  21. Amy Reynaldo says:

    …Whereas I had little trouble working through Spork’s puzzle in the Solver interface.

  22. Tuning Spork says:

    Joon, you crack me.

    I’m not a * solver booster. Quite the contrary. I hate how it looks. I hate how it feels. I like Across Lite just fine and, if I had my druthers, nothing would ever change.

    But, alas, we have only so much that we can say about that. :-(

    And I’m sure that the bugs are being worked out as we speak, and as we speak about them, so please don’t refrain from commenting. :-)

  23. Bill Spindler says:

    Another dead tree solver here. After experimenting with all the printing options (and doing most of the puzzle) I discovered the obscurely located Clue Font option under the View command. Using a 10-point font gives a 2-page printout but still with too much white space. Good puzzle!

  24. Ellen says:

    “Don’t care for” is a little weak in describing my opinion of the new format. “Hate passionately” is more like it.

    Shift-arrow in Across Lite allows you to move forward OR backward to adjacent entries, which I find essential in navigation (not to mention home/end and control-arrow).

  25. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Isn’t it astonishing that I do as well as I do at speed-solving despite being hampered by never using shift-arrow, home, end, or ctrl-arrow?

  26. joon says:

    in a word, yes. on the other hand, it might also explain why you aren’t posting sub-2 applet times even on the easiest monday puzzles.

  27. Tuning Spork says:

    It looks like Amy, like I, never knew of the shift-arrow maneuver before reading this thread.

    (If I had to get from one side of the puzzle to the other, I just wailed on the arrow keys ’til I got there. Or used the mouse. )

    Sub-2 times from now on, Amy. You can do it!

    Oh, by the way. Why, exactly, isn’t CrossSynergy available in Across Lite anymore? The LA Times puzzle is still posting with it. Everyone else is still going with it.

    Not to be a conspiracy theorist, but… [conspiracy theory deleted] …what’s the deal here?

  28. Roy Leban says:

    I’ll jump in here with a couple of comments on ipuz and .jpz. I like Tony Lewis very much and think that he and Crossword Compiler have really helped constructors over the years.

    That said, I don’t want Tony or any single person or company to “own” the format, and that’s one of the big reasons we developed ipuz. A primary goal was to make sure that anybody could extend it without getting permission from anybody else (as long as they follow the rules for extensions). This means that it’s even possible for constructing apps to use it as their native format. And the format is super easy to read and write because it’s based on the JSON standard for which a lot of open source code exists. ipuz supports Tuning Spork’s puzzle without having to do weird things with the clues.

    We solicited feedback on ipuz in advance and Tony was one of the people who offered his feedback, which we appreciated. But, he hasn’t committed to supporting it yet, preferring to take a wait-and-see approach. So, it may be a while before Crossword Solver supports ipuz.

    If you believe a common, open, free format is good for everybody (and we certainly do), the serendipity of Litsoft’s announcement and actions makes this a great time to speak up, not just to Tony but to all the application companies.

    Finally, if you want to see a super cool ipuz example, check out this:

  29. Plot says:

    I’m getting in late in the game here, but there’s another aspect of jpz that makes navigation more frustrating, that I don’t think anyone has mentioned so far. When I use the arrow keys to move from one square to another, it always defaults to the across clue that the square is part of. This gets annoying because I frequently want to read the down clue first, especially if it is crossing a long theme entry whose clue is not likely to provide immediate help.

    AcrossLite notices the direction from which the clue is approached and adjusts accordingly. So, for example, if I navigate to a down answer using a vertical arrow key, the down clue is presented. Across clues are presented if the answers are approached horizontally. This feature is much more intuitive, and for me, its absence is the primary reason for increased solving times in jpuz files. Speed solvers: back me up if you’ve got the same problem.

    On another note, thank you Ellen for mentioning all of those shortcuts. I had never used any of them before, but they sound very handy. I’ll try to implement them when solving the remaining .puz files, while I still can.

  30. Tuning Spork says:


    Your link shows an image of the grid and clues of the first crossword puzzle, followed by the code for what looks to be an .ipuz interactive puzzle.

    What steps should we take to turn it into an interactive puzzle? Or, better yet, is there a way for you to eliminate that step for us?

  31. joon says:

    plot, i think “normal” jpz files don’t have that problem. at least, i haven’t noticed it before. but the spork puzzle has the clues arranged into odd groupings with all the across and down clues together, so maybe that’s the issue.

    as for ellen’s shortcuts, i use shift-arrow all the time, but rarely home/end. ctrl-del and ctrl-arrow don’t do anything on the mac version of AL. or more precisely, they act just like regular del and arrow; i couldn’t find any combination of modifier keys and del/backspace that does anything different. so that’s probably just another difference between windows and mac AL.

  32. Roy Leban says:

    @Tuning Spork: ipuz is brand new so we’re working on getting things released. Three of the construction apps (Crossfire, Sympathy, and Crossdown) are close to releasing versions that support it. The solving apps should follow soon. A list of initial supporters is here: http://www.ipuz.org/supporters

    BTW, the actual grid you see there is an image snapshot from Sympathy. Have to say I was pretty impressed when Ross Beresford sent it to me!

    Puzzazz will probably release some open source code for ipuz in the future. Right now, all of our ipuz-related code is in our Kindle ebook engine, so it’s not useful to anyone else. But, when it makes sense, we’ll release code. The code won’t be directly usable by solvers, but may help other developers provide support.

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