Create Custom Online Puzzles - Free!

Published on Sunday, September 14, 2008 in , , ,

Working on my new Scott's Puzzles blog has proved to be an interesting challenge. It's one thing to conceive of the idea that you're going to provide a variety of online puzzles that are related to current events, and quite another to actually do it.

One result, though, is that I've found many sites I didn't know about before that let you create custom puzzles. I'd like to share them with you:


Official Scrabble® Dictionary Search - On it's own, you won't develop an online game with it. However, Quizicon (formerly Codebox Software) used it to develop a “Word Mix” puzzle, in which you're given a word, and asked to list as many words that can be made from its letters as you can. Since it's basically a specialized How Many Xs Can You Name In Y Minutes?-style quiz, you can generate the words at the dictionary, and turn it into an online puzzle with the Timed Quiz Generator!

Do It Yourself: Linkbait - besides my own Timed Quiz Generator, this another great way to create online timed quizzes! It's powered by jQuery, a powerful Javascript framework, and is meant for programmers who are familiar with CSS, HTML, and Javascript.

Eric Harshbarger's Applet Depot - This is a collection of free-to-use Java applets, many of which are puzzles. The seek-a-word puzzle is easy to use, with the word list being input as a parameter. Even with the same words, it will generate a different puzzle everytime!


jqPuzzle - This is a jQuery plug-in that takes a picture, and automatically turns it into a slider puzzle, like the classic 15 puzzle! The picture itself can be put into a post with a simple HTML image source tag (as long as you've loaded the plug-in and jQuery earlier), yet is also very customizable.

Eric Harshbarger's Applet Depot - Yes, I mentioned this site already, but the FlipSwitch puzzle on this site means it deserves another mention. FlipSwitch is unlike any other puzzle I've seen, and you can see it in action in my Google Chrome post. You're presented with a grid that features parts of several pictures, and the object is to return it to a single picture. What makes this so hard is that when you click on a square, it advances not only its own picture one image forward, but also that of every square in the same row and column! I've only managed to solve it myself a handful of times.

JigZone - This site might be considered as YouTube for jigsaw puzzles. You can upload your own pictures, which are then automatically turned into jigsaw puzzles. You can choose the cut (try their “lizard” cut, where, except for the edge pieces, every piece is exactly the same shape!) and even embed it into your blog. At first, I though I wouldn't be able to use this on my puzzle site, since my blog didn't have enough room to display even the smallest puzzle. However, thanks to FancyBox, another jQuery plug-in (I'm quickly learning how flexible and useful jQuery is!), I was finally able to embed it in a Lightbox-style window. My first (and, at this writing, only) jigsaw puzzle using this approach was my R.I.P. Don LaFontaine (1940-2008) post.

Mazesmith - From the beginning, I've been wanting to include mazes on Scott's Puzzles, but this has been a challenge. I needed a Javascript program that generated a maze (10s of millions available), AND allowed people to solve it online (this narrows it down to the millions), AND is available as freeware (we're down in the 100,000s now), AND would allow the resulting mazes to be posted online for free (down to the 1,000s), AND could be posted in a blog post (we're down to less than 100 now), AND, since I need this to be about current events, would allow me to post mazes of custom shapes. That list narrows it down to 1 program, and Mazesmith is that program!

Despite that exhaustive list of features I required, Mazesmith not only came through, but offers an amazing list of features I hadn't even considered, such as custom icons for the maze-player and goal, custom colors, and even several ways of mathematically influencing the nature of the maze itself! Even with a custom shape, you'll get a different maze each time, which really helps.

If you want to create your own custom-shaped maze, it helps greatly to be familiar with both a graphics program (Photoshop/GIMP/GraphicConverter, etc.), and HTML, CSS, and Javascript. Custom-shaped mazes are encoded as a long string of 1s and 0s, with the 1s representing where the maze is allowed, and 0s where no piece is allowed. What I've found works best for me is to find an online picture, get rid of as much background as possible (if needed), and shrink the picture to about 40 to 45 pixels across. I then convert it to a black-and-white bitmap (where the black areas will be filled with the maze later on), taking into consideration both recognizability of the subject and enough black areas to provide a substantial and challenging maze.

Once I have a small, yet recognizable, black and white bitmap of the subject that will provide a challenging maze, I turn the picture into text via ToolPanel.org's ASCII Generator to turn it into text (all W's, to be specific). I copy the generated into a text editor, change all the spaces to 0s, all the Ws to 1s, and then remove the returns. This results is the specific long unbroken string of 1s and 0s I need to create a maze of my custom shape! I can then put it into the program, as described in the software and its instructions.

I hope you've enjoyed this look at free online puzzle creators and generators, and hope you find it useful! If you have any favorites I didn't list, please let me know about them in the comments!

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