The Puzzle Grid
The grid of a word search game is generally square or rectangular in shape, although some games, generally designed with children in mind, may be in the shape of a Christmas tree, heart, apple or other form related to the puzzle's theme. The words may be placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally, and may read either up or down or backwards and forwards. Some of the words may overlap while others may be completely contained within other words. Usually, a list of the hidden words is provided, but in some of the more challenging puzzles, the player may be obliged to figure them out on his/her own.
History of the Word Search
A relatively recent invention, the Spanish puzzle creator Pedro Ocón de Oro (1932-1999) is credited with inventing the word search, or "sopa de letras" as they're known in Spanish, sometime around 1960. The puzzle's first appearance in a U.S. publication was in the Selenby Digest of Norman, Oklahoma, on March 1, 1968. The puzzle was very popular with the locals and several teachers in the area began to use them in their classes. Eventually, the puzzle was syndicated and now appears in newspapers around the world.
One variation of the word search puzzle which has enjoyed immense popularity is Wonderword. Invented by Canadian author Jo Ouellette, this type of word search uses every letter in the grid, either as part of a word in the list or as part of the "wonderword", a mystery wor or phrase which is made up of all the unused letters in the grid when read in sequence. This puzzle currently appears in over 225 newspapers across North America.
Word Search Solving Strategies
One strategy for finding the words is by brute force, i.e. reading through the puzzle from left to right, or vice versa, looking for the first letter of the word if a word list is provided, or for a word related to the puzzle theme when no word list is supplied. Once a potential match is found, the solver should examine the eight surrounding letters (up, down, left, right, and diagonally) in the event that one of them may be the next letter of the word. If so, continue reading in that direction to see if the third and subsequent letters appear or until no match is found.
Another common strategy, if a word list is provided, is to skim through the word list looking for letters that are not commonly used or tend to stand out, such as J, K, Q, O, U, X, and Z. Should any of these appear in the word list, then examine the puzzle grid to find out where they appear, then proceed as above to find the rest of the word.
Looking for double letters is also an effective strategy as the two identical letters are easier to spot in a large grid of random letters.
Sometimes, reversing the letters in a word and searching for it backwards is an effective strategy, especially for words that are read from right to left and/or bottom to top as it is easier for Westerners to find an entry when it appears from left to right/top to bottom, the way most words are read.
When you think you've found a word, make sure it stands alone and is not incorporated in another entry. For example, if the words "PAR" and "TRAP" ("PAR" spelled backwards plus "T") both appear in the word search grid, one should make sure that the word that was found is indeed "PAR" and not a subset of "TRAP".
When solving printed word search puzzle, it is better to use a highlighter to mark the words found in the grid as drawing a line through the word or circling it can make it more difficult to see other words yet to be found in the grid.