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Commuters With Computers

What makes a good app for solving on the go?


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A dozen or so years ago, while making the daily commute to and from work on public transport, seeing someone with pen or pencil in hand, solving a daily puzzle such as a crossword, sudoku or word search puzzle was a fairly familiar sight. Perhaps some of you readers can remember surreptitiously glancing at your seat mates's half-finished crossword puzzle or sudoku puzzle (at least since 2005) to see if you could spot any errors or complete any answers to clues he or she might be struggling with. That is, if you weren't puzzling over one yourself. Today, times have changed and with the proliferation of mobile devices the pencil has all but diappeared. Now, many people are staring at tiny screens and tapping letters or numbers or swiping touch screens to play and and solve their favorite puzzles.

So what makes for a good puzzle app for people on the go? Let's examine the following four basic criteria:

  • Entertainmant Value
  • Visual Appeal & Interface
  • Time to Complete
  • Degree of Difficulty
Entertainmant Value
Some people enjoy word-based games and puzzles while others might prefer number-based games and math puzzles. Or perhaps logic and lateral thinking challenges are a certain puzzler's cup of tea. While crosswords held top spot among most regular puzzele solvers for many decades, the upstart sudoku puzzle has tarnished that venerable puzzle's crown since capturing the western world's attention in the early 00s. Today there are several variations of sudoku that are as popular as the original. Once you have chosen your preferred puzzle it's a matter of finding the one with the best app.

Visual Appeal & Interface
Many types of puzzles (word, math, logic, etc.) adapt quite well to mobile devices however larger grid crosswords may be at a disadvantage on the smaller screen. Standard sudoku grids (9x9) are very legible even on the iPod and of course logic puzzles, riddles and trivia quizzes require very little real estate in terms of screen size. Beyond the physical limitations of screen size and computing power, the rest is a matter of personal preference which is impossible to quantify. Layout, color scheme and visual appearance is either suitable to an individual's tastes or it isn't. Try it and see if you like it. That said, be kind to your eyes and go with muted color schemes and subtle sound effects. Riotous colors and raucous sounds can quickly wear out their welcome.

Time to Complete
The time factor is an important consideration regarding most puzzle apps for mobile devices. People on the go tend to favor a quicker puzzling experience -- just long enough to occupy the commute to and from work or the office coffee break. The weekend crossword with a 21x21 grid is great for a leisurely Sunday morning solve but it's not ideal for those with limited time.

Degree of Difficulty
Not everybody's idea of a good time is wrestling with complex logic problems or knowing obscure historical facts and trivia over a broad range of subjects a la Ken Jennings. Being stumped is one thing but being totally shut-out is not fun. A good puzzle will challenge the solver but not defeat them. The "Aha!" factor coincides with a release of endorphins and the more of those the better. A good puzzle will have you slapping yourself on the back as you solve it. Not beating yourself up in hopeless despair. Puzzle apps usually offer bundles of puzzles of varying degrees of difficulty. If you prefer a quick easy solve, go for it! If you like to sweat it out and do battle with the brain crunchers, the more power to you. A good puzzle app will offer something for every level of ability.

Next we'll look at some specific puzzles and what's on offer as a solving platform.

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