Themed puzzles

Reflecting on the past few weeks, it struck us today that we never did justice to one of the newest features we launched in Beta, then pulled, tweaked, and re-launched. Part of the reason for the stealth launch was that we were unsure whether the concept would work. We’ve had Digram puzzles for a long time, but actual themed puzzles were something we really wanted to try out. It’s part of the reason we introduced the title bar beneath the puzzle way back when…

Some of you have mentioned that the “title bar is hard to notice” or that “sometimes a themed puzzle comes and goes without noticing it until the end.” We intentionally put the title bar beneath the puzzle because of the ergonomics of the phone and the various hand postures we know that you play with (both from play testing as well as our YouTube T-shirt contest). If we shifted the puzzle down to have the title on top, the game would be less comfortable and you might accidentally hit one of the soft-key buttons. Although some folks go out of their way to make their ads get accidentally clicked, we have always tried to be low-key about the fact that we use advertising to fund the cost of running our server-infrastructure. Ad clicks certainly do help us, though, so we wouldn’t complain if you clicked a few on occasion to support our advertisers!

Back to the themes, we currently have 22 themed word lists that we are building puzzles from. They are:

  • Animals
  • Beach
  • Birds
  • Boats
  • Clothing
  • Colors
  • Computers
  • Cooking
  • Desserts
  • Farm
  • Finances
  • Flowers
  • Food/Drink
  • Fruits
  • Furniture
  • Instruments
  • Pirates
  • Sports
  • Transportation
  • Trees
  • Weather

We always require a minimum of 6 words, or 21 letters making up themed words. We are continuing to tweak both the word lists, the categories, and the puzzle maker to ensure that our variety and quality is always improving.

On the scoring front, themed puzzles (but not Digrams) have a slight change to the scoring: Themed words get both an extra 5% added to their score, and then an extra 10 points. Why? Because we know that finding words in a given theme takes time, and if you start hunting for those, we don’t want you to be penalized for chasing the secondary goal. During our beta period, the scoring was a bit too aggressive and the themed puzzles just destroyed the play balance. So, we analyzed the scores possible on themed puzzles and the words everyone was finding and tuned the scoring to this, which feels “about right.”

As always, we’d love your feedback on these. In particular, are their categories you’d like to see? Heck, you can even contribute word lists to us! That would be great. Also, let us know when you think a word should have been “in category.” A number of you already have to our support mail alias–so thanks for that!

Also, I want to say thanks to all the players that noticed these puzzles during our beta period and asked for us to return them when we shut them off for a few days to better tune our words and categories. Initially, we had three more categories, but they got scrapped during that blackout: art, elements, and materials–they were just too obscure. It made us feel really good to know that players see the puzzle changes we make and ask for them when they disappear.

Thanks for listening!

–Black Snapper

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About Wordament

Wordament is a fun and addictive word game from You vs. the Internet, a Microsoft Studio.
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7 Responses to Themed puzzles

  1. arilev says:

    The only real problem I have with the themes is that you don’t account for a lot of themed words that are on the board. For example, the theme might be “Cooking” and you’ll give credit for “oil” “boil” “boils” “broil” “broils” and even “parboil” and “parboils”, but then on the same board you won’t give credit for “broiler” and “broilers” just because they aren’t in your set of predefined cooking words.

  2. Wordament says:

    Hi arilev,

    This is great feedback. As I mentioned in our second-to-last paragraph, above, this is exactly the kind of feedback we are looking for. Our lists aren’t final–they are a work in progress–and we are making them a little better every day. Feedback like this can really help. As you find words that you think are missing, please email them to wordament@live.com. Thanks!

    Black Snapper

    • arilev says:

      Thanks for the reply. My concern is that some themes are just too broad to make neat and concise lists of relevant words. I found “tapas” on a board the other day that was for “food/drink”. “Tapas” would ideally be included on that list, but now the range of potential words is huge and very difficult to compile. I don’t think it’s impossible to do, especially if you keep it to 20 themes, but I question the worthiness of this task when Wordament is still such a new product with so many other potential outlets for improvement.

      Another problem I have with these lists is that there are a couple of high value words for every theme that regular players memorize after missing them the last time the theme appeared. The only reason I got “eyepatches” the other day was because I missed it on the last pirate themed board. While memorizing missed words is okay, the themes give a particular advantage to regular players by prompting them for those specific high value words. At that point the game is no longer Wordament but simply a word search game.

      -arilev

      • Wordament says:

        Our goal with the themed word lists is to get the to broad coverage. We want every food related word to be rewarded. We know that will be a bunch of work, but that’s our goal: to get to curated lists of categorized words. Our themes are extremely broad and also attempting to be approachable from any culture–and not just words that Americans would know. The task of curating the word lists is not done by our core engineering team, so we aren’t concerned about this “distracting us from other tasks.” BTW, if you have suggestions about “other potential outlets for improvement,” please feel free to share them with us.

        Re: high value words in the themed puzzles: We’ve recently changed our tact here. We were always placing a very long word in each themed puzzle. We aren’t anymore. We are just requiring some minimums to qualify as a themed board. Let us know if you find the change better.

        BTW, we have always embraced the idea that there are many ways to play and many ways to win. If someone wins by memorizing and spotting words, then good for them. I assure you that when Wicketewok gets 118 words in a single game, it’s because he has memorized patterns of letters and just “fingers them in.” It’s not different. The reality is: the more people play, the better they get. This is due to memorization and pattern matching. It’s true that themed word lists allow for a different kind of memorization, but given that they only appear 20% of the time, this isn’t giving memorizors a significant advantage.

        Thanks for your feedback!

  3. Have you thought of doing one for slang? that would be kinda cool don’t you think? It would certainly trip a lot of people up that’s for sure…

  4. Tom19 says:

    I love the themed puzzles! In fact I tend to play at least long enough to make it on the board or until I get to play a themed puzzle. I love the idea that there could be a very large word to find. This could be done with non theme puzzles by just having a count somewhere indicating what the longest known word in the puzzle is that could be found.
    Thanks,
    Tom

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