Dave Regan’s Word Games Help Spellers At www.ArmoredPenguin.com

One of the best ways to learn is through playing games, and that’s particularly true when you’re learning new words. Whether you need help with matching definitions to words, or with learning how to recognize letter patterns to improve your spelling skills, games like crossword puzzles, word search puzzles, and scrambled word solvers will help you train your eyes and your brain to recognize and remember words and the way they’re spelled. At Dave Regan’s website, you can create your own puzzles to focus on words you’re currently learning or practicing.

US: When did you first get interested in word games?

DR: Mostly, I’ve used word games as a way to explore different things about programming, which I’ve been doing for 30 years. I wrote the program to build wordsearch puzzles as a weekend project a long time ago. As I had to learn what the web could do, I moved that program into the web and let other people use it. As other people have used the web site, I’ve added additional puzzles and improved the older puzzles.

US: Have you used word games like crossword puzzles to improve your own vocabulary or spelling skills?

DR: Not on purpose, but it happens by accident. When a person creates a puzzle on my website, they have the option of listing the puzzle for the public. How many puzzles of the list of presidents do you need? As people created puzzles and listed them for the public, I saved the best of the puzzles in a permanent archive. But that does require that I look to see that most of the words are spelled correctly. In addition, if the puzzle is in a language other than English, I have to look at the words to try and decide if the puzzle is appropriate for the category or not. I’ve learned quite a lot.

These puzzles are available for others to look at as well. The quality is not uniform as there are many different authors, with different skill levels. But it still makes for an interesting collection if you’re not in the mood to create an original puzzle right now.

US: The free word search puzzle generator you provide is a great way for students to have fun with lists of words they need to learn for an upcoming spelling test. What other ways have people used the games on your site for studying and school work?

DR: I have a number of different audiences, but clearly teachers and students are the core of audience.

1) The wordsearch, word match, and word scramble puzzles are great to help people recognize a set of words. This is used for spelling lists, and vocabulary words. This is commonly used for K-6 or so.

2) The crossword puzzle helps people match up a word with a definition or concept, and tends to get used by older students. I’ve seen crossword puzzles for middle school up through graduate classes as well as specialized groups (such as fire fighter review).

3) I’ve had many special requests.
a) Some teachers working with very young kids, or kids with developmental problems have trouble with wordsearch puzzles where the words go backwards. So there are options to control how simple the puzzles can be.
b) I had a person from Europe ask me to add a sign language font for helping teach sign language. Did you know that there are many different sign languages? It caught me by surprise, and taught me something new.
c) I had a person who wanted to use the wordsearch puzzle to do simple equations for doing tutoring in a prison system. It sounded sort of niche, but was able to do that for him.

4) I’ve set up a “quiz mode” with the crossword puzzles where students can work a crossword puzzle (without an answer key), and when they get done, the results are mailed to the instructor.

5) I have a web page to make simple arithmetic work sheets. This one came about because my son wanted to do additional math problems.

6) I’ve had adults chide me because I rearranged the web page, and they couldn’t find the new puzzles that people had listed for the public. They would print off a puzzle or two while they ate their morning breakfast.

7) I’ve had adults build simple puzzles, in a very large font, for their parents who are in assisted living situations. Playing with words never has to stop.

None of these applications are earth shattering, but people enjoy a simple challenge. If they accidentally learn something and have fun at the same time, then everyone wins.

US: Another useful and fun puzzle tool on your site is the Word Match puzzle, where users can type in lists of vocabulary words they’re learning along with their definitions, so that they can practice matching the word to the correct meaning. Rather than typing in words and definitions one at a time, can users upload files with the words and definitions to save time?

DR: All of the puzzles have a way where you can create a simple text file with words, and upload those into the program. Look for the “Text file name” entry to pull this file into web site.

In addition, if you have cookies enabled, you can use the computer you created the puzzle with, and go to “My Puzzles” on the left, and edit any of the puzzles you’ve made in the recent past. Further, if you save the web page containing your puzzle, you can feed that HTML file back into the program (using that same “text file name”) and it saves all of your words as well as all of the other settings for the puzzle.

US: What other games and puzzles do you plan on adding to the site?

DR: The most recent puzzle I’ve created is to create “Secret Codes” or ciphers. This really doesn’t fit in well with education, but is a way to make a simple to challenging puzzle.

If you take this seriously, you can teach yourself a lot about letter frequency, and (very) basic code breaking.

Right now I don’t have any particular word puzzles that I’m looking at. I do pay attention to my user’s suggestions, and occasionally look at the puzzle books at the store. But it’s clear that the things that best fit my model are puzzles where teachers and students are working on some list of vocabulary, concepts, etc. So I am open to suggestions.

Summary:

I started this web site as a hobby to explore programming and the web. I seem to have hit a chord with an audience, as the web site is used to make millions of puzzles each year, and that’s great. It’s given me an opportunity to exchange email with people from around the world. Often the message is a simple “thank you”, but sometimes it is a question that makes me try to see how to make the programs fit an interesting situation.

Having a hobby that allows me to help people is quite wonderful.