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Long-time puzzler and player Dan from Minnesota asks the following question about our Entrapment Game:

My question is about the strategy game called Entrapment . After playing and solving several of these puzzles over the years I couldn't help notice the occurrence of very difficult and most brilliant puzzles that can take me hours to solve, verses only seconds to solve others, My question is are these randomly generated or are some these more advanced puzzles the result of mischievous talented geniuses? 

Hi Dan, believe it or not, all of these games were the result of just one mischief maker. Me. Or, more precisely, my programming. There are almost 7,000 entrapment puzzles on the site, and they were all built by the software using an algorithm I built to create the puzzles at random.

How does it work? Well, the software starts by picking a random location for one of the gray dots, and then randomly picking a location for one of the red dots. Having picked one location, it now knows the location for a second red dot (since it has to be placed in such a way that the gray dot is midway between the two red dots). The software continues on in this way, alternately picking locations for gray dots and red dots, with the proviso that if the software can find a place to put a gray dot which is halfway between two gray dots already on the board, it skips putting another red dot on the board. In this way, the number of gray dots grows larger than the number of red dots.

In the end, the gray dots are removed from the board, leaving just the red ones. Of course, there's no guarantee that there's only one solution, and you've probably noticed that in some cases there are more red dots than are needed. This is because you found a solution that is different than the one the computer found.

Because the process is random, some puzzles end up being more challenging than others, and there's no good way to programmatically evaluate which puzzles are most challenging. Currently we're tracking the average amount of time taken for each puzzle, so that eventually we can break the puzzles into easy/hard/expert categories. But, of course, with 7,000 puzzles on the site, it's going to take a long time to get enough plays on each puzzle that we can confidently categorize them.

In the meantime, thank you for playing, and helping to add to our difficulty calculations!

3rd Grader Adeeb from Canada asks, "Why did you create this game?"

Well, Adeeb, you might not have realized it, but there are lots of games on this site! In fact, there 16 math games, 15 word games, 13 strategy games/puzzles, plus a whole lot of other games, quizzes, and puzzles. So if you thought there was just one game here, you should definitely look around a bit, and see what else you can find!

In general terms, the reason I created this site with all its games, is because I wanted to provide something that would be helpful to teachers and their students. At first (about 13 years ago, when I created the site) there was a bunch of math problems, and just one or two games (Hangman was the very first game I created for the site). For a few years, I got busy with other things, and didn't spend any time paying attention to what was happening at this site.

Then, one day, I came back to look at the site, and was astounded to see that there were about 1,000 people visiting the site every week, and I had no idea so many people were finding the site useful.

At that point, I decided it was time to add more to the site - after all, if people thought Hangman was useful, wouldn't they find a lot of other games and puzzles useful, too?

So over time I kept building and building. Teachers would send me ideas, friends would suggest even more ideas, and a lot of people helped to test out the new games whenever something new showed up on the site.

Now the site is so big I don't even know how many pages it has! Two years ago we started a big redesign of the site that allowed teachers to create their own mazes, puzzles, math problems, quizzes, and more, so the site continues to grow, all the time!

And the number of people who visit the site every week continues to grow...we used to be at around 1,000 visitors per week, but now we get more than that in one day! We usually have about 15,000 visitors every week.

I hope that helped answer your question, and I hope you have fun discovering more games on the site!

Professor Puzzler

William asks us: "Do you have any legal term word searches?"

The short answer is: Not many. You can see what we have by clicking this link, which takes you a search page for the word "legal" in our printable worksheet pages: Legal Search. If you have a specific legal term you're looking for, you can try putting that word in the search bar to see what comes up, or try searches like "law" or "court."

That's the short answer. The slightly longer (but not much longer) answer is: Creating word searches from your own vocabulary lists is simple and easy to do. The capability to create your own word searches starts with a tiny investment of $4.95 to get a Pro Membership on the site. Once you have a Pro Membership, you will have perpetual access to the control panel which allows you to create not just word searches, but also jumbles, mazes, and other content.

To learn more about how you can use your Pro Membership to create your own Word Searches, click here: Video tutorial.

Once you're ready to start, you can go here to buy your Pro Membership. When you do, consider spending an extra $4.95 to remove ads for one year, and help support this educational site!

Jim writes: "I have included "My Secret Word" as a daily game for those in my private Facebook Group We play the game and post our scores and the last player each day posts the word when he or she solves he puzzle. Lately, when I follow the posted link address I do not get the same game as the others. Why is that? How can I fix that? Please help."

Jim, I actually sent you a reply email, but it got returned with a "mailbox unavaiable" message, so I'm posting my reply here, in hopes that you'll see it!

Here’s what I would check for – make sure that you look at the DATE to ensure it matches what everyone else has for a date. The site recently moved to a new server, and “midnight” on the server time zone is different from what it was on the old server, so if you happened to be doing the puzzle in the evening or early in the morning, you might be getting that crossover between yesterday’s and today’s puzzle.  Or, the same issue would arise if the last person to post for the day was actually posting the next day’s word because they’ve crossed over midnight.
 
So I would encourage your group members to double-check the date before they post their score and the word.  The new version of the site will actually say something like “You have just played the July 30th daily” or something like that, to help visitors verify which daily they’re doing.
 
Hope that helps!

Dear Professor Puzzler,

I think your "What is Wrong" game is obnoxious.  Who cares if someone gets their spelling wrong, or uses an apostrophe when they weren't supposed to?

Annoyed in Alaska


Hi Annoyed,

You're not alone in feeling that way. In fact, a few months ago, the Wall Street Journal website had an article in which the writer said (in essence), "Language is evolving. Yay! Everyone who gets in the way of language evolution is a pedantic grammar snob."

Frankly, it was a poorly thought out article, which left a giant hole in its logic. The hole is between "language is evolving" and "Yay!"

The author accepted it as a given that since language is evolving, that must be a good thing. There was no research, no exploration, no evaluation of the question, "Is language evolution a good thing?" And if you're going to be annoyed with the "What is Wrong" game, you need to answer that question.

What do I think?

I think that some language evolution is good. For example, what would we do without the word "computer" added to our vocabulary? New technology requires new vocabulary.

But there is a bad side to language evolution. I've been in a small country in Africa where from one end of the country to the other, even though they speak the same language, they can't understand each other. Why? Because in that country, language evolved unchecked in isolation, until the dialects defied mutual comprehension. It was a strange thing to realize that people who spoke the same language had to resort to using the trade language (French) to communicate with each other!

Fortunately, in our society, with written language and easy global communication, we're less likely to have isolated language evolution. But there are still concerns to be considered.

Pick up a King James Bible. Or the complete works of Shakespeare. How easy are they to understand? Not terribly. That's a result of language evolution over a few centuries. Someone once said that the English speaking world is the only part of the world that doesn't get to read Shakespeare in our own language, because the English of his day is not our language.

The more quickly language evolves, the more quickly the great works of literature become inaccessible without translation.

Is language evolving? Yes it is. Can we stop that evolution? Probably not. Should we try to stop that evolution? Maybe not. But I think that, at the very least, we should work to keep that evolution to a slow pace.

Ever seen a car on glare ice? Watch the way it slides around uncontrolled? Friction is needed to keep things running smoothly. And language evolution needs friction too, to prevent the sort of uncontrolled slippage that made linguistics such a nightmare in that African country I mentioned.

Every English teacher who says, "You need an apostrophe there," or "You should be using the word they're instead of their," or "Your subject and verb don't agree; please fix that!" is applying friction to linguistic evolution. And I say, "God bless them for it!"

So, that's why I am such an obnoxious, cranky old geezer when it comes to grammar, spelling, and word usage.

Professor Puzzler

Understanding Coronavirus Spread

A Question and Answer session with Professor Puzzler about the math behind infection spread.

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