Over the past few months, blind gamers have asked me to create an audio version of Scrabble. Not only is that a fairly complex game, but there are copyright issues that would need to be overcome.
Instead, I started looking at popular word games, and came across the Word Ladder game. In order to win the game, you change the start word into the end word progressively, creating an existing word at each step, and changing only one letter at a time.
For example, to convert COLD to WARM, first change COLD to CORD, then CORD to CORM, then CORM to WORM, and finally WORM to WARM. Word Ladder was invented by Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland) in 1877.
Blindfold Word Ladder had to solve the word ladder before it shows the start and end words to you, just to make sure the puzzle is solvable using normal words found in a dictionary. It also needs to determine how many steps are needed to solve the puzzle.
The first challenge was to create a computer program to solve the word ladder. This problem has been studied by computer scientists for the past 30 years, trying to find the fastest way to arrive a solution. I used a breadth-first search approach, and in most cases, on an iPhone, a 3 letter word is solved in under a second, and a 4 letter word is solved in under 10 seconds.
I also had to find a dictionary that was not copyright protected. There are several available for free, and I extracted all of the 3, 4 and 5 letter words for the game.
To win the most points, you must solve the ladder in as few steps as possible, and not ask for any hints. Each additional step, or each hint given by the Blindfold Word Ladder, will reduce the your score.
Once the initial version of the Blindfold Word Ladder was ready, I sent it out to the testers that help me with all of the games. Most of these people prefer other types of games, but a few gave it a try, and pointed out its problems.
More in the next blog.