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Category: Entertainment / Category: Online Perks

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      27.11.2004 16:22
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      I discovered the Puzzler site (http://www.puzzler.co.uk) a couple of years ago. I found it after following some links for entering competitions, but soon realised that winning anything online is pretty unlikely! Nevertheless, the Puzzler site is one I keep returning to, unlike most of the other sites I visited around the same time.

      Puzzler.co.uk is connected with the various Puzzler magazines that are on sale monthly in most newsagents. I had bought some of these occasionally, usually for something to do on an aeroplane, but never had enough interest to subscribe regularly. I like crosswords and other puzzles in a low key way, so it was great to discover a site where I could do them online!

      The Puzzler site is laid out in a fairly basic way, with background colour and text font according to your personal preferences, as set up in your browser, rather than dictated by the web designer. There's a blue band across the top with the main links: Competitions, Puzzles, Magazines and Shop; there's general information about the site below, explaining each of these main links. In addition there's a section for an unusual 'word of the day' and 'quote of the week' at the left, although I have to admit I rarely look at these.

      In order to enter any competitions, you have to be registered with the site. This is a simple process, and one which hasn't caused me any problems with spam since registering. Clicking the competition link leads to a page which allows signing in for registered users, or registering for those who are new.

      There are always at least three or four competitions to enter, usually either wordsearch puzzles or crosswords. The prizes are occasionally cash, more often some kind of electronic equipment or a holiday. Currently (end of November 2004) there are nine competitions listed. Most of them are crosswords with prizes ranging from a stainless steel cookware set to an Elonex desktop computer.

      Each competition has a closing date, usually about three or four weeks from the time it's posted, and can only be entered once by each registered user. I've entered several and have never won anything, but it's still fun! Full instructions are given after choosing a puzzle to attempt; these are mostly straightforward and can be found via a 'help' icon (a little question mark in the top right of the screen). With a crossword, for instance, the clue or the space on the crossword can be clicked, and then letters can be typed directly. To correct a mistake, simply re-type over the errors. When the crossword is completed, some letters are highlighted and you have to find an anagram which is relevant to the prize. For a word-search, click on the start and ending letters of a word spotted in the grid; this will remove the word from the list and change the colour of the word within the grid.

      Another useful feature of this section of this site is that competitions from any of the Puzzler magazines can be entered online. I've only tried this once, and it was very easy; again, full instructions are given.

      However it's the online puzzles which bring me back to the site again and again! Here you can find a choice of crosswords, word-searches, code-crackers, Japanese Tsunami, and more. Most of these are updated every week with two new puzzles, and all can be completed online. Each one has instructions available via the 'help' button and I find it quite satisfying to submit a completed puzzle; if it's correct, then there's a message congratulating me.

      My personal favourite puzzle is the code-cracker. This is laid out like a crossword, with the numbers 1-26 in place of letters. Two or three are usually given, and the aim is to discover which numbers correspond to the relevant letters. I particularly like doing this online since it's easy to correct mistakes by overtyping an incorrect one; I also like the way that once I've discovered that a certain number corresponds to a particular letter, they're all filled in immediately by the computer. Doing this kind of puzzle on paper is enjoyable but it can be tedious filling in twenty or more 'e's, particularly if they later turn out to have been incorrect!

      The other puzzle I sometimes enjoy doing is the Tsunami. This is quite a different style, set out as a large blank grid, and confusing at first; squares have to be filled in depending on sequences of numbers given at the edge of the puzzle. If, for instance, one row says 14 5 4 then it means that there is one block of fourteen squares to be filled in, one block of five, and one block of four. In between each block there is at least one blank square, but it could be more than one blank. Matching up the vertical and horizontal 'clues' requires considerable mental effort (at least, for me!) and while it's much easier to correct mistakes than it is on paper, I find my eyes tend to boggle before I've finished one of these, so I don't do them so often.

      The magazine section of the site describes the various magazines published by this company. Some have a mixture of puzzles, and some have specific types such as the word-search or code-cracker. There are links to subscribe to them for a year, usually with a special offer available for subscribing online: either a discount, or an extra free magazine. Postage within the UK is free. I'm not such an addict that I want a whole magazine of puzzles every month, so I haven't ever taken out a subscription, tempting though it has been to take advantage of one of the offers!

      The shop seems to be the least developed part of the site, and has changed very little in the past couple of years. It offers two CD-Roms of puzzles, and there is also a catalogue which can be downloaded in Adobe Acrobat (PDF) form. In this catalogue are various board games, mostly for children aged 8+, some very well-known (such as draughts or chess) and others which I've never heard of (such as Calypso). To order from this catalogue, the relevant number has to be entered in the 'shop' to add it to the shopping basket. Again I haven't actually bought anything from this site, but the checkout procedure looks straightforward, and the security guarantee is reassuring.

      So... although this is basically a sales site for the Puzzler magazines, it's one I return to again and again for the online puzzles and competitions. It's sometimes a little slow to load, depending on the time of day, but I'm impressed with the regular changes and general user-friendliness. I haven't yet come across any broken links or puzzles which fail to work; this suggests a degree of professionalism that's not often found in small sites such as this. Clearly it's not for everyone, but if you enjoy the occasional crossword or other puzzle, I can highly recommend it for a relaxing half hour or so.

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