Times Electronic Crossword Game
800 Crosswords in the palm of your hand
This is a small handheld unit crammed full with 800 of
The Times' crosswords, giving you plenty of brain teasing
and distraction for several of the longest journeys.
Easy to use and not outrageously expensive, the
Electronic Crossword Game is a fun gadget for crossword
In the UK, the daily crossword
published in The Times newspaper is legendary among crossword
devotees. It comprises a very stylized manner of clues,
and its many daily followers in the UK compete both with
themselves and between each other to see how quickly they can
complete it each day.
Books have been written about
how to understand the clues and successfully complete the
puzzles, and of course, books of collected puzzles have also
been published. Now here's a new electronic device that
stores an incredible 800 crosswords, licensed from The Times,
giving you access to who knows how many hours of intellectual
stimulation, and hopefully a larger measure of pleasure than
What you get
Franklin's 'The Times
Electronic Crossword Game' comes in a cardboard box much like a
Inside is the unit itself,
the two AAA batteries that it uses, and a short user's guide.
Franklin advise that the batteries provide about 140 hours of
If you lose the user's
guide, don't despair. Franklin helpfully keep a copy of it
available on their website, too.
The unit measures 3.25" x
4.75" and is about 0.5" thick. It weighs 3.6 oz with
With the LCD screen and keys
all exposed, it is somewhat
fragile, and unfortunately does not come with any type of
The unit has a one year
warranty, which probably would not extend to damage incurred
while traveling with it in your suitcase.
Note that the unit is
supplied by Franklin Electronics, a different company to
Electronics offer a range of electronic devices such as PDAs,
translators and dictionaries as well as this puzzle/game.
What it does
This is an electronic
version of the famous Times of London crossword puzzle.
In total, the unit holds 800
different crossword puzzles, and there are more than 22,000 clues for
these puzzles - an average of 27.5 words to be filled in per
Puzzles are available in two
levels of difficulty. The 'quick' puzzles are relatively
simple, the 'cryptic' ones are both larger and considerably
Quick puzzles have a 13 x 13
square matrix with a varying mix of black squares and empty
letter squares. Cryptic puzzles have a larger 15 x 15
matrix. These are the same dimensions as on The Times'
(where you have to pay to access the crosswords).
Needless to say, this unit
is vastly smaller than a book of 800 crossword puzzles would be, and unlike a
book of puzzles, you can use the unit over and over (or
lend/give/sell it to someone else after you've finished with
In addition to the
crosswords themselves, the unit can also provide some help to you as you
try and puzzle them out. If you only know a few
letters of a word, the unit can help you find words to fit in
with the letters you know and the gaps you don't know.
And if you think you have an
anagram type clue, an anagram solver will help you decode these
There are also two types of
- well, to be blunt, cheating - available for you if you get
stuck. You can ask the unit to show you a single letter,
at the space your cursor is at in the puzzle. And you can
also ask the unit to show you an entire word filling up the area
in which your cursor is located.
And, if you really admit
defeat, you can ask the unit to complete the entire puzzle and
fill in all missing words. And only you will know that you
didn't complete the puzzle yourself.
Using the device
An immediate frustration was
trying to put the batteries into the unit. Each of the two
AAA batteries goes into a separate compartment in the unit, and
the covers to both compartments have locking screws on them.
You'll need to have a miniature Philips screwdriver to be able
to open the battery compartments and put the batteries in.
You might choose to travel
with spare batteries, but you'll probably have problems if you
try and take even a miniature screwdriver with you through
airport security. Perhaps the best solution is to throw
the screws away - the battery covers snap in place reasonably
securely. If the unit came in a protective carry-case
(which, alas, it doesn't) there'd be no need for these
Franklin don't tell you how
long a set of batteries last in the materials they provide, but
they've told me to expect about 140 hours of active usage - more
than enough for a lot of crossword puzzling. The unit automatically
switches off if you haven't touched it for a short while (you
can choose how long before the auto switch off, ranging from 1
to 8 minutes - we recommend you keep it on the default 1 minute
installed the batteries, you simply press the red power button
on the side of the unit and it is instantly on and ready to use.
The unit conveniently
remembers where you are and what you've entered when it is
turned off (either by you or automatically), so you don't
lose anything. Any time you turn it
on, you're immediately returned to the place you were last at.
And because it powers on almost instantly, there's no
inconvenience at all when/if it powers off automatically.
The screen is a monochrome
LCD with black letters on a green background.
Unfortunately, it is not back-lit, making it difficult to read
in poor lighting conditions. You can vary the size of the
font (three settings, small, medium, or large) and also the
contrast setting (ie the best angle to view the screen at) but
the lack of a backlight is a handicap in just about all lighting
situations, and particularly anywhere that doesn't have strong
light available to shine onto the screen.
It was also difficult to see
where the cursor was on the screen. The cursor is shown as
a subtle flashing outline in the letter box, and with the unlit
screen, it did not stand out very noticeably. As you move
the cursor, it jumps to skip over the black squares, so after a
few arrow key presses, the cursor can be quite a long way from
where you thought it was.
The unit is easy to
understand and I was able to do most things without needing to
refer to the 20 page user guide. The keyboard is large
enough to be moderately easy to use, while not making the unit
inconveniently large to carry, and the various function control
keys are sensibly labeled and intuitive in operation.
Although it is easy to
understand how the unit works, it is not necessarily very easy
to use while working through and solving a puzzle. When I
try and do a regular crossword, I tend to 'cherry-pick' through
the clues, trying out easy clues first, and then going back to
work on harder clues that have some letters now visible in the
answers, and so on and so on. This is easy and
instantaneous when all the clues are visible on the page, but
can become much more laborious and slow using this electronic
The quick puzzles were
relatively simple to work through, and the cryptic puzzles were
much more difficult indeed, truly in the quirky tradition of The
Times, so whether you're a relative novice (like me) or an
expert, you'll find plenty to challenge and reward you.
Make your own puzzle
You can also build your own
crosswords. You can make up to four of your own
crosswords, using any one of many different templates to fill
This can be quite fun,
because you can use the same tools that help you solve puzzles
to then help you build new puzzles, assisting in creating words
to fill in the remaining gaps after you've entered the easy
If you enjoy crosswords or
know someone who does, and if you/they are anticipating a long
boring trip, then this small little gadget might provide a great
way to while away the many hours.
The unit is not without its
flaws, and many people might prefer an old fashioned book of
crosswords instead. But if you're a gadget lover as well
as a crossword lover, or if you're trying to minimize what you
have to pack and take with you, then this unit might well
appeal. And unlike a regular puzzle, it can be used over
and over again, and also contains interactive support/help
The Times Electronic
Crossword Game is available on
Franklin's website for $59.95, or
Amazon for only $44.95,
which works out to only 5.5¢ per puzzle.
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8 Apr 2005, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.