We were asked at GenevaLunch a year ago whether we could give more information about the Blind Crossword Program. I had the immense privilege of meeting the driving force behind the program, Eric Wesbrook, in London last week and actually got my fingers on the keys of the computer and was able to key in my solutions and hear how the program told me my next clue and what letters were already entered in my grid. This really is wonderful news for the blind and partially sighted who long to pursue their passion. All the information you need is below, with links to click on.
From Eric Westbrook, the Blind Crossword Program
A conversation last year in The Whitefriars Ale House, Coventry, UK, with John Tutchings, e-learning technical specialist at Coventry University, led by a very interesting, tortuous and tantalising route to find the brilliant Ian Humphreys in Albany, Western Australia! The outcome is the World’s first electronic blind crossword.
This was subject of an item on Radio 4 In Touch programme:
The BG Crossword Puzzle program provides the blind or partially sighted solver with the same kind of information as the sighted puzzler gleans from the grid as the puzzle unfolds. Once a crossword is loaded, the solver uses keyboard enries to select and control the flow of information. The program speaks to the solver reading out selected crossword clues using the SAPI voice on the solver’s computer. The solver types in their solutions. The ‘voice’ lets the solver know where they are in the puzzle and can give cues as to what to do next.
Virtually every key on the keyboard including the function keys as well as combinations with shift, alt and control, has some function in operating the program. Thus the Help file is quite extensive and the finer points of the program take some time to assimilate. However, there is a quick start and a set of tutorials (‘what I wrote’) which help to get the solver solving very quickly. Both Help and Tutorials have hyperlinks so that these documents can be navigated quickly.
There is also a basic beginners guide to cryptic crosswords so that a blind person who has never done a crossword before could start doing so.
The program offers two screens – one for the Across clues and solutions, and another screen for the ‘Downs’. The solver can scroll through the clues using arrow keys and switch between the two screens. There is a grid there. which a partially sighted solver might appreciate, but it is not necessary to see it. Once a solution has been entered, it is possible to hear just the clues which are assisted by this solution. New letters have appeared in the grid and the program can select the yet-to-be-solved clues which have partial solutions containing these new letters.
Ambiguities can arise when listening to the words of a clue. Homophones, an indistinct word from the synthetic speech voice, or partial deafness in the solver can cause confusion. The program will repeat the clue tirelessly as many times as required. It will also spell out problem words. It has the additional facility to spell words in the international phonetic alphabet (Charlie, Whisky, Tango). This is usually crystal clear. Mine is a whisky by the way!
A nervous beginner might be reassured to hit the ‘V’ key (to validate) after entering a solution. On doing so, the program might say “your answer is correct”. John Godber, Head of Products and Publications at RNIB, did his first crossword all on his own for the first time in 15 years. Fantastic!! Unfortunately most prize puzzles do not supply the answers until after the competition!
The program comes with several crosswords already loaded. But the real power of the program is to be able to scour the internet for new puzzles and download them to the program. The Help file gives details of how to do this.
I would like a blind solver to be able to tackle the same puzzles that sighted solvers are tearing their hair out over, on the same day.
When someone loses their eyesight they can be in a very lonely place. Imagine not being able to do crosswords any more! To be denied being able to pick up the newspaper and be tortured fot half an hour or so is unthinkable? There is an opportunity here for blind crossworders to re-enter the crosword community. The serious newspapers and the not so serious could offer their puzzles in a form that can be downloaded to the blind crossword program. Most UK crossword compilers use Anthony Lewis’ Crossword Compiler program to compile their crosswords. This program has export file formats that allow download to the blind program. Phil Wills who leads the team of programmers at GU has developed the functionality to do just this with Guardian and Observer puzzles. We are waiting for clearance for this to go ahead. There are issues of security and copyright to be resolved as well as advertising revenues sensitive to on-line hours. Phil McNeill at The Telegraph is also looking into this.
As a registered blind solver and setter, RNIB member and volunteer I wish to encourage the development of a download facility on sites offering crosswords in file formats that the blind crossword program can use.
For the same reasons I would be very happy to demonstrate the program to anyone interested to see it if that is at all practicable. If it isn’t I will get someone else to do it: contact Eric Westbrook.
Ian Humphreys is a retired computer programmer and has produced a number of blind games including solitaire, cribbage, and Scrabble. His Spoonbill Software including the BG Crossword Puzzle program and other blind games are Freeware. They are free to download and free to use in whatever way the user wishes. Ian would be grateful if users mentioned ‘Spoonbill Software’. Ian employs international teams of program checkers and testers. He and the teams put in a massive number of hours to produce the polished and professional programs. Ian’s open letter below gives a link to a ‘dropbox’ where the program can be obtained:
The passage below is from Ian Humphreys and contains links which people can follow to obtain the program and to register with Ian. The advantage of registration is that Ian can monitor the use of the prigram as well as supply updates which will inevitably follow as improvements are made to it.
This is Ian Humphreys from Spoonbill Software. You can download the setup file for Blind-gamers Crossword Puzzle 1.0 by using the following link:
The Help is supplied as a separate HTML file in the Help subfolder. It can also be displayed by hitting the F 1 function key once you are running the game.
There is also a set of tutorials especially written by Eric Westbrook which provides a good grounding on how to use the program and also gives the novice an introduction to cryptic crosswords. These tutorials can be accessed by hitting Shift F 1 once you are running the game.
This is the fifteenth program in the Blind Gamers series which includes other word games such as BG Boggle, and BG Word Target, card games such as BG Hearts, BG Uno, and BG Free Cell Solitaire, logic games such as BG 15 Puzzle and BG LAP, and many more.
Visit the Spoonbill Software website to browse the complete collection at www.spoonbillsoftware.com.au/blindgamers.htm
This program requires Microsoft’s Speech Application Programming Interface Text To Speech (SAPI TTS ) before it will run. If you have a screen reader installed, you probably have SAPI already. If not, you can download the setup file for SAPI TTS from the Spoonbill Software website at:http://spoonbillsoftware.com.au/links.htm. I’m afraid that this only works for Windows 98, 2000, ME, and XP.
IMPORTANT: This game will work using Microsoft’s SAPI voices Sam, Mike and Mary under Windows 98, 2000, ME and XP, and Anna under Windows Vista and Windows 7. It will also work with many non-Microsoft SAPI voices. But some non-Microsoft SAPI voices cause the program to crash. If this should happen to you, try switching to another voice, and as a last resort switch to Sam, Mike Mary or Anna before contacting Spoonbill Software about your problem.
BG Crossword Puzzle is an accessible Crossword Puzzle solver. It is suitable for both blind and visually impaired players, and like all Spoonbill games in the Blind gamers series, it is self-voicing.
Before you play for the first time, I urge you to read the separate help file, to become familiar with the various keyboard keys you will need to use. Or better still, follow through the tutorials by Eric Westbrook.
Just unzip the setup file and run to install the game.