See? I’m telling you, make peace with Puzzle Solver

Litsoft, the company that has long provided Across Lite for free, is being acquired.

According to the announcement:

“1. The availability of free Across Lite software will end at some point. While it may continue to be be available from entities that have licensed it, it will likely be restricted in its use. Or it may be completely withdrawn from the market for a while.”

“2. Commercial versions of the program may appear in the future for specific verticals.”

“3. There will be stricter restrictions on the use of Litsoft intellectual property including its puzzle formats (which should be irrelevant if there is no free software behind it). The hosted publishing service by uploading crosswords will remain and will likely be the only allowed usage of Litsoft software for a while. Outside that, people should no longer look at the .puz format as the means to distribute crosswords except under licensing arrangements. The acquiring entity will likely enforce copyrights and patents much more strictly than Litsoft going forward including infringements on copyrighted features of Across Lite program itself.

Many of us have relied on Across Lite and the .puz file format for years, for both solving via the computer keyboard and for printing out crosswords. I don’t know how the Litsoft acquisition will affect crossword solvers, constructors, and publishers, but I can’t help thinking that (a) it will be disruptive and (b) it will cost us all more money. What the heck are “specific verticals,” anyway? And “hosted publishing service by uploading crosswords” doesn’t make any sense to me. (Edit!)

I’m glad I’ve already downloaded Puzzle Solver (software from the Crossword Compiler people). Puzzle Solver can open both .puz files and .jpz files—the latter is the file format in which the CrosSynergy crossword will be provided. Alex Boisvert commented on Monday’s Fiend post with some info about .jpz files:

“The advantages of .jpz over .puz deserve their own blog post. But in short — the new format will indeed allow constructors to do things they can’t do now, like shaded squares, bold/italicized clues, unusual numbering schemes, etc. Basically, just about any puzzle that looks different in print than electronically could look the correct way with a .jpz file.”

I’m looking forward to finding out what new innovations crossword constructors will come up with when they begin producing .jpz versions of their puzzles. I always love puzzles that go nuts with numbering schemes, and would like to be able to solve them online instead of having to print out a PDF or JPEG. And shaded squares would look so much nicer than circled squares, wouldn’t they?

To sum up: I don’t really know what Litsoft’s announcement means and how things will play out, but I think we can all kiss the status quo goodbye.

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23 Responses to See? I’m telling you, make peace with Puzzle Solver

  1. joon says:

    careful with all that kissing. you don’t want to get mono from the status quo.

    this announcement makes the recent CS decision somewhat more reasonable. i found it a little hard to imagine that they were going to get much money out of charging for their online puzzles, if that’s what they were going to do. but if the move to .jpz was triggered by the impending unfreeification of the .puz format, then i applaud it.

    that said, i’m really hoping antony lewis is hard at working giving puzzle solver the same (or at least similar) level of functionality as AL.

  2. Tuning Spork says:

    ??”Specific verticals”?? And what are the “copyrighted features”? Stuff like jumping over filled-in squares?

    I wonder what this means:

    These difficult decisions were determined by the current state of the industry as well as potential for the future and the direction of technology.

    Sounds like they want to make money on it by… making it unavailable and then upgrading it for a future re-launch?

    Or maybe Litsoft is being purchased/eliminated by Crossword Compiler? Conspiracy theories, anyone? :-D

    Any idea of how I can create (in notepad, e.g.) and post a .jpz file without buying Crossword Compiler? I’ve been sitting on a puzzle with an odd numbering scheme for about six months and would like to, finally, be able to post it. Googling is getting me nowhere. :-(

  3. Jeffrey says:

    The acid test is the New York Times. If they leave AcrossLite, it is toast.

  4. Will says:

    @Tuning Spork: Change any .jpz file into a .bin file by renaming it. Then unzip it and read the resulting text file to get an idea of how .jpz files are made. I wouldn’t typically want to generate one by hand in this way, but you will see that you can adjust the clue numbers as you wish. The guts of a .jpz file is XML, which uses tags to identify information.

    If you want to delve into this, then also look at the information at this location.

    http://crossword.info/xml/

    Each document gives a little bit of information about the structure of a .jpz file. You’d have to do some learning to figure it out, but give it a go. I bet looking at existing .jpz files would help you see what is required and what is optional in the files.

    http://crossword.info/xml/rectangular-puzzle.xsd
    http://crossword.info/xml/crossword-compiler-applet.xsd

    Will

  5. D_Blackwell says:

    I would be happy to see Litsoft go away forever. Its time is long past; and I’d love to see the NYT toss it out the door. I don’t mind paying for software; that is not the issue here – never was.

    I own literally thousands of dollars of software, including just about every Adobe product made and all of the peripheral software that is so often needed to help get the most out of the primary product:)) Grrr.

    It would be interesting to see what Anthony Lewis might do. My only concern there is that he always has so much on his plate, it seems like Compiler is almost too much by itself. Brilliance extends just so far. Does he have the time and is it worth the investment; particularly if a goodly number of solid years are expected out continuing development? We are talking about a serious – but limited – market.

    The NYT has certainly shown no public sign of interest, much less leadership. That has long concerned me. The market is so limited, that developing a top product that can handle the future of crosswords, and that can handle at least a reasonable number of the endless number of solving platforms that exist now, and are still to come – tough to monetize that situation and do a quality job that will stand up to X number of years to be a worthwhile project.

    Last I heard from Guda’s quickly (seemingly) defunct icrossword blog there some with talk about making a deal with one of his targets, Alex Boisvert. Across Lite is a such an ancient product, I would love to see it abandoned by all.

    Will makes some very solid points about working with .jpz files and manipulating data, especially with respect to XML which is extremely easy to handcode once you understand the basics. After that, one just needs to render the data.

    I will add that .puz files are so pitifully simple, I find it difficult to respect them as special in any whatsoever. Across Lite might be ‘special’ in a legal sense, but .puz – NO. JFC, .puz can be handcoded in Notepad with no problem. They are simple text files and there isn’t much more to the software that renders the data. Across Lite is but one option and I just don’t see that it holds much value to anyone anymore.

  6. Alex says:

    Spork –

    Can you make a puz of your crossword? It won’t have the right numbering, but it’ll be a start. If you can, open the puz with Crossword Solver and “Save as …” *.xml puzzle files. Open it up in a text editor to play around with numbering. As WIJ suggests, it won’t be easy at first, but that’s probably the best way to do it.

  7. Tuning Spork says:

    @Will,

    Thank you for the info. I opened a .jpz with notepad and got gibberish with lots of Greek characters. So I saved it as an .xml text (I don’t see how to save it as a .bin) and opened it again with notpad and got this:

    http://blatherreview.mu.nu/archives/csps1.JPG

    It’s not all Greek to me, but still pretty gibberishy. Is that what I’m supposed to be seeing? Oy.

    @Alex,

    I’ll try it with a .puz file and see what happens. **crosses fingers**

    EDIT TO ADD:
    Hmm. I’m not being offered the option, with a .puz file, to “open with” Puzzle Solver. At least, not without deleting Across Lite from my computer. There’s gotta be a simple way to make a .jpz file ala Across Lite’s
    -ACROSS PUZZLE V2-
    -TITLE-
    -AUTHOR-
    -COPYRIGHT-
    -SIZE-
    -GRID-
    -REBUS-
    -ACROSS-
    -DOWN-
    -NOTEPAD
    format, no? With more features it’ll, of course, be more complicated. But it can’t be as involved as what the above .jpeg showed me, can it?

  8. D_Blackwell says:

    I am curious if there are any legal issues specific to .puz files.? Is the snippet of text files required to create the files ‘protected’ in any way?

    It won’t take much Googling to learn how to make functional .puz files.

    http://www.litsoft.com/across/docs/AcrossTextFormat.pdf

    http://www.fleetingimage.com/wij/xyzzy/acrosslite-links.html

    There are other programs that open and allow solving of .puz files.

    I stand by my original assertion that .puz has had its day.

  9. Amy Reynaldo says:

    @D_B: Yes, there are other solving programs that open .puz files (including Black Ink and Puzzle Solver). I think Litsoft asserts that it has proprietary control over the entire .puz file format as its intellectual property. I have no idea how much water that holds from a legal standpoint. Plus, if you squash people using your file format, don’t you dramatically cut down on the people who are ever willing to pay you a nickel? “You can’t use .puz unless you pay us and follow our rules.” “OK, we’ll use something else. What? You thought we’d never find an alternative?” Buh-bye.”

  10. Tuning Spork says:

    Okay, I’ve successfully opened a .puz with Crossword Solver, saved as an .xml and opened with notepad. It looks the same as the .jpeg I posted above. **sigh**

    So, does this mean that I have to either a) decipher that code to learn what does what or b) cash in some empties, purchase Crossword Compiler and work within its templates in order to c) make and post an interactive puzzle with oddball numbering?

    Maybe I’ll try again to figure out how to post it as a .pdf.

  11. Alex says:

    Spork — it is as complicated as you see above. If it were properly indented, it would be a bit easier to read. But that’s how it is. (Maybe send it to me?)

  12. Bob Klahn says:

    We, CrosSynergy, are transitioning away from Litsoft-everything because we have been legally required to do so. I’ll spare you the gory details.

    Antony Lewis’s .jpz (Java PuZzle) format is far superior in structure, and far more robust, than Litsoft’s .puz format, at least as the .puz format currently exists. It supports many puzzles types: basically, every puzzle type that Crossword Compiler can produce. As has already been noted here, it is compressed XML. One way to look inside a .jpz file is to rename it from .jpz to .zip, unzip it to get, probably, another .jpz file, but possibly an .xml file; both of these extracts are indeed XML. That XML is documented at the links “Will” provided earlier.

    Once installed, Antony’s Puzzle Solver (originally called Crossword Solver) will be automatically invoked when a .jpz file is clicked on, just as Across Lite is automatically invoked when a .puz file is clicked on. We will be encouraging Antony to extend the functionality of Puzzle Solver where it falls short of Across Lite’s current capabilities.

    Any of you who’ve worked with Antony know he’s a great guy. An astrophysicist by trade. He’s always been extremely accommodating, and has made a number of changes to Crossword Compiler over the years at our specific request, e.g., in the DDL and Export interface arenas. You cannot go wrong by embracing Antony’s technology.

    – Bob Klahn, Managing Member, CrosSynergy Syndicate LLC

  13. john farmer says:

    The blog post from Guda sounds ominous but I don’t believe Litsoft will be going after solvers or authors who use its software. According to the guidelines at the Literate Software site, free use of the software is allowed for distribution of crosswords — as long as the crosswords are available at no charge. It may be a different story for anyone sellling crosswords such as the NYT or third-party software publishers such as Crossword Compiler (NYT and CCW have agreements with Litsoft, afaik) — but for most people this will be a non-event.

    AL has been the de facto standard for online distribution for as long as I’ve been doing puzzles. On the plus side, it does a good job with most puzzles, and it offers ways for solvers to customize the look and feel of the software. On the other hand, the company has had a single new software release in the past 10+ years, and it still can’t handle shaded squares, irregular numbering, and some other features.

    As a solver, I like some of the things that AL can do that PS cannot, and as a constructor, vice versa. I’m not wedded to any format, but I’d like not to have to give up functionality if I need to switch.

    “Verticals,” btw, is MBA-speak for vertical markets, roughly equivalent to business sector (e.g., banking, insurance). A horizontal market crosses multiple business sectors. Email software is a horizontal market. Crossword software is a vertical.

  14. Karen says:

    I’d be happy to solve some more puzzles in .jpz form…if I could find them. I’m still not sure where to find the CS puzzles, they seem to be posted to the Fiend forum later in the day than I want. Does CS have a puzzle page?

  15. Rex says:

    When I open puzzles in Puzzle Solver, cursor starts at 1A but shows *no clue* up top. Toggle to 1D, or any other clue, and clues appear fine, incl. 1A if I toggle back. Annoying. Interface just fine otherwise, I think.

  16. Amy Reynaldo says:

    Karen, the new format’s still in the process of being incorporated into the Washington Post’s presentation of CrosSynergy puzzles. I believe the goal is to complete the transition by April 22.

  17. Will says:

    @Tuning Spork — send me a message via wij at theworld and I will work with you to learn how .jpz xml coding works to see if I can help you create your special puzzle format. It would be instructive for me. I don’t have CC, so I would be hand-coding, a good way to learn. The gibberish is actually highly structured and human(geek)-readable and I can explain further in email.

  18. Tuning Spork says:

    @Will,

    Assuming that’s an e-mail address, is the tag .org?

  19. Howard B says:

    I just hope from a solver’s viewpoint that the interface and functionality of Solver catches up to AL; it shows promise but is a work in progress, and is understandably difficult to comfortably solve in its current state.

    Though as I said it shows definite promise, and if it can deliver in its promise to support the features of a variety of existing and future puzzles, along with the current solver-friendly features and customizations we rely on, then this will be a worthy endeavor indeed.

  20. Aaron says:

    Sounds like the designer of Solver could probably raise some money for the project with something like Kickstarter.

  21. pannonica says:

    I agree with Howard B. No intrinsic love for AcrossLite, but compared to everything else I’ve tried (Java applets and limited (due to my recently intermittent online status) acquaintance with .jpz/Solver) the navigation and attendant solving experience is much more intuitive and satisfying; I don’t think that’s one-hundred percent ascribable to familiarity with the software.

  22. Ellen says:

    Finally got around to trying it – YUCK! It took over 6:37 for the Tuesday 3/29 CS (which I’d expect to be under 3:00). Unless I’m completely missing something, I’m not able to navigate as in Across Lite. (I also hate all the Java applets.)

    If this becomes the format of choice, I’ll probably just print and solve on paper.

  23. Roy Leban says:

    I suspect most of the people commenting here have already seen the announcement about the ipuz format, but figured it would be useful for it to be here. The ipuz format is open to everyone and independent of any single company’s needs or implementation. While file formats cannot be protected, Puzzazz has explicitly granted perpetual, irrevocable, free rights so that there is no ambiguity. Similar perpetual, irrevocable, free rights are also granted to the ipuz trademark for puzzles that conform to the standard. The specification itself has been released under a Creative Commons license.

    The format itself is simple and very easy to work with. So far, it has taken most companies only a few hours to add ipuz support to their existing applications (various updates to ship soon). And, a fundamental feature of the format is built-in extensibility, so that companies can use it as their own native format, adding extensions for their proprietary features, while still supporting the standard.

    It is our hope that ipuz will become the new standard used by everyone.

    _______________

    Puzzazz is very pleased to announce the release of a new data format for puzzles, ipuz, an explicitly free format with a specification released under a Creative Commons license.

    We designed ipuz to meet the following goals:
    * Provide a simple, clean, consistent, and free industry standard format for representing puzzles.
    * Provide an implementation-independent format.
    * Provide a format that is easy to work with in code, for both creation and usage.
    * Support the vast majority of puzzle types.
    * Support significant puzzle variants.
    * Support extensibility for company-specific information and variants.
    * Support single puzzles (as a file, download, or as part of a larger file).

    The ipuz format is free to use in puzzle data and in software, and will always remain free. The ipuz trademarks are free to use for puzzles and software that conform to the standard. The specification is provided under a Creative Commons license. More details are provided in the specification.

    We’re hoping that a wide variety of companies and software support ipuz. Initially…
    * Beekeeper Labs has added it to their CrossFire crossword construction software (currently only in beta versions of their next release).
    * Crossdown will be adding support in the next version of their crossword construction application.
    * Crossword Man will support it in the next version of Sympathy Crossword Construction.
    * The Krosswordz solving application for Mac OS X will support it.
    * The Black Ink solving application for Mac OS X will support it.
    * XWordInfo will be supporting it for puzzle analysis.
    * The new site 14Across.com will be supporting it for puzzle upload.
    * Derek Slager’s HTML 5 solver (http://derekslager.com/puz/) will support it.
    * Puzzazz is supporting it for puzzle submissions.

    We welcome your feedback on the format, and we are setting up an industry advisory group to shepherd the ipuz format moving forward. You can send feedback either to me or to ipuz@ipuz.org.

    You can get the full ipuz specification at http://www.ipuz.org and see an example of an ipuz formatted puzzle at http://www.ipuz.org/example

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