A word search, word find, word seek, word sleuth or mystery word puzzle is a word game that is letters of a word in a grid, that usually has a rectangular or square shape. The object of the game is to find and mark all of the words hidden in the grid. The words may have been placed horizontally, vertically or diagonally. They may have been written backwards or not. Often a list of the hidden words is provided, but more challenging puzzles may let the player figure them out. Many word search puzzles have a theme to which all the hidden words are related.
Word searches are commonly found in daily newspapers and puzzle books. Some teachers use them as educational tools for children, the benefit being that young minds can learn new words and their spellings by intensively searching for them, letter by letter, in the puzzle.
The puzzle grid may be represented instead as a string of characters in versions of the game designed for text messaging, or SMS, on mobile devices, particularly cell phones. In this case, the object may be to only find one word or a few words hidden among the character string. The hidden word(s) may be presented backwards more frequently than in the traditional word search puzzle as it is impossible to arrange them diagonally or vertically. A clue to assist the player in finding the hidden word(s) may be provided, as well.
Another strategy is to look for 'outstanding' letters within the word one is searching for (if a word list is provided). Since most word searches use capital letters, it is easiest to spot the letters that stand out from others. These letters are Q, O, U, X, and Z.
Lastly, the strategy of looking for double letters in the word being searched for (if a word list is provided) proves helpful, because it is easier to spot two identical side-by-side letters among a large grid of random letters.
If a word list is not provided, a way to find words is to go row by row. First, all the horizontal rows should be read both backwards and forwards, then the vertical, and so on.
Sometimes the puzzle itself will help. The puzzles generated by a computer tend to put words in patterns. Furthermore, the bigger the words and the more words, the easier they are to spot. In some computer-generated puzzles, if the person solving the puzzle sees one word, all they have to do to find more is to look in adjacent rows, columns, or diagonals. The puzzle might use every row, column, or diagonal—or just every other row, column, or diagonal.
Selenby was a small want-ad digest distributed free at Safeway and other stores in the town. The original page size is 8.5 by 5.5 inches.
The puzzle was very popular locally and several more followed this original. Some teachers in the Norman schools asked for reprints to use in their classes. One teacher sent them around the country to various friends in other schools. Undoubtedly one of these scattered copies eventually led somebody to sell the idea to a syndicator and the rest is history.
Another type of word search puzzle contains a trivia question at the bottom. Like a traditional word search puzzle, words from a word list must be circled or crossed through in the puzzle. There is also one or more extra word or phrase hidden in the puzzle that is not in the word list. This word or phrase usually answers the trivia question at the bottom of the page.