Word Connection by Serkan Yürekli
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or solve online (using our beta test of Penpa-Edit tools; use tab to alternate between lineox mode where left click+drag draws lines and left click in a square marks O and X, and a Letter entry mode.)
Theme: Up to Eleven (for patron Phleb)
Author/Opus: This is the 111th puzzle from our contributing puzzlemaster Serkan Yürekli.
Rules: Place the words into the grid (one letter per cell) so that they do not touch each other, not even diagonally, and so that they can be read in a straight line in a vertical or horizontal direction. Some letters in the words are already given in the grid. Then find a path that passes through every cell of the grid, starting with the first letter of the first word, passing through the words in order from their first letters to their last letters, and ending at the last letter of the last word. Ignore the black cell.
Or see this example:
Answer String: Enter the number of turns the path takes between each of the words in order as a single string of numbers. (Ignore turns in cells with letters.) The answer for this example is “224”.
Time Standards (highlight to view): Grandmaster = 5:30, Master = 7:00, Expert = 14:00
Having mixed feelings here… After placing almost all the words logically and without the connection rule, connecting everything up took intuition and some adjusting. Not sure how to find a rigorous path for the second half, but fun puzzle anyway!
I agree with your description (logically placing the words, then tinkering around to connect them up). I think the intuition and lack of formal rigor in the connecting stage is pretty much how numberlink/arukone puzzles always feel to me anyway. There are a fair number of strictly logical things you need to do to avoid cutting off parts of the puzzle, but I definitely used “feel” quite a lot.