Word Search Rules and Info

Example Word Search and solution

Rules: Locate the given words in the grid, running in one of eight possible directions horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.

Answer String: Varies by puzzle. There may be an unused word or a message hidden another way to discover related to the puzzle. Enter this word/message, in ALL CAPS and without spaces or other punctuation. This example has the key “CERES”.

(Brief) History of Word Searches: Descended from observational puzzles. The American word search was first published in 1968 in the Selenby Digest in Norman, Oklahoma. The original creator was Norman E. Gibat. (Note: puzzles in Spanish called “Sopas de letras”/”Soup of Letters” were created earlier but were unlikely to have influenced Gibat.) The idea circulated slowly until finally picked up by some newspaper syndicators. Word Searches are now in most major newspapers and puzzle magazines.

History of this example: This planetary word search was written for a puzzle seminar by Thomas Snyder soon after the demotion of “Pluto” as a planet.

Other sources: More Word Search puzzles can be found from a variety of sources, including some future publications from Grandmaster Puzzles.

Design rules for contributors: A Grandmaster Word Search will have a unique solution that can be reached by observation alone. Words should be interlinked (cross at letters) and a large majority of the letters in the grid should be crossed by words. The words should be linked thematically, although the word list need not be provided. Standard variations, including missing letters, rebus clues, or bending words, are also encouraged.

  • Michelle Renwick Wilson says:

    What about a word within a word? Today’s puzzle had ADRIFT and DRIFT. I couldn’t find the words separately. Is it OK to use one word for two different words?

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      Generally speaking, words should never overlap completely; generally speaking, similar words should not appear in the same puzzle anyway. But what we say generally should be true won’t be followed by all puzzle providers.

  • Word Search Lover says:

    I was absolutely disgusted when I had a wordsearch word backwards, this is a breach of the British crossword rules and I am flabergasted that some idiot could do this to my favourite hobby. I am so angry I think that I am going to write a letter of complaint to the company, cable educational ltd, I am so angry. I would like to hear your thoughts

  • Susan Smith says:

    We created a puzzle for saying hello in many different languages. Should we include the accent marks in the word list and/or puzzle?

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      There are no “rules” for that kind of formatting choice, but my recommendation is that if you do use the accent marks in the word lists, then you also use the symbols in the puzzle and have separate meanings for e, é, …, so a regular e and an accented é are distinct characters in the grid.

  • Rita says:

    Must they be single word answers?

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      Anything that can be given in a word list is fair game as long as it is clear how a multi-word phrase if put in the grid. For instance, I’ve seen full names used either as one long string (e.g., “GEORGEWASHINGTON”) or as separate words (“GEORGE” and “WASHINGTON” as two separate entries).

  • Keith says:

    What rule(s) apply when inadvertent words appear in a puzzle that are not in the official listed words? My spouse got upset with me when I was highlighting/finding unpublished words.

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      The goal of the word search is usually to find the intended words only (which may be linked by a theme or in another way). Inadvertent words do not need to be searched for.

  • Karen Fredericks says:

    Should word search puzzle lists of words to find, be alphabetized? Many thanks!

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      Generally speaking, words are alphabetized in most of the sources I’ve seen but there is no reason this has to always be the case. For instance, if searching for the first and last names of people (as separate entries), the editor should group together those related entries rather than split and alphabetize.

  • Bee Solver says:

    Thank you for sharing this insightful and informative piece about the history and design of word searches. It’s intriguing to learn about their origins as observational puzzles and how they’ve evolved into a popular form of entertainment across different cultures. The details about the American word search’s inception and its ties to current events, such as the planetary puzzle after Pluto’s demotion, add an extra layer of interest. Your concise explanation helps readers appreciate the puzzle’s complexity and thematic elements.

  • Bobby says:

    Hi, I’m creating a word search and crossword puzzle book for adults. Does it matter if I put the solutions on the page following the puzzle or do they have to be at the back of the book for some reason? The layout would be much simpler if it’s OK to put them right after the puzzle itself. Thanks!

    • Avatar photo drsudoku says:

      There are several reasons the solutions stay separate, which is the editorial style here at GMPuzzles, but this doesn’t have to be required. It is worth knowing how your audience will use the solutions and what risks there are if they are closer to the puzzle itself. For instance, solvers may be concerned with seeing parts of the solution when working on the puzzle or when flipping through the book. One approach I’ve seen is having the solutions be 180 degrees rotated or otherwise obscured on the next page to partially remove this concern of accidentally seeing part of the answer.

  • Rebecca says:

    I would like to know if there are any apps that let you calculate how many words can we have for a word search puzzle book depending on the book page length? For example, how many words for a 90-page word search puzzle book.

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