Wynne's Box icon Wynne's Box


cave man with arms outstretched

Non-competitive word play (for example, creating puns or anagrams) and oral contests involving words are ancient activities.

From children to adults, from the minimally educated to the highly educated, from one culture to another -- people enjoy playing with words.

There are many kinds of word games. Some are oral: homophone games, rumor, fortunately/unfortunately. Charades is silent and gestural. Some require paper and pencil while others are played on a board using tiles, cards, dice, timers and other equipment. Many can be played on a computer.

All word games are governed by rules and have a goal which may be simply completing a task or completing it in the briefest time or with the most points. They can be played merely for pleasure or competitively -- alone, in pairs and in groups. Word games can be educational, and there is some evidence that playing them can help keep our minds sharp as we age.1

Which is the most popular word game? It may be Hangman and its variants. It's played by everyone from young children to adults, and the televised version -- Wheel of Fortune -- is hugely popular. But crossword puzzles are probably the most popular, in part because they can be theme-based (celebrities, sports, and so on) and because they can vary in difficulty. They are published in many newspapers and magazines and there are entire books of crossword puzzles. There are several variations such as the cryptic crossword puzzle. They are used schools and they are even found on place mats in restaurants.

Crossword Puzzles

Airoldi's first crossword puzzle

The first crossword puzzle (above), designed by Giuseppe Airoldi, appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. There are no black squares, but there are horizontal and vertical clues.

Arthur Wynne

word-cross puzzle by Arthur Wynne

Arthur Wynne created puzzles for the Fun section of the Sunday edition of the New York World. On December 21, 1913 he published his first "word-cross" puzzle." A few weeks later a typesetting error resulted in the name being changed to "crossword." Later he introduced symmetrically-placed black squares into his puzzles.

Crossword puzzles gained popularity and became a regular feature of many newspapers and later magazines. The canonical square shape with a different numbering system evolved. The first book of crossword puzzles was published in 1924. Several variations have been created.2


American architect Alfred Mosher Butts created a word game he called Lexiko in 1933, but it was rejected by game manufacturers. Butts had analyzed the frequency of letters in the New York Times and other sources. He used the results to determine the count of each letter and its point value in the game; that is, there are more of the commonly-used letters and their point values are less than the less-frequently-used letters. In 1938 he created Criss-Crosswords which eventually was named Scrabble.3 This game used a 15 x 15 board on which words were arranged vertically and horizontally in the manner of a crossword puzzle. He retained the letter frequencies of Lexiko.

Cotton Word Games

Most Cotton Software word games use the cross-word puzzle format. The idea of arranging letters so that two words intersect horizontally and vertically and, therefore, share a letter is simple and quite old. In an acrostic poem the first letters of each line serve as the first letters of the first words of each line and, vertically, they form another word (or words). The format wasn't invented, but developed over time.

Our word games are based on designs found in the notebooks of Muppim Asa Darby. He created complex word games played on a 16 x 16 board roughly fifty years before Wynne's first crossword puzzle and seventy years before Butts' creation. Cotton Software has developed some of Asa's ideas into complete word games. For more information about Asa and his notebooks see Muppim Asa Darby: Creator of Cotton Word Games.

Wynne's Box

A good crossword puzzle has few empty (black) squares; the words are tightly packed. When playing Wynne's box, you earn more points by putting as many letters into as small an area (box) as possible. You do not want to spread out words across the board.

Your score is not based on the number of letters you put on the board, but the number of letters you own (or co-own) inside your box.4 Your score is a measure of how full your box is -- the percentage of fullness multiplied by 100 and rounded up or down.

The extent (size) of the box that encloses your letters is determined by the topmost and bottommost rows and the leftmost and rightmost columns of the letters that you own or co-own.

game board

Blue's box is 3 squares high and 5 squares wide for 15 squares total. Blue owns 8 letters in the box. Blue's score is 53 (8 letters divided by 15 squares * 100).

Any letters placed inside your box increases your score. If Blue were to place an "S" after "FLUE" to form the word "FLUES" the size of Blue's box would not increase but the number of letters in the box would. Blue's score would increase from 53 to 60 (9 letters divided by 15 squares * 100).

game board

Red's box is 5 squares high and 2 squares wide for 10 squares total. Red owns 5 letters in the box. Red's score is 50 (5 divided by 10 * 100).

Unlike a crossword puzzle the enclosing boxes change size. Any letters placed outside of your current box, increases the size of your box and may decrease your score. If Red were to place an "O" after the top "G" to form the word "GO" the size of Red's box would increase from 10 to 15 (3 x 5). Red would own 6 letters and Red's score would decrease from 50 to 40 (6 letters divided by 15 squares * 100).

Wynne's Box is unlike other word games. The goal is not to place the most letters on the board nor to form the longest words nor to use the most difficult letters. The goal is to create the highest density box -- to place as many letters as possible in the smallest box possible. You receive no bonus for using all seven tiles in your tray to form a word (sometimes called a bingo).

See also

Quick Intro to Wynne's Box

Kinsey's Slide and Sliding Puzzles


1Do word games make you smarter? Can they retard mental decline? For more information see Benefits of Word Games.

2Edward Powys Mathers is often credited as the inventor of the cryptic crossword. Elizabeth Kingsley is credited with inventing the acrostic puzzle. Roger Squire created over 60,000 crossword puzzles.

3SCRABBLE is a registered trademark of Hasbro, Inc. in the United States and Canada and Mattel, Inc. elsewhere.

4At Basic Level you own only the letters you put on the board. You receive one point for each letter (including blanks) you own in your box. At Advanced Level you own the letters you put on the board and you take co-ownership of any of your opponent's letters that are in the primary word.