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History of the puzzle generator

This web site started off long before the WWW even existed.

About 1981 I was playing around with making a simple program to generate Word Search puzzles. While I was poking around with the program, a friend convinced me to enter it into a programming contest hosted by a great computer magazine called Micro Cornucopia. It won third prize!

Eventually, a different friend prodded me into learning how to write HTML to create web pages. I did the typical static web pages. Eventually I decided I wanted to do interactive web pages and dredged up my Word Search program and wrote an HTML wrapper around it. This was in the late 1990's. The web page received a fair amount of traffic, and that prompted me into updating it even further.

I rewrote the wrapper and relaunched it in mid 2003. Just before Christmas of 2003, the web site was making about 25,000 puzzles a week. That was rather amazing to me.

From an early date, this program has been used by educators and students. This shows up in my usage graphs, and weekends get much less usage than weekdays, the summer goes way down, and Christmas time drops off to almost nothing.

From time to time, I add updates to the web site. I have a long list of things I'd like to do if I just get some time and enthusiasm. I also try to avoid breaking the program because people get annoyed by that.

Some of the changes add new features. Some of the changes have allowed the web site to handle characters from languages around the world. Some of the changes have been to support PDF puzzle output. All the while, more people are finding the web site and these days I create between 100,000 and 120,000 puzzles a week.

One thing to consider about that volume, is that there are only about 600,000 seconds in a week. So my web server is creating a puzzle, on average, every six seconds. Unfortunately, the puzzle requests don't come in evenly spread, they are clustered during the daylight hours of the USA on weekdays. This has taken its toll on bandwidth and computers, and I've had to replace the computer a few times as well as upgrade the communications line.

In about 2006, a friend goaded me into trying out the Google AdSense program for putting advertisements on the web page. I'd been resisting for years because I wasn't terribly interested and didn't want to festoon the web pages with a lot of unrelated content. But eventually he got to me and I added the ads. The income from the ads has been rather nice. It by no means allows me to quit my day job, but does make the decision to buy a new computer when needed an easy decision.

I periodically get pieces of email from students and teachers thanking me for the web site, so I know people are making good use of it.


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