Support charity, get puzzles!
Patron Puzzles for Philanthropy

Grant's Review Corner: Volume 7

Today's volume of Grant's Review Corner is brought to you by Kakuro Conquest.

Wait a minute. . . "brought to you by"? What kind of BS is this? In past editions of Grant's Review Corner, the author (who would be me) has made a big stink about refusing to sell advertising space on his blog (which would be this one), and now all of a sudden we're in for some kind of advertorial? Well. . . yes and no. Let me explain what is happening here.

Last month, I was the recipient of this e-mail:

Hi Grant,

I've been following along on your puzzle blog and was wondering if you have ever considered writing about Kakuro and/or if I can be of any help to you.

My client is a website called: http://kakuroconquest.com and I am helping them do some linking.

Now I know it says that I shouldn't ask you for a link, and I promise that I am not dumb or illiterate. I am just wishing and hoping that maybe you'll change your mind.

If this didn't work, I am sorry for being a dick and wasting your time. If it did, thank you a ton.


I responded with my usual spiel:

I have gotten so many e-mails from marketing people who think they can get a free link to their stuff that it's refreshing to get an email from someone who realizes that my blog says I don't do that. Clearly you have read more of my blog than previous people who have sent similar queries, and as a reader, you have my utmost respect. I hope that my blog's content will continue provide you with brain-bending entertainment and never create any hard unpleasant feelings. :)

That being said, unless your client is willing to commission puzzles from me so I can self-promote ("Look at me, everybody, these guys paid me money to make puzzles! Go check out the puzzles I made for them, because you won't see them anywhere else!"), I'm afraid there's not much I can do to aid their quest for more hits. :)


A month later, much to my surprise, I've been paid US$126 in exchange for writing ten Kakuro puzzles for this client. Naturally, like anybody with a modicum of professionalism, I have made constructing these puzzles which I'm being paid to write a higher priority than frivolities such as constructing Monday Mutants. However, because a modicum of professionalism is all that I possess, I shall now proceed to express my feelings regarding this commission with the word "squee". Ahem.

Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

I would be nothing without a dose of shameless self-promotion, so part of the purpose of this edition of Grant's Review Corner is to shamelessly inform my readers that they will soon be able to find my puzzles in a place besides Sudoku Xtra and Akil Oyunlari. However, this post is just as much about Kakuro Conquest as it is about me, and as such, I will compare Kakuro Conquest's online interface with the online interfaces of two other well-known sites which offer interactive Kakuro puzzles, in an attempt to dissect what elements of the interface work and why, and whether I believe any changes are in order.

Let's start with Kakuro Conquest:
Yes, I had to look up the definition of "professionalism" in a dictionary. Don't judge me.

Props to the site's programmer for using JavaScript only and not Flash; I'm sure that readers who are allergic to Flash (maybe they're on an iPhone?) will greatly appreciate this. In fact, most of the functionality, such as being able to type numbers into the cells or check your solution, doesn't even require JavaScript; the three main uses of JavaScript are to automatically shrink the text in a cell when you enter more than one digit (see below), to show you all of the ways of reaching a particular sum when you click on it, and to let you move between the grid cells with the arrow keys in addition to with the Tab key. Thus, the site is accessible to a wide audience. Furthermore, the site sports a clean, non-distracting look. This may sound like such a small thing to praise, but I guarantee you that if the visuals were too distracting, I would demand that the client change that for the sake of everybody. Nobody is going to want to play my puzzles, or any puzzles, on an ugly website.

The ability to enter more than one candidate in a single cell is a trait which all three sites I am reviewing have in common, and it is sufficiently essential for hardcore Kakuro solvers that its presence, while a small detail, is still one I feel I must point out. On Kakuro Conquest, you simply type several numbers (like "12") into a single cell to do so. Easy! This is probably the best possible way to implement this feature in JavaScript.

Probably the only con I can think of is that there is no way to play puzzles on Kakuro Conquest without using the keyboard. This is a very minor issue, because the keyboard is usually faster anyway, and I can't think of a way to "fix" this issue without mucking up the elegance of the site using nothing more than JavaScript, but there might be situations when a solver would like to have the option of not using the keyboard, and the other two sites I'm reviewing offer a mouse-only interface in addition to keyboard functionality. *shrugs* Readers, what say you? Is this really an issue?

Now let's look at Conceptis:
The entire Conceptis website uses Flash, so if you're allergic to Flash, you're screwed. The interface is again very clean to look at, though. Conceptis Kakuro cannot be solved entirely through the keyboard; you must move the on-screen cursor with your mouse. However, you can enter numbers either by hovering your mouse over the cell and typing the number or by clicking on the cell and then clicking on the number from the numeric keypad that appears. To enter a candidate value, move your over the upper-left corner of a cell so a small box is highlighted instead of the entire cell, and then type or click as usual. When multiple candidate values are entered into a cell, they are automatically put in numerical order (1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9); this might be a convenience or a curse depending on whether the solver is trying to keep track of candidates for individual cells or track possibilities for the whole puzzle.

Another very minor quibble I have is with zooming. All of the puzzles on Conceptis let you zoom in or out to make the grid cells bigger or smaller, which isn't a bad thing in itself, but I don't always like having to zoom out to make the puzzle fit the window instead of only having 90% of it fit the window. This quibble is extremely minor because there are giant Link-a-Pix puzzles which would be unreadable if they started out filling the entire window, and I'd rather zoom out of Kakuro once or twice than into Link-a-Pix many times.

Finally, a look at nikoli.com:
nikoli.com probably has the most versatile interface of these three sites, as you can play entirely with the keyboard or entirely with the mouse. To enter candidates with the keyboard, hold spacebar while typing the number; with the mouse, click one of the four corners of the cell. All puzzles start out filling the window, but you can zoom in if you'd like to make them bigger for whatever reason (maybe playing on a low screen resolution or something). The largest puzzles on nikoli.com are much smaller than the largest puzzles on Conceptis, so they're always readable on the screen; I have no issues at all with nikoli.com's zooming.

I thought I could make this post awesome today, but too many extenuating real-life circumstances have given me an incredible headache to where I can't accomplish anything intellectual such as writing words. I am truly sorry, readers. I promise next week will be better. In the meanwhile, if you have any suggestions for Kakuro Conquest that would make the site better, whether they're based on the things I've said in this post or not, please, please, please post them here. The more constructive feedback their site gets from my readers as a result of having commissioned me to write puzzles, the more likely I am to get hired again. Oh, and they'll have a better website, too. :)

4 comments

David Millar said...

While I like the simplicity of Kakuro Conquest, I feel it misses the elegance that most printed or non-interactive kakuro puzzles have. Lack of attention to those details bugs me, even if the rest of the product is solid. A few things that might help:

- Tweaking the spacing of the clues in their boxes so the padding feels right.
- White numbers on black backgrounds is kind of a classic look, and the gray/black combo just looks weird in comparison. Maybe white on dark blue to keep with their theme, even?
- The little popup boxes showing possible combinations for each clue are a nice idea, but I don't care for the implementation. Too small to read sometimes, and the close button is small and annoying as well. A tooltip might be a better strategy.

But overall I appreciate the cleanliness of the site/app and it's use of JS over Flash, and I hope they continue to improve the app - both style-wise and by including more of your puzzles.

Kakuro Conquest said...

David,

Thanks for your thoughts. Very much appreciated.

We'll take your suggestions into consideration.

Thanks for playing!

stigant said...

One small quibble about the keyboard on KakuroConquest: the cursor position within the cell affects the number of key-presses it takes to move to the next cell horizontally. This is annoying if you are trying to enter a bunch of cells in a horizontal line using the keyboard. One press left or right ought to take me immediately to the next cell. I know that interferes with the note-taking system, but I find it much more distracting than having less freedom with notes. I think a less obtrusive interface can be found at http://killersudokuonline.com/play.html?puzzle=D34p27v2133
Number keys toggle the notes for each number (rather than using delete to remove a note). It's a little more cumbersome to enter notes, but being able to go from cell to cell with only one keypress is more natural.

Grant Fikes said...

stigant: I kinda noticed that, but I guess I didn't mention it since Shift+Tab is an easy work around. Glad you brought it up!

Blog Archive