News Archive

Introducing "7-by-many" puzzles

Reusable letter array

It is now possible to create a puzzle in which each letter can be used multiple times in making a word.

This type of puzzle has seven letters, all different, but each letter can be used as many times as necessary in making a word. Hence it is a "seven-by-many" puzzle. In these puzzles words must have at least five letters. There is no upper limit on word length.

There will be at least one word that uses all seven letters, but it may well have more than seven letters. As in all Chihuahua puzzles, the letter in the middle must be used in every word.

To create a 7-by-many puzzle, go to the Your Puzzles tab.

The "Your puzzles" tab

Click on the New... button and then select the "Allow letters to be reused" option near the top of the New Puzzle display. To play 7-by-many puzzles other players have created, click on the Open... button, to bring up the Puzzle Menus and look for a tick/check mark in the "Reuse letters?" row.

Because each letter can be played multiple times, you cannot submit your word by double-clicking on the last letter, as you can in 9- and 10-letter puzzles. Submit a word by clicking the arrow icon Submit button to the left of the word or the Submit button towards the bottom left of the display. In these puzzles you cannot rearrange the letters played by dragging them, but you can remove them one at a time using the backspace button Backspace button  width= towards the bottom left of the display.

Have fun playing 7-by-many puzzles, and let us know what you think about them.

New address for alternate Chihuahua site

In 2012 an alternate Chihuahua website was introduced, as a fallback in situations where the main site was unavailable or not working properly. This alternate address is now changing, from to For the time being the old address will still be usable, and will redirect you to the new address.

Behind the scenes, the new address will take you to a server located in the USA, so if you are in the Northern Hemisphere this address may load faster than, which is hosted in Australia.

As before, you can play at whichever of the Chihuahua addresses you find most responsive, and switch between them whenever you wish. All the moves you make should be recorded on both while things are working normally.

There are links to both addresses just below the puzzle area, and an "Alt. site" button near the Reset button at the bottom right of the layout. But if you want to be as certain as possible of always being able to get your Chihuahua fix, you can bookmark both of the addresses.

Large print Chihuahua book

A large print book of 75 Chihuahua puzzles has just been released. The book uses well spaced 16 point type for all text, including puzzle targets and solutions.

Large print Chihuahua puzzle books in three different formats

The book comes in a choice of three formats. As well as a paperback edition with standard paperback binding, there are two coil-bound editions which are easy to open out flat at any page. The difference between the coil-bound versions is size: there is a large format edition (US letter size, similar to A4) and a more compact edition (A5 size, a more typical paperback size). The smaller book may be more convenient for taking with you when you're out and about, but the larger book has more space under each puzzle for you to write your words.

The conventionally bound paperback will be available from all the major online book sellers, but the two coil-bound editions are available only from

I'm relying on feedback from readers to guide me in the design of any future large print books. Please send in your comments and suggestions.

Select your own letters

There is a new option to create Chihuahua puzzles using letters you choose.

Where to input puzzle letters

You can input the letters of any nine- or ten-letter word. Or you can simply input the right number of lettters, even if they don't make a word that uses all the letters.

This option is available under the Your puzzles tab.

The "Your puzzles" tab

When you click the New... button, the form that comes up allows you to "Choose your own letters".

Example of input puzzle letters

The number of letters you need to supply depends on whether the "Nine" or "Ten" button is selected for the number of letters in the puzzle. You don't need to worry about jumbling the letters of a nine- or ten-letter word: they will be shuffled on the puzzle board. As with any puzzle created under Your puzzles, you can publish the puzzle (if you are a registered player) so that other people can play it.

If there is no word using all the puzzle letters you have specified, a message to that effect will display when anyone first opens that puzzle. The specification of puzzle size (number of common words) has no effect when the letters are chosen by a player, and the option to exclude words that may offend is not available.

New word display options

New word display options

You have some new options in how you view the words of a Chihuahua puzzle. These can be controlled using checkboxes at the bottom of the word panel. You may need to scroll down the list to see them. You can now turn off the ability to see a word's definition by clicking it or to drag a word back to the rack where new words are entered. This could be useful if you are using a touch screen where you tend to do these things inadvertently when you are trying to scroll up and down the list.

There is also a brand new option: to see a count of how many players have found each word.

Word display options with counts selected

With the Counts option selected, there is a List by plays button which shows you the words ordered according to how many times each word was played.

List of words in order of plays

In this list, rare words are shown in italics, as in the main word display. If you look at this sorted list while you are seeing the solution of a puzzle, the words you didn't find are shown in red. Whether you see the rare words you didn't find is controlled by the same checkbox (at the top right of the word panel) that determines whether you see those words in the main display.

Alongside the new options at the bottom of the word panel is a ? button to bring up a help page on the word display options.

If the option to get a word's definition is turned on, these are shown in a new way.

Word definition display

Instead of seeing a page from the Wiktionary website, showing a lot of other details (etymology, pronunciation, etc) before getting to the word meaning, there is now a streamlined display showing just the part(s) of speech and meaning(s). The information is taken from Wiktionary wherever possible. If a word that is not in Wiktionary was added to the Chihuahua word list following a player suggestion, the display will show the meaning identified at the time the word was accepted for Chihuahua. Where no definition is available, there will be a link to the Collins Dictionary Scrabble Checker, which has brief definitions for every word allowed in Scrabble tournaments. Hopefully, these sources will cover just about all the words allowed in Chihuahua.

Player Statistics Page

There is now a page you can visit to see how well you have performed at playing Chihuahua daily puzzles over the years.

Sample of player statistics page

The buttons across the top allow you to choose which kind of data you want to look at. There's a Help button that provides an explanation of the types of statistics available. You can only see data about your own performance, except for information on how you rank among all players.

There are two ways to get to the Player Statistics page: if you're signed in with your Chihuahua password, open your Player Details by clicking the Details button under your player name, and then click the Player Statistics button at the top right of the panel; or follow the link shown near the bottom of the Chihuahua home page.

The stats are grouped by year, and go back as far as 2008, if you've been playing since then with the same player identity. (The 10-letter puzzle only started in 2011.) Only the daily puzzles are included, not random puzzles or "Your puzzles". The statistics awill be updated periodically - probably once a month. The heading on the page tells the latest date covered.

Please let us know about any problems or suggestions.

Chihuahua Classic Puzzle Book

Image of the Chihuahua Classic book cover

The latest book of Chihuahua puzzles is a little different from previous volumes. It's called Chihuahua Classic, and contains puzzles that have appeared on this website, accompanied by charts and statistics of the results players achieved online. The intention is that the player of the puzzles in the book can measure their success against the people who played the puzzle when it appeared on the website.

Sample of percentage benchmarks

Each puzzle is one that was a daily Standard or Challenge puzzle at some stage from 2007 to mid-2012. Instead of the usual set of target levels (Good, Better, Best, Maven, Cham), the book shows the numbers of words found by various percentages of players. So you can set yourself the target of matching, say, the top 25% of players (56 words or more, in the example shown).

Image of the Chihuahua Classic book cover

The book also has a barchart for each puzzle, similar to the chart below the scoreboard on the website, showing numbers of players in each range of scores.

I've no idea whether there will be any demand for a book like this. It would appeal, I suppose, to the Chihuahua nerd - a fairly small segment of the population, I'm afraid - but time will tell.

The book is now available at and, and most other online booksellers.

Alternate address for Chihuahua

In the continuing struggle against Chihuahua withdrawal symptoms, now there is an alternate site where you can play: If the original site,, is not working properly because of overload or other system problems, there's a good chance the other site will be functioning as normal.

In fact, you can play at whichever of these addresses you find most responsive, and switch between them whenever you wish. All the moves you make should be recorded on both while things are working normally.

There are links to both addresses just below the puzzle area, and a new "Alt. site" button near the Reset button at the bottom right of the layout. But if you want to be as certain as possible of always being able to get your Chihuahua fix, you can bookmark both of the addresses.

This second address is a new way of overcoming the Dreaded Yellow Box, and accordingly a link to the alternate site is now included in the box.

Dreaded yellow box, saying puzzle cannot be loaded, with link to alternate address

The Dreaded Yellow Box - may you never see it.

Chihuahua diary, 2012

Clip of Chihuahua diary interior

A 2012 diary containing weekly Chihuahua puzzles is now available. You can order it online from — follow this link. Before long it will be listed by other online booksellers.

Image of the Chihuahua diary's cover

The diary contains 54 puzzles, half of them nine-letter puzzles and half ten-letter puzzles. The puzzles are larger than many of the puzzles on this website, with the aim of keeping you occupied throughout the week. Each puzzle has between 71 and 100 common words to find, with a corresponding large tally of rare words. Total words, common and rare, range between 136 and 218.

All the possible words for each puzzle are listed at the back of the diary.

The diary also identifies important dates often overlooked, such as Noah Webster's birthday and the anniversary of the first crossword puzzle.

How long have I got?

Puzzle closing times

Chihuahua now has some extra ways of finding out when each of the daily puzzles closes. The tab for each daily puzzle, other than the one you currently have open, shows the time when the new puzzle of that type begins each day.

Start times on puzzle tabs

This time is based on your computer's clock setting. Normally it will be an exact hour or half hour. (If the calculated time is within 2 minutes of the half hour, it is rounded to the half hour. If the time shows an odd number of minutes, it may mean that the clock is set wrongly on either the Web server or your computer.)

By moving the mouse pointer over one of these time displays, you can also see how long it will be before the current puzzle under that tab closes.

Start times on puzzle tabs

As before, there is a note at the bottom of the puzzle you have open to show you when that puzzle closes.

Smaller puzzle option

When you're pressed for time, you can now get a puzzle with fewer words under the Your puzzles tab. The new "Small" option generates a puzzle having between 15 and 25 common words. The option is available for both nine- and ten-letter puzzles.

Will you be able to "finish" one of these smaller puzzles faster than a larger one? That remains to be seen: no guarantees are offered!

The Day of the Chinchilla

Some new features have been added to the Chihuahua word puzzle.

Chinchilla picture Chinchilla picture

Ten-letter puzzles, named "Chinchilla", are now available to play. There's a daily puzzle, as well as random puzzles and a ten-letter option in Your Puzzles. To try out the ten-letter puzzle of the day, click on the 10 Letters tab.

10 Letters tab

Why "Chinchilla"? Since "Chihuahua" is a nine-letter name for nine-letter puzzles, some of the players chatting in the Forum thought we needed a ten-letter name for the new option.

The daily Chinchilla puzzle starts 8 hours later than the Standard puzzle (at 8 am GMT). The daily Challenge puzzle will be brought forward by 8 hours, so that the three daily puzzles will start at 8-hourly intervals. You can find out how long before a puzzle closes by checking the message at the bottom of the board.

There's also now a Full Screen button Full Screen button which opens up a new browser window at maximum size, with the puzzle arranged to make best use of the available screen space, giving as much room as possible for your words. This reduces the need for scrolling.

(In many browsers, pressing the F11 key will gain even more space for your puzzle, by completely eliminating the window frame. Press F11 again to reverse this.)

Please let us know if you have any problems with the new features. And of course we'd like to see your comments.

Chihuahua puzzles, volume 3

Image of the Chihuahua book's cover

The third volume of Chihuahua puzzles is now available. You can order it online from — follow this link. Before long it will be listed by other online booksellers.

More details are on the Books page.

As always, your comments are welcome. If you've tried out one of the previous books and have some suggestions for future volumes, visit the forum, or send an email to

And, if you've bought one of the Chihuahua books, have you considered leaving a review on the site where you bought the book?

Second Chihuahua book released

Image of the Chihuahua book's cover

A second volume of Chihuahua puzzles is now available. You can order it online from — follow this link. Before long it will be listed by other online booksellers, such as Barnes and Noble.

Like the first volume, the new book has 100 puzzles of the same type as the ones you have grown to know and love on this website. The main difference is that all words ending in S are permitted, but the number of puzzles having an S has been kept low, for the benefit of those who would find it tedious writing down a lot of plurals.

More details are on the Books page.

As always, your comments are welcome.

Now, daily chat and plurals option

Today, two new features are added to the Chihuahua site:

Daily chat

For some time, players of custom-made puzzles under the Your puzzles tab have had the opportunity to chat to other players looking at the same puzzle. Now the Chi-chat panel is coming to the daily puzzles. For now, chatting will be possible only with the Challenge (green) puzzle. If the innovation is a success it may be extended to the Standard puzzle as well.

You can choose whether you want to take part in Chi-chat. A button at the bottom right of the chat panel allows you to open or close the panel. For more details, see the Chi-chat Help.

Plurals option

Many players relish the challenge of knowing which words ending in S are acceptable, but if you find it all a bit too convoluted, there's a new option just for you. When creating a custom-built puzzle under the Your puzzles tab, you can click on the "Allow all words ending with S" option, and cut through the confusion.

The new option doesn't guarantee that each puzzle will include an S, but it does mean that whenever there is an S, you'll be able to use all the plurals and verb inflections the puzzle letters can make.

Chihuahua puzzle book released

Image of the Chihuahua book's cover

Now you can get your Chihuahua puzzle fix wherever you are, with a Chihuahua book!

A book of 100 Chihuahua puzzles has just been published. The price is $US9.95. Books can be ordered online, for delivery by mail, from either:

Soon, the book will also be available at Amazon sites in the UK, Canada, etc, and from other book retailers' websites.

Although the puzzles in the book are the same type as the ones on the website, the actual puzzles are not repeats of ones that have appeared recently online: none of the puzzles in the book is the same as any daily puzzle from the past 12 months, and none of the nine-letter words has appeared in any daily puzzle over the past 3 years.

One thing different from the online puzzles is that, in the book, all plurals are acceptable in the puzzles that contain an S.

More information is presented on the new Chihuahua Puzzle Books page.

Please tell us what you think about this move, by email or on the Lexigame Forum.

The prehistory of Chihuahua

It's no secret that the Chihuahua word puzzle on this website was inspired by the "Target" puzzles in several newspapers around the world. But the original source of this type of word-making puzzle was a parlour game which was around in the 1870s, if not earlier.

In the Oxford Guide to Word Games (2003), Tony Augarde quotes from an article in Chambers's Journal for 20 April 1872 about a game called, simply, "Words", where players made as many words as they could in five minutes from the letters of a given word. A few weeks later, this article was reprinted in the New York Times in a section headed "Drawing-Room Games". We can read this article, courtesy of the New York Times online archive.

1st part of newspaper article 2nd part of newspaper article 3rd part of newspaper article 4th part of newspaper article

Given the intense debates that have raged about plural words in Chihuahua, it's interesting to note that way back then, plurals - and inflected forms of verbs - were disallowed.

Another noteworthy feature of the game described is the elimination of words found by other players. Something similar has been included in some recent computer games, for example WordZap. In The Penguin Book of Word Games (1982), David Parlett suggested a variant where you would score for every word you found, but get a bonus point for each word found by only one other player and more bonus points points for each word nobody else claimed.

It might be entertaining to have a variant of Chihuahua with a five-minute time limit and this type of scoring rule. What do people think?

One statement in this article from 136 years ago that is just as true of our contemporary game is: "Nothing but practice can make perfect at this amusement..." (Although "perfect" is an unattainable goal for most of us, no matter how hard we practise.)

(So, how many words can be made from the letters of Cambridge, the example used in the article? In the Chihuahua word list, there are no fewer than 311 words using these letters. 154 of them are classed as common. These numbers include some past tenses of verbs, such as aimed and braced, which presumably would have been disallowed in the 1870s game.)

Now, make and share your own puzzles

The Chihuahua puzzle page has a new section: Your puzzles. When you click on this tab at the top of the display, you will see a whole new world of Chihuahua goodies!

Sample view of Your puzzles

The goal of the upgrade is to give you more control over the type of puzzle you play, and who you play it with.

Chi-chat panel

You can make a Chihuahua puzzle whenever you like, selecting from a set of options. (More options will be introduced over time.) You can then play this puzzle, by yourself, with selected friends to whom you send its identifying code, or with a wider circle of Chihuahua players by publishing your puzzle to a selection menu.

See the Help pages for full details.

While you're playing a puzzle that you or another player has made, you can exchange friendly banter with your fellow-players in the Chi-chat panel. The player who makes a puzzle decides whether it will have a Chi-chat panel.

Please let us know what you think about Your puzzles. Have your say in the Lexigame Forum, or send a comment using the contact form on the About Chihuahua page, or just send an email to

Happy Birthday to Us!

Happy birthday, Chi! Chihuahua is two years old today. Happy birthday, Chi!

Many thanks to all the regular players, whose presence on the scoreboard has made Chihuahua the lively site it is. And thanks also to those who have taken part in the Lexigame forum over the past few months, adding another dimension of social interaction to the site.

We've presented a lot of statistics about Chihuahua in the past, and we could produce lots more - probably to the total boredom of most players. But here are a few striking facts about Chihuahua players during the month of August:

Obviously the game has attracted a core of dedicated - nay, fanatical - players.

Since our first birthday, there have been a number of changes to the game. Probably the one that had the greatest impact was the introduction of the coveted rosette (a.k.a. the flower) for finding all the words classed as common. Like several of the other improvements to the game, this resulted from suggestions made by players.

We've also had some problems during the past year, with the site being unavailable for days at a time on a couple of occasions because of Web hosting problems of one sort or another. But the arrangements now in place have been working pretty well for several months, so let's hope all our major problems are behind us. (Touch wood.)

There are more improvements to Chihuahua coming up soon, because we want our third year to be even better than the previous two. So, stay tuned!

New ways to look at the scores

Chihuahua now gives you more information about your progress in the game, and it even lets you change the information you see on the scoreboard!

The first thing you may notice is some new information at the top of your word list:

Common word count at top of list

This shows how many words you can still make, excluding the relatively rare words shown in italics in the word list.

You can also change the scoreboard, so the word totals shown exclude these rare words. Just press the button labelled "Rare", at the top of the scoreboard. Press the button again to revert to including all words in the scores. You can always tell whether the rare words are included by seeing whether the tick/check mark is visible after the word "Rare". There's also a note at the bottom of the scores when the rare words are excluded.

Rare words includedRare words excluded

Also on the scoreboard, there are two new symbols you will occasionally see after some players' names. You will want to see one of them after your name, because they indicate that a player has found 100% of the available words. The rosette appears when someone has found all the common (that is, not rare) words in a puzzle. The trophy appears when a player has found absolutely all the possible words, common and rare. (Of course anyone who gets the trophy must also have got the rosette.) Good luck with getting one of these - it's not easy, even for the best players.

Finally, there is a dial to the right of the progress bar that shows at a glance how many of the common words you have found:

Common words progress dial

Move the mouse pointer over this dial to see the number and percentage of the common words you've played so far.

You may think some of the "common" words are not very common. The term is a relative one - the words classed as "common" are meant to be more widely known and used than those classed as "rare". The aim is that a reasonably well-read English-speaking person will be likely to have encountered all of our "common" words at some time. But the list relies on subjective judgement, so don't get angry if it includes some words you've never seen. You'll know them next time, right? (If you have any complaints or suggestions about the word lists, send them in, or post a message on the forum.)

Join in the discussion of these changes at the Lexigame Forum. See what other players are saying, and add your own comments if you feel so inclined.

Has shuffling improved results?

In the Lexigame Forum, regular player mymermaid has asked if the percentage of words found has increased since the shuffle option was introduced. She says, "I am sure that my percentage is much higher." Other players have also said the ability to shuffle the letters has helped them find extra words.

In the period from the start of the year till the introduction of the shuffle, on 23 February, the average percentage of standard words found by all players was 55.7%. Since the shuffle function came in, the average has been 57.1%. If we restrict our calculations to registered players (to eliminate the impact of one-off "anon" players who submit a couple of words and then depart), the percentage found this year was 60.9% before the shuffle, and 62.3% since.

These increases don't seem large enough for us to say the shuffle function has had a definite effect. We may need to wait until more data are available.

The following graph shows the percentage of standard words found by registered players in daily Standard and Challenge puzzles so far this year.

Find rate graph

The shuffle function came in on 23 February.

But maybe shuffling helps especially in finding the "big" words? Here the evidence looks a little stronger. Among registered players, the percentage of nine-letter standard words found before the shuffle was available was 65.2%. Afterwards it was 2.5% higher, at 67.7%. (Although the lowest success rate for the year was a few days after the shuffle came in, when only 32% of players found GEARSHIFT.)

Of course the slight impact of the new option on players over-all does not rule out the possibility that some players, like mymermaid, have been able to use the new feature to their advantage. In fact, the success rates might continue increasing over time, as more players discover the usefulness of the shuffle.

What has been your experience? You can have your say in the Forum.

More improvements

Chihuahua has had another upgrade. The newest features are:

As always, we'd love to hear any comments on these changes. Go to the Lexigame Forum or send a message from the Contact Page.

New improved Chihuahua

Some new features have been added to Chihuahua. Try them out!

Player registration

Name panel screenshot

The main change is that you now have the option of registering a player name and password, so you can sign in from any computer and continue your previous game. You can still play without registering if you prefer, but registration is simple and free, and should put an end to those vanishing-words blues!

Check out the details on the Help page.

If you don't register, you can play under an unregistered player name, as in the past - just type your chosen name in the "Your name" field and start playing, leaving the password blank. But if you don't register, you won't be able to play the same puzzle on different computers, and you may have trouble retrieving your words even on the same computer. Also, an unregistered player has no guarantee that someone else won't start using their name.

And more...

Future plans

As the number of registered players builds up, we are planning to start up a comment board next to the puzzle, so players can exchange remarks as they play.

We're also planning a system that will let you send friends a link to a random puzzle that you're playing, so they can play too. You'll be able to set up your own private competition.

Another change we have in mind is to introduce a new puzzle type where only the words from the standard vocabulary would go on to the scoreboard. The focus would be on trying to find every single possible word from the standard list, rather than getting an astronomical score by finding lots of extremely rare words.

Please let us know if you have any problems with the site. We have tried to test all the changes thoroughly, but it's always possible a few bugs may have snuck in. And let us know your thoughts about the new features, and other things you'd like to see in the future.

Chihuahua goes awol ... but comes back

The Chihuahua word puzzle is back at after an absence of about a week.

The problem was a complicated foul-up with the registration of "" as our domain name. The principal cause of things going wrong was a high level of disorganisation in the company we were using for domain registration and web hosting services. Once the site went off the air, we possibly made things worse with panicky attempts to solve the problem by transferring to a different provider. For a while, we seemed to be in a bureaucratic black hole where the domain name couldn't be transferred because it was expired, and it couldn't be renewed because there was a pending transfer!

Anyhow, we are back to normal now, and using a different service provider, so we hope things will run smoothly from now on.

While the site was down, there was no obvious way for would-be players to contact us to find out what was happening, since the email addresses given on the website all use Despite this, a couple of keen Chihuahua-ites did manage to track us down and get messages through - one by email and one by mobile phone. After the problem had persisted for a few days, we sent an email to players who had written to us at some stage, giving a temporary address for the Chihuahua site, and a working return email address. One player wrote back:

Oh thank God! The withdrawal symptoms have been awful (uncontrollable shaking, sleepless nights, re-arranging the letters on our mailbox). Seriously, though. Thanks for the mail. I really love your game, and was worried that you wouldn't be able to continue it.

Thanks for all the encouraging messages. And please accept our apologies for any disappointment caused by the site's absence.

The promised upgrade to the game will be put on hold for a while, to avoid any risk of further disruptions to your playing enjoyment.

A million words

The millionth word found in the Chihuahua daily puzzles was played in the Standard puzzle for last Friday 7 July. This was the one with SIMPERING as the 9-letter word. The millionth word was, in fact, SIMPER.

The Chihuahua website started last September with one puzzle each day. In December, the Challenge puzzle was added.

The 505 daily puzzles appearing up to and including Friday contained 50,990 possible words. So on the average, each word was found by 20 players. There were 17,854 different words among the 1,000,504 words found.

Here are some other facts and figures. (These do not include random puzzles played on the Web page.)

Graph of players per puzzle

Thanks for playing over the last nine months, and thanks especially to those who have sent in comments and encouragement. There will be further improvements to Chihuahua in coming months, so stay tuned.

The case of the disappearing words

From the reports received about players' words disappearing, it is apparent that not everyone realised that the only games saved are the ones for the latest day. If you are playing today's puzzle (Standard or Challenge) and you leave the website, your words and score should be saved. If you come back to the Chihuahua site later that same day, you should be able to resume playing from where you left off. And if you come back the next day to check the results and see how everyone else did, you should be able to see which words you found.

But if you play a previous day's puzzle, or add words to a puzzle when it is no longer the latest puzzle, these words are not saved and the scoreboard is not changed. (And if you are playing a puzzle at the time of day when a new day's puzzle appears, at a certain point your words will stop being saved.) In effect, the puzzle is frozen once its day is over.

Another thing that can stop your words being saved is looking at the solution. When you look at the solution (which you can do only on the Standard puzzle), it's assumed you've finished playing. You can keep playing after looking at the solution, but the additional words you play won't be saved and, of course, your total on the scoreboard won't go up.

Having said all that, there still seem to be a few unexplained vanishing word incidents. The cause is probably something to do with the "cookie" files on players' computers, but we have not been able to discover exactly what is happening in these cases. However, the good news is that a better way of saving games is coming! We will soon be introducing an optional player registration system. This means that, if you want to be certain of being able to retrieve your games, you can get a password that will allow you to sign on whenever you play, on any computer.

April 1st Hoax Fools a Few Folks!

I don't quite know how to break this to you, but there will be no Chihuahua Assist tool to find words for players, as announced a few days ago. The tool, as described, would have allowed desperate or lazy players to get a range of "assistance". At the maximum level, the computer would play a perfect game for a player without the player having to find a single word by their own efforts. This was in fact an April fool's joke.

I don't know how many people realised it was a joke, but the only players to send in comments seem to have been taken in, and questioned the wisdom of this innovation. At least nobody said they thought it was a good idea. (I don't like to contemplate the possibility that all those who didn't comment are looking forward to the new scheme!) Here are some of the comments received (names withheld to avoid any embarrassment):

Chihuahua assist will ruin the game.

I don't think giving help is such a good idea - it seems less challenging than using your own knowledge!!

...what's the point of allowing the program to enter for you

...if you can just select an option and shoot to the top, it kind of defeats the purpose of the game doesn't it?

Indeed it does, and perhaps it says something about the current state of the online games industry that people could seriously think such a scheme would be planned.

Of course the inspiration for the hoax was the recurrent complaints about cheating in Chihuahua. The Chihuahua Assist tool would have been a tool for cheating. I know some players cheat, because a couple have written in admitting to cheating at times. The question this raises is "Why bother?" Why are some players so keen to (seem to) do better than a bunch of people they don't even know? The April fool's hoax was meant to highlight this question.

However, I'd like to suggest that cheating in the Chihuahua puzzle is not as widespread as many suspect. The fact is that some people are just very good at making words from a collection of letters. This could come from a combination of a very large vocabulary, a natural aptitude and years of practice at playing word games and puzzles. (If you read the book Word Freak: Heartbreak, Triumph, Genius, and Obsession in the World of Competitive Scrabble Players, by Stefan Fatsis, you will learn about people who spend hours every day memorising lists of words that most people have never heard of, and practising with anagrams, etc. Maybe some of our top Chihuahua players are lifelong Scrabble or crossword fanatics.)

Some analysis of the records of past Chihuahua puzzles lends weight to the belief that the best scores are generally achieved by honest effort. The highest scores are often built up over a period of several hours, with the player coming back to the puzzle at intervals to make additional words. The words are not played in strict alphabetical order, as you might expect if they had been obtained through some external assistance. In fact, the earliest words to be played tend to be the more common ones, just as you would expect from any player relying on their own efforts.

One player suggested the solution should not be available until the next day. Well this is exactly what happens in the Challenge puzzle. Obviously some players (or one player anyway) didn't realise that there are two different puzzles available every day. Just press the tab labelled "Challenge" at the top of the game area. You can read about the differences between the two puzzles here and here.

The controversy also inspired some criticism of the more unusual words allowed in the puzzle. I can understand people's bewilderment - there are many words in our largest word list that I've never heard of, and some of them are hard to find in any dictionary. This list, known as YAWL, was not created by me, but it was designed for use in word games and I rely on the judgement and research efforts of its compilers. However, there could be some merit in introducing a third daily puzzle, that would be limited to a more widely-used vocabulary. Any thoughts? (I promise this one is a genuine proposal.)

Finally, if nothing else had alerted readers to the satirical intention of the Chihuahua Assist announcement, I thought perhaps the nine-letter word in the animated illustration might have been a tip-off: AMORALITY. This was, as it happened, a piece of pure synchronicity. I rigged up a version of the game that would play automatically, brought up a random puzzle, and that was the big word that appeared! Spooky, hey?

Coming Soon - Chihuahua Assist

A powerful new tool is about to be added to Chihuahua. Called Chihuahua Assist, it harnesses computer technology to help you improve your scores. Available on all puzzles, the new feature has been designed in response to concerns expressed by many players about the inequitable distribution of scores.

It has been claimed that some players with extremely high scores have obtained "assistance" of various forms in finding huge numbers of words. Well now everybody will be able to get assistance.

Chihuahua Assist will let you choose from a range of graded power-ups:

Chihuahua Assist:

Help me out

Help me some more

Help me a lot

Help me to the max!

Before we implement this major enhancement, we want to hear from you. What kind of assistance do you want? ANIMATION OF ASSISTED PROGRESS BAR How can we improve your score-winning experience at the Chihuahua web site? Send us your ideas and we'll see if we can implement them!

Watch this space for further announcements.

Big Words Too Hard to Get?

Recently the nine-letter word in the Standard puzzle was NEOLOGISM, a word which was apparently new to many players (so to speak) as only 11 out of 63 players found it. It's been suggested that NEOLOGISM is too rarely-used to be a good choice for the nine-letter word. Similar criticism has been levelled at a few of the other nine-letter words in past puzzles.

It's been my aim to avoid the more unusual nine-letter words when generating puzzles. Ideally the finding of the big word should be a test of how good players are at seeing a word that is well known to them in a set of jumbled letters, rather than a test of enormous vocabulary size. (Of course this doesn't rule out the possibility of a second nine-letter word that is less well-known, but there should be at least one nine-letter word that is not too rare.)

Before Chihuahua went live, friends testing an early version complained about words like FORSYTHIA (a shrub) and GUILLEMOT (a sea bird). In response to these comments, the seed list was purged of quite a few obscure words. But maybe not enough.

Incidentally, some puzzles published in newspapers are guilty of using very unusual words at times. In recent months the "Target" puzzle in the Melbourne Age has used as its nine-letter word: FURCATION, VULNERARY, NEWMARKET, CREAMWARE, MEDICABLE, TRACKLIST, NODULATED and SADDLEBOW. None of these are in the list of nine-letter words used for generating Chihuahua puzzles.

NEOLOGISM was found by only 17% of the people who played that puzzle, which makes it the least-found primary nine-letter word in the history of Chihuahua. (Disregarding the first day the puzzle was live, when only eleven people played, of whom only one found the nine-letter word, which was, appropriately enough, OBSCURELY.)

Other nine-letter words that were found by few players include PANTHEIST, EUCALYPTI, POSTNATAL, TEDIOUSLY, LANDOWNER, ALBATROSS, COCHINEAL, REVULSION and DISAVOWAL. Of these, PANTHEIST, EUCALYPTI and COCHINEAL could probably be classed as rarely-used. The others seem, to me, to be fairly well-known words that just happen to be hard to spot. At the same time, some words that seem fairly uncommon were found by the majority of players - for example PRIVATEER, ROUNDWORM, SPLURGING, MULTIPLEX, PHEROMONE.

Perhaps there's a need to differentiate further between the Standard and Challenge puzzles. The main nine-letter words for the Standard puzzle could be chosen a bit more selectively, to exclude the likes of NEOLOGISM and COCHINEAL. On the other hand, the nine-letter words in the Challenge puzzle could be drawn from a somewhat wider group, allowing more unusual words to appear from time to time. What do players think?

Incidentally, the nine-letter word that was found by the biggest percentage of players was BREAKFAST (an everyday word, you could say), found by 90% of players. The word that was found most quickly, by those who found it, was BUTCHERED, the 5th word found on average by the 84% of players who found it. The word that took longest to find was PERMEATED, on average the 47th word found by the 38% of players who found it.

Perhaps the sign of a good nine-letter word would be that it is found by most players, but it generally takes them quite a long time. For example, BEDSPREAD was found by 69% of players, but only after, on average, 28 other words were played. Some other words like this in past puzzles are POINTEDLY, HOUSEMAID, FORESTALL, DISPARAGE, REPLAYING, INTERCEDE and SNAKEBITE.

The Challenge Just Got More Challenging!

From now on, the Challenge puzzle will be somewhat more difficult, on the average, than the Standard puzzle. This will apply to random puzzles as well as the daily puzzle. There's no guarantee that the Challenge puzzle on any given day will be harder than the Standard puzzle for that day, but over time, the Challenge puzzles will offer more challenge.

The main change is simply that there will be more words to find. The average target for "Best" will go up by about 15, from 36 to 51, and the other targets will go up accordingly.

The other change is that nine-letter words ending in ING will be used much less often, as these tend to be easier to get. (Though not always. Way back on 12 October last year, only 5 players out of 21 got GESTURING. And only one got a second nine-letter word from the same letters.)

This is probably just the first step in differentiating the two puzzles. We have other ideas in mind for making the Challenge puzzle harder, but we'll wait and see how this change is received first. And for those who like Chihuahua just the way it is: fear not! The Standard puzzle is unchanged, and we plan to keep it that way.

As always, we'd like to hear your views.

How Different is the Challenge Puzzle?

If you play both the Standard and Challenge puzzles from time to time (as many people do) you may have wondered if there is any difference in how the puzzles are set. Is the Challenge puzzle designed to be harder, or take longer, for instance?

Well, the answer is no, at present. But maybe there should be a difference. I'd like to know what some regular players think.

Currently, every puzzle is constructed from a randomly chosen nine-letter "seed" word. The seed words have been pre-screened to eliminate the more obscure words, as well as words that are spelled differently in different parts of the English-speaking world (e.g. words ending in "IZE" or "ISE"). A further restriction is applied so that the total number of words that can be made will be neither very small nor very large.

Consequently, there is no systematic difference in the difficulty of the two types of puzzle. Since Chihuahua started four months ago, the targets for "Best" in the Standard puzzle have averaged 35.4. Since the Challenge puzzle started almost two months ago, its average Best target has been 35.3. The average Maven targets have been 56.3 (Standard) and 57.0 (Challenge).

But perhaps things would be made more interesting if the puzzle-construction rules varied between the two puzzle types. So, the Challenge puzzle could have more words on the average, or more obscure words, or more long words. Or the nine-letter word could be allowed to be more obscure.

What do you think? Use the Contact page to send in your ideas.

Keyboard Play Improved

Did you know you can play Chihuahua using the keyboard instead of the mouse? This has always been a feature of the game, but now it has been enhanced by allowing you to use the backspace key to correct mistakes. A while ago dino wrote in saying, "Please could we have a backspace option, especially for correcting typos!" Well, dino, this is for you! (And all the other fallible keyboard players.)

To start playing via the keyboard, just type the word you want to make. The letters should fly into place. When you've finished typing the word, press the enter key. It's that simple! This should work in most browsers. (Unfortunately, it doesn't work in Opera.)

You can correct errors one letter at a time using backspace, or send the whole word back by pressing the left arrow key. (Note, this is changed from the up arrow key, as it makes more sense with the current layout of the game.)

Some Web browser software treats backspace as a shortcut for the browser back function - that is, it takes you to the previous Web page you visited. So be careful you don't press the backspace key unless you have just been building a word via the keyboard, or you might find yourself unexpectedly transported away from the Chihuahua site.

Of course, you can still play using the mouse, and correct errors by dragging the letters. To rearrange the letters, move letter tiles to where you want them. To remove a letter, drag it away from the rack and release the mouse button. To send all the letters back, press the Clear button to the right of the rack.

Even More Words Needed?

An anonymous player wrote: 'IMPUNE IS A WORD, to go without punishment. Look it up. It should work on Monday's puzzle, but it comes up "Is not known"'.

It seems "impune" is indeed a word - an adjective meaning "unpunished". (Not to be confused with "impugn", meaning to question the honesty of. "Impune" is what you are when you act with impunity.) Though described by the Oxford Dictionary as obsolete, and not present in the SOWPODS list used for Scrabble tournaments, "impune" probably should have been allowed, since quite a lot of other obsolete words are permitted. Sorry, friend!

On the same day, a player pointed out that "login" wasn't permitted in a random puzzle. This word has found its way into some dictionaries, and even if it hadn't, it obviously has become a word. So from the obsolete to the new, there could be some extra words we should allow.

Here is the complete list of all the ones I know of:

These words will be available in daily puzzles after today, and in random puzzles immediately. Write in if there are other words you think should be added, preferably giving some reason to include your word - e.g. it's in a dictionary, it's in a book, it's in a newspaper article, etc. And do check out our rules to see if the word is eligible.

Incidentally, if you click on a word in the "Your Words" panel to see its meaning, you'll go to a different dictionary website from the one we've been using up till now. Let me know if you have any comments about the change.

Now, a Choice of Two Puzzles

You now have a choice of two Chihuahua word puzzles every day:

Use the tabs at the top of the game to switch between the two puzzles:

Puzzle tabs

And of course, there's no reason you can't play both.

If you play the Challenge puzzle, you can check the solution the day after the puzzle first appears, or any time in the following week. When you come back to the site, you can go to a previous daily puzzle using the selector:

Puzzle selector

Then the solution button will appear, and you can bring up all the words that could have been played for that puzzle.

Recently, the rules were changed to hide the solution to every puzzle until the next day. This was done in response to requests from some players. But the move was unpopular with some other players, and the number of people playing each day seems to have declined somewhat since the change. So to settle the matter once and for all, we now follow both approaches at once, by having two puzzles every day.

Hope you like the new set-up. Please let me know if you have any comments, or suggestions for further changes.

Puzzle Changes: Solution Availability and Hit Rate

A while ago, comments were invited on the claim that some players were cheating by looking up the solution on another computer and then just entering all the words under their normal player name. It was suggested that the solution should be withheld until the following day.

The general consensus of the comments sent in was that this change should be made, although a few players pointed out that people determined to cheat would always find a way, but that this shouldn't stop the rest of us getting enjoyment out of doing the best we can. As one player wrote, "I feel cheaters will get bored with it in the end 'cause what fun is there in that?!"

So, from now on, the solution will not be available until the following day, regardless of whether you have found the big word. When you come back another day, you can go back to the puzzle for any day in the past week using the selector under the "X" with the letters on it. (If you're using the same computer and cookies are allowed, you should see the words that you found for that puzzle.) Then the solution button will bring up all the other words that could have been played.

There is also a new measure of success, the "hit rate". This appears in the title bar of your word list, just after the word count, and shows the percentage of words tried that were accepted. This percentage is not affected by words that failed because they were too short, or missing the mandatory letter, or had already been found.

It has become apparent that some players, having noticed that a lot of unfamiliar words are accepted in Chihuahua, make a practice of trying out every conceivable combination of letters. If people find this style of play entertaining, good luck to them, but their scores are not comparable with those of players who concentrate more on trying to think of words they know.

My plan is eventually to put the hit rate on the scoreboard, so that people can measure their score against others who play in the same style. For the time being, your hit rate is visible only to you. And it relates only to the current session, if you have multiple sessions of playing the puzzle during the day.

If you have any opinions about these changes, don't hesitate to let me know!

New-Look Chihuahua

The Chihuahua puzzle now has two higher levels to aspire to. (The new levels will apply to daily puzzles starting on Thursday.) And we've beefed up the word display so you can see more words in the solution. You can also click on a word to look it up at a dictionary website.

The new target levels are called Maven and Cham. If you have a good chance of reaching either of these levels, you probably won't need to ask what they mean. But if you do want to know what the words mean and why we use them, look on the Q & A page here and here.

Progress bar

When you reach the Best threshold, the progress bar will change to show your new target level, Maven. Incidentally, the progress bar has been moved down so there's more room for long word lists and less need for scrolling. If you make it to Maven, Cham will appear. You need to get about 90% of the possible words to reach Cham. Since the word list used in Chihuahua (YAWL) is incredibly comprehensive, this is something that might hardly ever happen. But we'll see.

And what, you may ask, happens if a player finds absolutely all the possible words? Is there a special title for such a player? Well the word "cheat" comes to mind. But if a player legitimately finds all the possible words in a daily puzzle, he or she will gain the people's ovation and fame forever. And we'll try to dream up an appropriate title. ("Iron Chihuahua"?)

When you're looking at the solution, you have the option of seeing the full list of possible words, including the most obscure and archaic. Just click on the "Show all?" box above the words.

If you click on any of the words listed, the word will be looked up for you at the OneLook dictionary site. (A separate browser window will open.) Unfortunately, this site will not be able to locate a definition for every word accepted by Chihuahua, even though OneLook is about the most comprehensive dictionary site we know of.

Please let us know what you think of the changes to Chihuahua.