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Nine is the magic number

If you pick up nearly any newspaper these days, no doubt it comes complete with its own puzzle section containing the ever-popular Sudoku, crossword, or jumble puzzles to help readers pass the time while riding the bus, sitting in a busy waiting room or just drinking their morning coffee.

Elmira-resident David Ellis has spent the past eight months developing his own word game to put out on the market, a puzzle he calls Niwuzzles.

“I was doing some word puzzles and playing around with some ideas and I thought I’d try inventing one. It’s kind of been a fun little hobby since then,” said Ellis.

Niwuzzles consists of nine nine-letter words connected to a theme. Each word can begin with any letter in the 3 x 3 grid, but subsequent letters must connect vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER David Ellis – currently on parental leave – is using some of his free time to try and market his unique word game, Niwuzzles, to local newspapers, book publishers, and even Apple in the form of an iPhone application.

The shaded letter of each of the nine puzzles discovered words spells a nine-letter anagram, which then must be unscrambled to form a solution word.

Think of the game as a unique hybrid of Sudoku, crossword and the jumble, along with the popular word game Boggle.

“Finding the word is like Boggle and it’s also like a jumble because you’re trying to unscramble the solution word,” noted Ellis, adding that he came up with the name by combining the words nine, word, and puzzles.

Ellis, 31, is a Grade 4 and 5 teacher at John Mahood Public School in Elmira who was raised on word games by his parents, which is where his fascination and love for them arose in the first place.

Since he came up with the idea for Niwuzzles last summer, he has developed more than 50 different puzzles. Each puzzle has nine words, along with the mystery word, which means he has used more than 500 different nine-letter words thus far.

“I’ve got a couple online tools I use to help me out,” he quipped.

And developing the puzzles isn’t as easy as opening a dictionary and finding any nine-letter word.

Each puzzle has a theme, for example sports terms or animals, and Ellis says that one of the most difficult aspects of developing a new puzzle is thinking of nine nine-letter words that fit with each puzzle theme.

“Obviously that eliminates a lot of your topics. For example if I did U.S. Presidents as a theme, there aren’t a lot of Presidents with a nine-letter last name, right? So that’s part of the challenge, finding enough nine-letter words for a theme.”

For now Ellis is trying to get the puzzles out into local newspapers, and even has plans of publishing a first volume of puzzle books for sale in stores. If he can’t find an interested publisher, he intends to self-publish, and he has even trademarked the name in case the popularity of the puzzles takes off.

“I’ll start locally and see where it goes. A lot of print-on-demand publishers offer services for publishing, and they’ll also put it on Amazon and some of the other big-name online book stores.

There are some options that I am thinking about.”

Perhaps the biggest step he is about to take is in developing an iPhone application version of the game with his business partner Dan Carlson, a friend and software developer and who moved to British Columbia last summer.

“When I played his puzzle the first time I thought it was a neat idea,” said Carlson. “In my mind I began to think about how it would work with the touch-screen, and how you’d be able to solve them.

I just thought that his game was an elegant and simple puzzle and would be pretty straightforward”
The development process for the application is relatively simple, Carlson said. He simply downloaded the necessary software from Apple for free – “You just need a Macintosh computer” – and developers are able to work with the program and input the data for their game however they want.

He can even simulate how their application will run on the iPhone by trying it out on his computer first, where the clicks of a mouse simulate the touch-screen qualities of the real phone.

The pair believes that they are still a few months away from having an application that they would be ready to send away to Apple for consideration in the app store. Once they are happy with the game, they simply pay Apple $100 to register as a part of the design team, and Apple looks at the game.

Once they determine that it is a unique idea and not too similar to another app already in the store, it gets posted for sale.

And that’s the next big step in their business plan – trying to monetize their product, and they have three main options. They could offer the game for free and have in-game advertisements that popup while someone plays, but Ellis isn’t fond of that idea.

“It’s kind of annoying to have ads. Personally, if I’m solving a puzzle or crossword I don’t want an ad in my face,” he said.

The second option is to charge $0.99 for users to download the game onto their phone, but they are concerend that having to pay to play right up front might discourage the game from becoming popular.

That is why they are looking at a third option, which is actually a combination of the first two. They want to offer the first nine puzzles for free (and ad-free), then give users the option to download new puzzle packs of 25 games for $0.99 each.

“Nine is kind of the theme, so we’d offer nine free puzzles, and if someone is hooked and wants more, they can buy a puzzle pack,” said Ellis.

In light of their attempts to monetize the game, neither Ellis nor Carlson is counting on Niwuzzles to replace their day jobs, though.

“I’m not sure if I want to give up my job, I enjoy my job,” Ellis laughed. “But any time you can turn a hobby into something that can make you money, I think you go for it.”

And his business partner agrees.

“To be honest I’m not doing this because I think it’ll make us a million dollars,” said Carlson. “I thought it would be a great project that I could learn something from, and I thought it would be fun.”

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