Aquamanile, mungo, nihilarian—sounds Greek to you? Well, think again because these are all very real – if not very widely used – words belonging to the wonderful and wonderfully weird English language. If you are anything like me – i.e. a major word nerd – you will constantly be looking to build up your vocabulary, be it for fun or because you're preparing for exams.
My great-grandmother did thousands of crossword puzzles and word puzzles in her lifetime, and she always claimed that they helped her keep her old noggin going in her old age (she died one day after her 98th bithday and was sharp as a whip till the end). I can't argue with that kind of an example, which is why I too resort to playing word puzzles as a means for learning new words, practicing my already existing vocabulary or just for having a bit of fun.
With that in mind, let's check out Word Search Free, a puzzle game that promises 'unlimited unique high quality high definition puzzles'.
(By the way, an aquamanile is a beautiful type of ewer in the shape of an animal or human figure, used for the washing of hands, a mungo is a dumpster diver, and a nihilarian (wherein the 'h' is pronounced like a 'k', naturally) is an individual who deals with totally unimportant things.)
I should start by saying that Word Search Free will help you boost or build your vocabulary if you're A) not a native speaker of English and are studying for a test or language exam, or B) under 13 years old. There are three difficulty levels, but the vocabulary used is relatively basic (the most challenging words I've come across thus far are 'epidemic', 'indignant' and 'bassoon'... or possibly 'peephole' :) ).
So much for being a real semantic challenge for language geeks such as myself—what it is is a word puzzle, pure and simple.
When starting up the app you are greeted with the developers' slogan 'Better things are not always good'—for the life of me I can't figure out what is meant here, so please do clue me in if you know.
Once this puzzling slogan has flashed across the display you can either dive right into your first round or hit the device's menu button to access the game menu which harbours four points:
The help section is very brief and to the point, but the game is honestly so easy and intuitive to play that even a total smartphone/tablet newbie will immediately know what to do (trust me when I say this, I had my technophobe sister play a few rounds, and she found it to be very self-explanatory).
The settings harbour several sub-categories:
Difficulty Level: there are three to choose from: Easy, Normal, Hard
Word List: the list is extensive and includes a lot of different categories; there are also TOEFL, GRE, SAT, GMAT and IELTS vocabulary lists
Sound Effects: these can either be turned on or off and are very discreet
Timer: can also be turned on/off
Letter Case: upper/lower case
Theme: Chalkboard, Parchment, Note Paper, Beach, Soccer
The puzzle is very straightforward: a group of letters is displayed, and the words hidden within this grouping are shown just beneath the puzzle. All you need do is swipe across the letters once you've located a word and it will be highlighted in green and barred off the list. Should you try to connect letters that don't make up one of the required words a red line will show up, but your word won't be highlighted.
A clock ticks away as you play, but even when you take a ridiculously long amount of time to finish a puzzle you still receive a nice round of applause (literally, unless you've switched off the sound effects).
Highscores can be shared via leaderboard.
What I liked about this application: it's easy to use, the UI is user-friendly, the touch screen features work well, there are a lot of word categories to choose from and there are different themes.
What I didn't like: I found only two themes (Chalkboard and Beach) to be viable options when playing, the others distracted me visually. You may disagree with me (in fact, judging by the comments in the Market a lot of users like the other themes, so there you ahve it). Also, there are loads of word puzzles on the Market that are called 'Word Search something-or-other', so finding this one requires either combing through the entire search result list or typing in the developers' name, too. Finally, I'm not a fan of developers' messages that continuously flash across the screen, prompting users to go for premium versions of apps, and unfortunately there is such a message that haunts Word Search Free.
Word Search Free is a wonderful option for people who like word puzzles or are not English native speakers and looking to learn a few new words. It doesn't do enough for me to keep me hooked for hours, but it could be a fun time-waster or something to do in a waiting room or in a tram.
Screen & Controls
Everything on the screen is accessible via the touch screen. All the buttons are located directly on the screen and are easy to use.
The Word Search Free design is nice and slick, and there are different themes to choose from lest you tire of the default theme too quickly.
Speed & Stability
I'm somewhat on the fence about 'only' giving Word Search Free a 'good' rating in this category: I played quite a few rounds just for fun and everything worked as one might hope. But then I became word-greedy whilst playing a TOEFL vocab list round, and hit New Game twice in a row when I didn't like the list of words for two puzzles. As a result the app froze for a while and I had to try to force close it several times. It didn't respond at first, but eventually things went back to normal.
Word Search Free can be downloaded for free from the Android Market. The ad banner located at the very top of the display is totally unobtrusive, but the developers' message prompting users to switch to the premium version is a bit of a nuisance.