Crosswords 0.3.6: “The Man from G.N.O.M.E”

Note: a half-written version of this blog post was accidentally published earlier, and was briefly picked up by The [Publish] and [Preview] buttons are unfortunately right next to each other 🙁


It’s time for another GNOME Crosswords release! This one is particularly exciting to me as it brings a lot of new content. The major highlights include new puzzles, a new distribution channel, and the start of adaptive behavior with an eye to working on mobile. It’s available for download in flathub.

New Puzzles

First — and most important — is the addition of new puzzles. We added three more puzzle sets from different sources. I wrote to a number of crossword creators in the local FOSS community and asked if I could include their puzzles in this release. Thanks to Bob, Carl, and dew.mountain for kindly agreeing to add their puzzles to the distribution.

Next, Rosanna and I sat down and together wrote some quick mini-puzzles. These were pretty  fun to create, so hopefully we can build a good collection over time. Let us know if you’re interested in helping us.

Finally, I wrote to Māyā of Auckland to ask if they minded if I included their puzzles. Māyā writes cryptic crosswords that are of a very high quality — and that are a lot of fun to solve. They very kindly agreed to let me distribute them, so I’ve included ~90 cryptics.

This adds up to over 100 new puzzles available in this version.

Adding these puzzles took a surprising amount of time. They ended up highlighting a half-dozen or so bugs in the code base, and lead to substantial rewriting of a number of sections. In detail:

  • One of Bob’s puzzles came in puz format and used circled letters, so I added circle support to the puz importer. This is used fairly commonly. Now that we support it, I’m noticing circles a lot more in the wild.
  • Some of Māyā’s puzzles were made available in JPZ format. As a result, I finally wrote a convertor for this format. I also refactored the convertor to make it possible to add other formats in the future.
    NOTE: I did not have a lot of jpz puzzles to test while writing this. If you have some, please try this feature out and let me know if it doesn’t load correctly.
  • Māyā’s puzzles also thoroughly broke the enumeration code. The old regex-based parser wasn’t good enough to handle them, so I wrote a state-machine-based parser to handle this properly. There were really cute enumerations in those puzzles like:

    After first first exchange, 10 relates to blood vessels (7-)
    Solo star of this? Yes and no (3,3,4, couldn’t be parsed with the old approach.
  • These puzzles also forced me to get much more strict about the text handling. The ipuz spec allows a subset of html in certain tags, and you certainly run into puzzles with this in the wild. Complicating matters, you also come across random ampersands (&) that weren’t escaped, as well as other random entities.I wrote a simple html_to_markup() function that parses html (as best as I can) and converts it to valid GMarkup tags to pass to labels. This is mostly a matter of handling entities and escaping unknown tags, but there were definitely some subtleties involved. If someone has a better version of this functionality, let me know. On the other hand, maybe this implementation is helpful to someone else out there.

Thanks again to these puzzle authors!

Adaptive layout

The next big feature we added is making Crosswords work well at different screen sizes. I had a couple requests to make this work on mobile devices and Sam did a great design, so we tried to make this plausible. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of formal guidance as to what’s needed here, other than to support small screens. I’d love if the GNOME Mobile folks would put together a checklist of things to support, as well as instructions as how best to test / simulate that environment without having dedicated hardware.

Nevertheless, we now support smaller screens! Here’s a video of it in action.

To make this work proved to be pretty tricky, as that packing is impossible to do with a standard GtkBox layout. The challenge is that that scrolled window holding the grid needs to have vexpand=TRUE set, but also have a maximum size so that the clue at the bottom doesn’t extend beyond the grid. I finally gave up and wrote a custom widget to do this sizing:

Note: I got a lot closer to a working solution with constraints, and was really impressed with how well they worked. Emmanuele has done a fantastic job with them. There’s a bit of a learning curve to get started, but they’re definitely worth a second look if you haven’t tried using them before. They’re more powerful than regular box-based solutions, and ended up being easier to maintain and experiment with.

For the sizing behavior to feel right, I also wrote code to restore the window size on restart. Fortunately, there’s a great example of how to do this in the tutorial. Unfortunately, the example doesn’t work correctly. After figuring out why, I wrote an MR to fix the documentation. Unfortunately I don’t know vala well enough to update that example, maybe someone who does can help me update it?


One more fantastic contribution arrived  towards the end of the release cycle: Davide and Michel packaged Crosswords for Fedora. I had never actually tried to install the game locally, but meson magically worked and they got it built. Now, running ‘sudo dnf install crosswords‘ works with f36/f37. As it’s Fedora, I may have to spend some time next cycle to straighten out all the licenses across the code base and puzzles, but that’s time worth spending.

One spooky Halloween-themed bug came with this work: word-list-tests test failure on s390x. That’s a category of bug I never expected to have to deal with ever again in my life!

In general, I’m really excited about the future of flatpak and what it means to the larger Linux ecosystem. I will continue to focus my efforts on that. But having it on Fedora is nice validation, and hopefully will lead to more people solving crosswords. I’d love it if other distros follow suit and ship this as well.

Odds and Ends

Other fixes this cycle include:

  • Massive cleanup to event code (Federico). This was huge, and moves us to a simpler event system. Really appreciated!
  • Also, Federico let me call him a couple Saturdays to get general design advice
  • New setting to avoid changing crossword direction when arrowing through the grid (Jonathan and Rosanna)
  • Mime types defined for ipuz, jpz, and puz files (Davide)
  • Cleanup of the color and contrast of shapes in cells (Jonathan)
  • New Italian translation (Davide)
  • MacOS fixes and testing (Vinson)
  • Loads of bug fixes (all)

Until next time!

2 thoughts on “Crosswords 0.3.6: “The Man from G.N.O.M.E””

  1. Super excited to see you experimenting with the Constraints! Another ‘Endless powered innovation’ in the GNOME development stack 😉

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