Pretty Wicked Word Search Puzzles

Stimulate your brain and feast your eyes. This book is full of tricky word search puzzles that will test your knowledge and visual ability.

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Pretty Wicked Puzzles are erasing any idea that word search puzzles are only black, sans-serif letters arranged on a grid. The Pretty Wicked book contains 22 unique word search puzzles that span a wide range of visuals, rules and themes (including puzzles that use both sides of the page, don’t use words, are layered, make you think three-dimensionally, hide the names of 231 subway stations from 48 cities around the world – and more!)

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Credit: Pretty Wicked Puzzles

Brian Wu and Jan Urtsky are the men behind Pretty Wicked Puzzles, two long time friends who also have a passion for design. We caught up with Brian to learn more about the concept behind the puzzles and what went into making the book.

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What was your idea behind the puzzle book and how did it come about?

When my son was in kindergarten, he had to learn the spelling of his classmates’ names. I thought making a word search puzzle with all of the names would help make that fun, so I opened Excel and started filling in a grid. By default, the letters were black and set in Verdana. That’s when it hit me that all word search puzzles ever published seemed to be stuck in default design and that the genre was ripe for innovation. Compared to other types of word puzzles — crosswords, for example — word search puzzles offer a lot of freedom in graphic design. And later on I’d realize there was also a lot of freedom to vary the rules of play.

How did your relationship with Jan Uretsky begin?

I met Jan through AIGA/NY more than 25 years ago, and he and I collaborated on few projects during that time. When I decided to produce a book of word search puzzles, Jan came to mind immediately as a design partner. His free-thinking and art-inspired approach to design compliments my own analytical, systematic approach. We very much had a whole-is-greater-than-sum-of-parts collaboration. It was fun.

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What was the biggest challenge you faced creating the puzzle book?

The biggest challenge was deciding when to stop and press the big ‘Print’ button. We had so many ideas that we could have gone on and on for years. Another challenge was error checking. I had some software developed to help with that, but many of the puzzles have unique rules and required hand checking.

What have you enjoyed most?

I loved the eureka moments of invention, and many of them came from Jan and having enough time for ideas to mutate into other ideas. Being our own client was great too.

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How have customers responded to your reinvented word puzzles?

People we show the book to think we are wonderfully deranged. Customers have been delighted by the novelty and risen to the challenges of our wickedness. One puzzler in Canada reported that she and a colleague at work decided to tackle the biggest puzzle first. The grid has 2,440 small letters in which are hidden the names of 233 subway stations in 48 cities around the world. It took them a month of lunch breaks. I didn’t think anybody would actually complete that one.

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How did you come to choose Mohawk Superfine as the paper for the book?

Teachers introduced me to Mohawk Superfine when I got into letterpress printing as a Yale undergrad. Later in the Yale graduate graphic design program, we visited the Cohoes mill as part of our production curriculum. I was branded at a tender age, I guess.

Jan and I wanted to make a puzzle book that was also an art book, and to me there was only one choice in text paper. If you are going to make a physical book, as opposed to an e-book, then the feeling of the paper has to register with users. That’s why we chose Superfine and specifically the eggshell finish. The tooth is superb and it makes a perfect writing surface even when it’s covered with ink. Of course, great paper needs a great printer, so we had Meridian Printing in Rhode Island do for us what they do for the art books they produce. You’d think it’s UV printing, but it’s not. The ink hold-out is unbelievable.

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Will you be creating another book in the future?

I hope so! I optimistically titled the book “Volume 1.” I am gathering feedback on what users like and doing some research into special audiences such as individuals with dyslexia.

Want to get a copy of your own? Check out this list of stores or order online here.  

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