History Of Xanagrams

The Original Idea

The game’s originator loved playing Scrabble and trying to complete the occasional crossword.

One Saturday morning, whilst soaking in the bath, Peter had a eureka moment, why not create a game that combined the two and so the game of Xanagrams was conceived.

Peter, who was trading as Dean Software at that time, had been writing programs for various home computers and so he started by developing Xanagrams to run on the Sharp MZ80 range of micro computers.


In the original version the user was given a list, in alphabetical order, of all the letters that made up one or more words and the user had to guess which letter went where by selecting a space (box) then selecting a letter.

There was a simple scoring scheme; each player started with 100 points, they got points for a correct guess and lost points for an incorrect guess. If they wanted help, they selected a cell, pressed 1 and the letter would be revealed, however points would be deducted.

There was a good psychological basis for starting with 100 points. It was felt that children, especially young ones, would be quickly disheartened if, after their first couple of guesses, they felt they were “losing”.

The words the user had to find were arranged in 3 age orientated lists:

  • 1 - Common words that are easy to spell (Primary school)
  • 2 – Every day words (middle School)
  • 3 – Less common words or ones that that are awkward to spell (adult).

In terms of difficulty, the user could choose the number of words they needed to find. In the original version the user could choose a 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5 word puzzle (this was latter increased to 7 words). The idea was that users would start with one word and as they became familiar with the game they could make it more difficult by increasing the number of words they had to find in each game or by choosing a more challenging list of words.

By allowing the user to choose the number of words and their complexity helped ensure the game self adjusted to the skills of the individual user, this is probably why it was popular with a wide age range.

The original version of Xanagrams was published for the:

  • Sharp MZ-80K/80A/ 700/800/1500 (1983)
  • Sinclair ZX Spectrum (1983)
  • Acorn Electron (1984)
  • Amstrad CPC (1984)
  • BBC Micro (1984)
  • Commodore 64 (1984)
  • Also the Tatung Einstein (1984)

Some people found the game quite addictive, Peter's sister-in-law once had her Sinclair Spectrum on the end of the ironing board so that she could play Xanagrams whilst ironing! This was quite a feat as the Spectrum had to be plugged into a TV to work.

Its popularity was helped by the fact that Amstrad distributed copies free with the Amstrad CPC 464.

Foreign Words

For certain computer models a list of French words was made available.

A German version of Xanagrams with German words was published in Germany for the Sharp range of home computers in the 1980s.

Second Generation

A later version was released on certain formats that had two additional levels which were called Jumble and Super Word Hunt.

  • Jumble – the alphabet (A-Z) was displayed along the bottom. The letters that made up the words were randomized and used to fill the cells. The user had to guess the letter by pressing one of the A-Z keys. If it was wrong, the letter along the bottom would be greyed out and the user would loose points. The game remembered which wrong letter was pressed on each cell so as you moved around you could see any previous incorrect choices. Points were awarded for a correct guess.
  • Super Word Hunt – The most challenging, the user simply had the first letter of each word.

The IBM PC Story

In the early nineties a version of Xanagrams was created for the IBM PC, this was pre-Windows 95 so was an MSDOS product and so did not use a mouse.

It had 3 levels of game play:

  • Jumble
  • Word-Hunt (this was similar to the original version)
  • Super Word-Hunt

It also had Solo, Team and Bonus Team modes.

Adding these extra levels made it very “clunky” to play as you started by selecting the game play using various keys. Having just booted up an old 32 bit machine to play the PC version it’s core design fault is now obvious. It should, on loading, have dropped straight into classic Xanagrams. That way the user is up and running without having to think about anything. Simpler key based options should have take them to the different levels.

There were other issues, the choice of packaging was probably not right for that market. There were problems with distribution as the big publishing houses were moving into the market place with big marketing budgets and so small companies were being squeezed out. Also people were looking for more exciting games with graphics etc.

The Mobile Phone Game That Never Happened

When games started appearing on mobile phones Peter considered having a version written for mobile phone users but the companies that were approached wanted horrendous amounts of money to create a phone version. In those days writing apps was a bit of a black art and as each phone manufacturer had their own propriety operating system. Seperate versions would have needed to have been created for each platform.

Why An Internet Version

Having, by chance, found several positive references to Xanagrams on the Internet and being the owner of the Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) of Xanagrams, Peter decided to have a go at writing a web version of his classic Xanagrams.

Peter built a prototype game and once he started playing it he suddenly remembered how much fun the original version was, especially if you just wants something interesting to do for 5 or 10 minutes; so he decided to complete the project.

Keeping It Simple

Whilst watching fellow passengers playing Soduko on the train Peter realised the key was to stick to the original design and keep everything as simple as possible, that way Xanagrams might, one day, become more popular than Suduko.

After several days of experimentation Peter settled on the current design, added some cool user buttons and has now released a version of Xanagrams that he hopes will give a lot of pleasure to many.

Multiple Platforms

Technology has moved on a bit since 1983, there is now a plethora of devices that can be used to browse the Internet.

To make it easy to play on as many devices as reasonably possible the settings include two special options that enable you to:

  • Adjust the size of the boxes and buttons
  • Limit the number of letters across the width of the screen (reduces left to right scrolling on older / smaller devices).

Peter J A Noblett
23 May 2019

Author of:

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  • A Degree for £2,000
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Feedback is always welcome.

E: xanagrams@gmail.com

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