What’s a four-letter word for “Good effort, but needs improvement?”

If you enjoy solving crossword puzzles, then you already know that doing so is a bit of a lonely pursuit. It’s usually just you, your smartphone or your magazine, your pencil (or your pen, if you’re confident), and a swaying mass of commuters that may as well exist in another world while you match wits with your puzzles. CrossMyWord aims to bring a “With Friends” vibe to crossword puzzles by letting you solve and create puzzles with other players. There are some interesting ideas at work here, but the lack of polish will probably drive crossword fans back to their solitude.

You probably know how crossword puzzles work. Even if you don’t like to dabble in them yourself, no doubt you’ve hung over the shoulder of an irate parent parked in front of the Sunday paper and watched them pencil in words, erase them, pencil them back in, and then curse. Words can be spelled horizontally or vertically, and each word uses at least one letter from a pre-constructed word. Short phrases clue you in as to which words go where, but solving them is usually easier said than done.

CrossMyWord

CrossMyWord works the same way, except players build and solve puzzles on the fly. You spell a word, which is then hidden from your rival’s sight. Then you hand out a clue to help your opponent guess at the word. The game’s AI sometimes offers an automatic definition if one is available, but you also have the option to write your own clue. If your opponent guesses your word correctly, he or she is allowed to make his or her own word, which must be perpendicular to another word. It must also use at least one letter tile already on the board. The players go back and forth until someone resigns, or until someone forfeits their turn three times in a row.

You can play CrossMyWord locally with a friend via pass-and-play, which might be the easiest way to enjoy the game. The “Random Opponent” feature rarely turns up another competitor (which might be a consequence of the game being relatively new at the time of this review), though competing with a pal via Facebook is also a viable option.

But CrossMyWord has issues beyond its low userbase. The game board is small, which makes it difficult to work with if you’re playing on a smartphone. There doesn’t seem to be an option to pinch and zoom, and you wind up tapping on the wrong parts of the board a lot. Choosing the exact spot where you want to lay down your word is stupidly frustrating as a result, as is switching between the option to make your word run horizontally or vertically.

CrossMyWord

The automatic clues provided by the game are sloppy. They seem to be cobbled from random sources off the Internet, and occasionally don’t make sense. You may even come across instances wherein the word is given away in the clue. It’s pretty funny when it happens, though the incident also throws a wrench into the game for obvious reasons.

Crossword battles are an interesting idea, and if you match yourself up with the right opponent, CrossMyWord is a lot of silly fun (“Cuts vegetables, hates turtles: S-H-R-E-D-D-E-R”). Serious crossword buffs won’t be impressed, however, at least not until the game receives some much-needed fine-tuning.