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Solving the New York Times crossword in the Puzzazz app, switching automatically between digital pen and pencil using Apple Pencil, while watching a movie using Apple Split View on an iPad. (Puzzazz Image)

Puzzle technology company Puzzazz has a history of developing novel input techniques for people who solve crosswords and other puzzles on mobile devices, and it’s continuing the tradition with the latest update to its digital puzzle bookstore and puzzle-solving app for Apple’s iOS.

Puzzazz CEO Roy Leban

The newly released Puzzazz 5.0 comes with a feature that let solvers using an Apple Pencil or 3D Touch automatically switch between virtual pencil and pen input modes depending on the amount of pressure they put on the screen. A lighter touch results in virtual pencil mode, while a harder press activates pen mode, eliminating the need to manually switch between the two modes.

The company says it’s the first such usage of pressure-sensing technology. The feature works in Puzzazz with the Apple Pencil on iPad Pro and with regular finger input on iPhones that support 3D Touch.

Virtual pen and pencil input have been available previously in the Puzzazz app, but not the ability to switch between them based on pressure. Virtual pencil input helps solvers remember which letters they were less confident about, and it doesn’t count those answers against them when determining if they’ve correctly solved the puzzle. If the puzzle is completely filled in with pen with at least one wrong entry, it’s marked incorrect.

In testing, solvers were able to discover how the new pressure-sensitive switching worked without reading any documentation, a testament to the amount of work that the Redmond, Wash., startup put into the feature.

“We knew we wanted it to feel natural, but getting from that basic idea to something that feels right meant building, testing, tweaking, and iterating until it worked naturally and smoothly,” explained Roy Leban, Puzzazz CEO and founder. “Nobody had ever done this before, so it wasn’t like we could look at what others had done.”

Solving a puzzle in virtual pen and pencil in the latest Puzzazz app. (Puzzazz Image)

In addition, the updated app works with Apple’s Split View feature on supported iPad models, for solving a puzzle in a portion of the screen while watching a video or other content side-by-side with the puzzle. Puzzazz also supports the iPad’s Slide Over feature, letting solvers search for answers on the web without leaving the app.

Puzzazz is akin to Kindle for puzzles — an app for purchasing puzzle e-books and solving a wide variety of puzzles. It recently surpassed 100 puzzle e-books in its store. The app offers free daily KenKen and Sodoku puzzles, and gives New York Times digital crossword subscribers a high-tech platform for solving the popular NYT puzzles.

Support for the New York Times puzzles was simplified and improved in this latest version. Other new features in the latest Puzzazz update include Bluetooth keyboard support, the ability to rate puzzles, and support for Quick Actions — the option to use 3D Touch to go straight to the NYT crossword or featured titles from the iOS home screen.

The app continues to offer Puzzazz’s previously released “TouchWrite” feature, which lets puzzle solvers trace letters and numbers in large form across the screen, automatically recognizing and inserting the characters into the fields of a crossword, Sodoku or other puzzle. TouchWrite is a previous Innovation of the Year winner in the GeekWire Awards.

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