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Student competition success opens up 3D crossword puzzles for the blind

Posted on 22 January 2013

A University of York student has successfully completed a challenge that will allow blind and visually impaired people to complete 3D crosswords.

Sam Twidale, an undergraduate student in the Department of Computer Science, tackled the challenge laid down by Eric Westbrook, of 3D Crosswords Limited, to develop a computer program to allow a totally blind crossword solver to tackle a 3D crossword independently.

Sam’s program allows users to select crossword clues, which the Speech Application Programming Interface (SAPI) on their computer then reads out. The computer will also spell out any words that are not clear, are ambiguous or are homophones. The solver types their answers using the keyboard and these are recorded visually in the grid and the table of clues.

The program allows the solver to move to clues affected by solutions to hear any letters that already appear in the grid. In this way, the program gives the blind solver the same information that the sighted solver could gain from looking at the crossword grid.

Sam used the feedback from one of his friends, Mahomed Khatri, a University of York student and a blind cricketer, and from Eric Westbrook, who is himself registered blind, to improve the program during development.

Sam, a final year student on the MEng in Computer Systems and Software Engineering programme, said: “The challenge captured my interest because it was a one-of-a-kind proposal and I’d been thinking of developing a game for blind and visually impaired gamers.

The challenge captured my interest because it was a one-of-a-kind proposal and I’d been thinking of developing a game for blind and visually impaired gamers

Sam Twidale

“It was crucial to understand the needs of the users of the program and to build the software around them – making assumptions can mean you trip up. Developing the solution was a lot of fun and the feedback from Mahomed and Eric was invaluable. I plan to keep adding to the program indefinitely and any feedback, technical advice or contributions are welcome, as I’m still learning!”

Eric Westbrook said: “When people suffer eyesight loss this can be devastating and almost inevitably there are activities previously enjoyed or just plain necessary which become a serious problem or well nigh impossible. The blind person does less and less and becomes more and more isolated. If there was a Sam Twidale for every such situation more blind people would feel included and could rejoin communities from which they have been excluded.”

Sam’s code is open source, and is available at There is also an issue tracker here to enable users to record any bugs or questions. Sam is happy for any programmers who wish to contribute to help out.

Sam’s prize for completing the challenge is £1000, which he will receive at a special presentation event on Tuesday, 29 January in the Department of Computer Science.

Notes to editors:

  • 3D Crosswords Limited is a non-profit organisation, which develops 3D crosswords each year. These crosswords are part of a world championship with BBC Children in Need Appeal, generating funds for the appeal and The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB). For more information visit
  • For more information on the University of York’s Department of Computer Science visit

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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