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What’s the word?

Excalibur’s touch-screen crossword. Like a lot of people, the highlight of my Sunday morning is tackling the crossword puzzle in the New York Times magazine.Under the editorial direction of Will Shortz, the Times puzzle is probably the most popular in the world.

I’ve never thought of the puzzle as being especially cumbersome, but maybe some people out there wish it was just a little more portable. The Excalibur Electronics Touch-Screen Crossword Puzzle is for them.

The unit caters to three levels of skill, sort of like the Times does by running its easier puzzles earlier in the week. Another nice feature is the auto-save option that lets you save and finish puzzles at your own pace.

The PDA-style unit, which comes with a stylus and fits in a shirt pocket, contains 1,000 genuine Times puzzles. But unlike with the paper edition, these puzzles can be prompted for hints and solutions to letters, words, or entire puzzles.

To each his own, but I didn’t care for the hint feature. Getting help with a puzzle is fine, but it should be more challenging than tapping on a screen. I think a more reasonable option would have been to make solutions available on Excalibur’s Web site. And at the risk of sounding like a complete Luddite, there’s no comparison to sitting with a pen and a folded-up newspaper and chipping away at a puzzle with no help.

But my purism doesn’t mean the Times Crossword Puzzle isn’t worthwhile, not to mention a great gift for the word lover in your life. We all have those times when we’ve got an hour to kill; what better way than with a puzzle?

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