Last month’s Cambridge Tester meetup was puzzling. And one of the puzzles was an empty wordsearch that I’d made for my youngest daughter’s “Crafternoon” fundraiser. At Crafternoon, Emma set up eight different activities at our house and invited some of her school friends to come and do them, with the entrance fee being a donation to charity.
The idea of the wordsearch activity is simple: take the blank wordsearch grid and make a puzzle from it using the list of words provided. Then give it to someone as a present.
If you fancy a go, download it here: Animal Alphabet Wordsearch (PDF)
(You’re free to use it for your own workshops, meetups, team exercises or whatever. We hope you have fun and, if you do, please let us know about it and consider donating to an animal charity. Emma supports Wood Green.)
After Crafternoon, I offered the puzzle to Karo for the Cambridge Tester meetup and she wrote about in Testing Puzzles: Questions, Assumptions, Strategy. It’s fun to read about how the testers addressed the task. It’s also fun to compare it to what the children did. Broadly, I think that the kids were less concerned by a sense of expectation about the outcome – and that’s not a remotely original observation, I appreciate.
Everyone who took part had some “knowledge in the head” about the task (conventions from their own experiences) and there is some “knowledge in the world” about it too, such as whatever instructions have been given and the guidelines for the person who is gifted the completed wordsearch.
Some of the testers gently played with convention by, for example:
- filling in all blank cells with the letter A
- using symbols outside of the Roman alphabet
- mixing upper and lower case in the grid
But the kids in general went further by:
- writing more than one letter in a cell
- writing letters outside of cells
- writing words around corners
- leaving some cells blank
- crossing out the words from the list if they couldn’t fit them in the grid
- spelling something wrong to make it fit
In our jobs we’re often thinking about how a product could be used in ways that it wasn’t intended. It’s an education watching children trample all over a task like this, deriving their own enjoyment from it, unselfconsciously making it into whatever works for them at that moment, constrained much more by the practical restrictions (pen, paper, the location of Crafternoon, …) than any theoretical ideas or social norms.
While I was thinking about this – washing up last night, as it happens – I was listening to Russell Brand on The Comedian’s Comedian podcast. He’s a thoughtful chap, worth hearing, and he came out with this beautiful quote:
Only things that there are words for are being said. A challenge … is to make up different words if you want to say different and unusual things.
And that’s fitting in a blog post about finding words, but it generalises: the children were willing and able to invent a lexicon of actions that was permitted by the context they found themselves in. As a tester, are you?