Smithfield Herald

Clayton retiree takes shot at developing puzzle apps

It’s always good to have a hobby when you retire, and different people go in different directions. Gardening. Collecting. Agatha Christie novels are always nice.

Gil Gonsalves went another way when he recently retired from his job as a math and computer science teacher in Massachusetts. After moving south to Clayton, to be closer to family, Gonsalves decided to establish his own one-man software startup and design apps for the iPhone.

Puzzle apps, to be specific, which combine Gonsalves’ lifelong interest in computer programming and word games. His first full-fledged puzzle app, called Jumble Pun, was released on Apple’s iTunes Store in early November, after about five months of development and tweaking.

Gonsalves said the idea of designing puzzle apps had been percolating for a while.

“It started a couple of years ago when I was still teaching,” said Gonsalves, who taught at the high school and college level in Westville, Mass., for 30 years. “I’d done a lot of programming, but just basic stuff to do with my classroom work.”

Gonsalves experimented with converting some of the simple game-programming exercises from his classes. “I wrote a couple of free apps just to learn the language,” he said.

Getting serious

After making the move to North Carolina, Gonsalves got serious. He pored over the documentation and instructions that Apple provides to those wanting to submit new apps.

“That documentation – it’s pretty thorough,” Gonsalves said with a chuckle. “Apple requires you to submit the game to the app store, and it goes into review, and they either accept it or reject it. I got rejected the first time.”

It took about a week for Apple to accept the app the second time around, Gonsalves said, and he was then able to determine the release date he wanted. He gave himself a few weeks to get the word out to the flotilla of websites that review and list new word games and puzzle apps.

“I went online and did research on how to market your app,” Gonsalves said. “I got literally scores of websites that will help you do that. Some are free; some you have to pay for.”

Gonsalves hasn’t paid for any marketing yet. He hopes Jumble Pun will take off among that small but dedicated subset of anagram enthusiasts.

For a first-time puzzle app, Jumble Pun is solid – it has a clean and simple interface and is similar to the “Jumble” word puzzle syndicated in most daily newspapers. It’s an anagram game, essentially, and as the title suggests, Gonsalves’ game puts a premium on puns and wordplay.

Jumble with tweaks

The first step of the game is to unscramble two five-letter and two-six letter anagrams, sliding letters into place with your thumb. Tap the “hint” button, and scrambled words will be put in correct order, one letter at time.

Highlighted letters in the solved anagrams then drop to the bottom puzzle, which gets more complicated as levels progress. Players must unscramble the new set of letters into a pun based on the clue. It’s simple, familiar and friendly – all of which are virtues when making a puzzle game for mobile platforms.

Gonsalves said that while his game resembles the newspaper Jumble feature, he tweaks the template a bit.

“Some of those (newspaper puzzles) end up being puns, but really focusing in on the pun aspect is a little twist,” he said. “I make them up, and friends have contributed ideas as well.”

Jumble Pun is free to download and contains a starter set of five puzzles. Additional puzzle sets of 25 can be purchased for 99 cents. So far, the game has been downloaded a couple of hundred times, Gonsalves said, with 25-30 in-game purchases. Developers on the iOS platform get about 70 cents on each 99-cent purchase, so Gonsalves isn’t getting rich yet: “Yeah, not a lot of money so far.”

Gonsalves hopes to keep improving Jumble Pun and making new puzzle apps as he settles into retirement.

“I’ve always been one of those guys that does the puzzles in the paper, or is looking for those puzzle books in the airport – I go through a lot of those,” Gonsalves said. “I figured, why not get on the other side of this?”

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