Created by the GEL Lab (Games for Entertainment and Learning)
at Michigan State University
patent pending
contact Carrie Heeter

PLAY headline clues

Headline Clues is a new kind of word game.

Word games like Bookworm and Scrabble challenge the player to generate or to recognize individual words.

Crossword puzzles are more complex, involving words AND their meaning.

Headline Clues is designed to exercise more advanced verbal and semantic thinking. The game challenges players to solve missing words in a headline.

Players are shown a headline and a short summary.  One or more words in the headline are missing and players must figure out what the missing words are supposed to be.  For each missing word players see the word’s first letter and the number of missing letters. Any time players are stumped, they can ask for a letter to be filled in.

For each missing word players see the word’s length, its first letter, and where it fits in the headline. The headline and short summary give the player semantic and syntactic clues. Players draw upon their sense of grammatical syntax and their comprehension of the summary to solve missing words.

At the EASY level players solve at most two missing words in each headline. They are given the first two letters of each missing word.  Backend algorithms select relatively easy words to solve from among the available words in the headline.  At the MODERATE level, players solve at most 3 missing words. They are given only the first letter of each word.  At the POWER level, players solve 4 missing words.  Backend algorithms select harder word challenges.

Headline Clues uses real headlines and story summaries from today’s news on topics players select. The Headline Clues games are automatically generated, drawing headlines and summaries from any combination of RSS feed URLs. The site offering the game decides which RSS feeds to include. Players choose from available topics.  Text files constructed specifically for Headline Clues can also be played by simply modifying a few lines of XML code to point the game to those files.  The Headline Clues suite of backend algorithms parse the headlines and summaries to offer carefully designed challenges.

Players can stick to the easiest level if they mostly want to read news summaries in a playful fashion. Or they can choose medium or expert levels for a progressively more challenging play experience.

The timer and SPEED Meter and badges give competitive players added ways to excel.

Research is underway on the cognitive benefits of playing Headline Clues.

View a 2 minute video shown at the SIGGRAPH Video Games Sandbox 2008 that describes game functionality.

The Michigan State University GEL Lab is exploring a range of applications, partnership and licensing arrangements to adopt this new technology. Please contact Carrie Heeter ( for more information.

Carrie Heeter, Brian Winn, Jillian Winn
Lead Designer:
Carrie Heeter
Software Engineer:
John Fisher
Graphic Designer:
Lei Bao