Title:
Interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system and method
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
An interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system includes a microphone for receiving speech from a user. An electronic subsystem includes an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals, a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into user input data, a memory for storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data, and/or the rules and/or the initial data, a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output for providing digital speech representing the decision output, and a digital-to-analog converter for converting the digital speech to analog signals. An audio output device responsive to the analog signals converts the analog signals to output auditory speech, and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an interactive auditory dialogue for solving a puzzle, playing a game and/or learning from a tutorial.



Inventors:
Raffel, Jack I. (Lexington, MA, US)
Bresler, Joel R. (Lexington, MA, US)
Application Number:
11/513289
Publication Date:
03/22/2007
Filing Date:
08/30/2006
Primary Class:
International Classes:
A63F9/00
View Patent Images:
Related US Applications:



Primary Examiner:
UTAMA, ROBERT J
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
IANDIORIO & TESKA (WALTHAM, MA, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. An interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system comprising: a microphone for receiving speech from a user; a electronic subsystem including: an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals; a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into user input data; a memory for storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial; a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data, and/or the rules and/or the initial data, a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output for providing digital speech representing the decision output, and a digital-to-analog converter for converting the digital speech to analog signals; an audio output device responsive to the analog signals for converting the analog signals to output auditory speech; and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an interactive auditory dialogue for solving a puzzle, playing a game and/or learning from a tutorial.

2. The system of claim 1 in which the puzzle is a puzzle chosen from the group consisting of: a crossword puzzle, an anagram, a number block, and hangman.

3. The system of claim 1 in which the game is a game chosen from the group consisting of: Blackjack, Ghost, spelling bee, WORD POKER™, trivia quizzes and sports simulations.

4. The system of claim 1 in which the learning tutorial includes a tutorial chosen from the group consisting of: a vocabulary drill, a multiple choice exam preparation tutorial, a foreign language instructional tutorial, audible manuals, and audible instruction manuals.

5. The system of claim 1 in which the logic engine generates decision output that includes one or more clues associated with the puzzle, the game and/or the learning tutorial.

6. The system of claim 5 in which the logic engine generates decision output that includes one or more clues and the number of characters associated with a correct answer of one of the words of the puzzle.

7. The system of claim 6 in which the logic engine generates decision output that includes one or more hints associated with the one or more clues.

8. The system of claim 5 in which the speech provided by the user indicates an answer to the one or more clues and the logic engine provides decision output indicating the answer is correct

9. The system of claim 5 in which the speech provided by the user indicates an answer to the one or more clues and the logic engine provides decision output indicating the answer is incorrect.

10. The system of claim 9 in which the logic engine generates decision output indicating the user should attempt to answer the clue again.

11. The system of claim 8 in which the logic engine generates decision output that enters the characters of the correct answer into a corresponding location in a grid of a crossword puzzle.

12. The system of claim 11 in which the logic engine generates the one or more clues by locating the word in the crossword grid with the smallest number of blank spaces and the highest percentage of filled-in letters.

13. The system of claim 5 in which the speech provided by the user indicates a request for one or more hints associated with a clue and the logic engine generates decision output including one or more hints associated with the clue.

14. The system of claim 13 in which the logic engine generates decision output including one or more clues and the number of characters associated with the clue and filled-in characters stored from previous answers.

15. The system of claim 1 in which the microphone is coupled to the electronic subsystem by an electrical connection.

16. The system of claim 1 in which the microphone is coupled to the electronic subsystem by a wireless connection.

17. The system of claim 1 in which the speech provided by the user includes spoken words.

18. The system of claim 1 in which the speech provided by the user includes spoken letters.

19. The system of claim 1 further including a database for storing a plurality of rules and initial data associated with a plurality of puzzles, games, and learning tutorials.

20. The system of claim 19 in which the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial are loaded into the memory by a connection to a website associated with the database on the World Wide Web.

21. The system of claim 19 in which the database is stored on a storage medium.

22. The system of claim 21 in which the storage medium includes a storage device chosen from the group consisting of: a floppy diskette, a compact disc, a CD-ROM, a DVD, and a flash memory device.

23. The system of claim 22 in which the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial are loaded into the memory from the storage medium.

24. The system of claim 23 further including an intermediate device for reading the storage medium.

25. The system of claim 24 further including a computer system coupled to the intermediate device.

26. The system of claim 25 in which the computer system is connected to the website associated with the database and the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial are stored on the storage medium and/or a memory of the computer system loaded from the database.

27. The system of claim 27 in which the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial are loaded into the memory of the electronic subsystem from the storage medium and/or the memory of the computer system.

28. The system of claim 19 in which the microphone, the electronic subsystem and the audio output device are integrated with a playback device.

29. The system of claim 28 in which the playback device includes a device chosen from the group consisting of: a cell phone, a PDA, an MP3 player, a personal computer, and portable game player.

30. The system of claim 29 in which the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial are loaded into a memory of the playback device.

31. The system of claim 1 in which the electronic subsystem is integrated with an automobile controller and the microphone and the audio output device are integrated with an automobile.

32. The system of claim 1 in which the speech generation engine generates the digital speech from pre-recorded spoken and digitized speech.

33. The system of claim 1 in which the speech generation includes a text-to-speech engine for converting a text stream to the digital speech.

34. The system of claim 1 in which the audio output device includes an earphone.

35. The system of claim 1 in which the audio output device includes a loudspeaker.

36. The system of claim 34 in which the microphone and the earphone are integrated with a headset.

37. The system of claim 5 in which the speech provided by the user indicates a desire to save the puzzle, game or learning tutorial and the logic engine generates decision output to save the puzzle, game or learning tutorial.

38. The system of claim 37 in which the logic engine generates decision output to exit the puzzle, game or learning tutorial.

39. The system of claim 37 in which the logic engine generates decision output to continue using the puzzle, game or learning tutorial.

40. An interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system comprising: a microphone for receiving speech from a user; a electronic subsystem for converting the speech into user input data; a memory for storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial; a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data, and/or the rules and/or the initial data and the electronic subsystem converts the decision output to digital speech; an audio output device responsive to analog signals representing the digital speech for generating output auditory speech; and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an interactive auditory dialogue for solving a puzzle, playing a game and/or learning from a tutorial.

41. The system of claim 40 in which the electronic subsystem includes an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals, a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into the user input data, a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output for providing digital speech representing the decision output, and a digital-to-analog converter for converting the analog signals representing the digital speech to the output auditory speech.

42. A method for interactively and audibly solving a puzzle, playing a game, or using a learning tutorial comprising: receiving speech from a user; converting the speech into digital signals; converting the digital signals into user input data; storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, a game, and/or a learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial; generating a decision output based on user input data and/or the rules and/or the initial data; providing digital speech representing the decision output; converting the digital speech into analog signals; playing the digital speech with a loudspeaker as auditory output speech; and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establishes an interactive auditory dialogue between the user and the system for solving a puzzle, playing a game, and/or using a learning tutorial.

Description:

RELATED APPLICATIONS

This application claims priority of U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/712,248, filed Aug. 30, 2005, incorporated by reference herein.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

This invention relates to an interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system and method.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Many conventional puzzles, such as crossword puzzles, anagrams, number blocks, Hangman, and the like, and games, such as Blackjack, Ghost, and the like, are solved or played using some form of a visual presentation provided on a printed medium or provided by a computer, PDA, cell phone, or similar type device. The puzzles are solved and the games played using the visual presentation and an input device, e.g., a writing instrument, keyboard, or keypad.

Similarly, many conventional learning tutorials, such as vocabulary drills, multiple-choice exam preparation tutorials, foreign language teaching tutorials, and the like, require the aid of a visual presentation and an input device to be effective.

Requiring a visual presentation and an input device prevents the puzzle, game, or learning tutorial from being used while commuting in a vehicle, engaging in exercise or similar activities, or any type of activity in which a visual presentation and the input device cannot be used. Also, the visually impaired may not be able to solve a puzzle, play a game or use a learning tutorial that includes a visual presentation unless they are first converted to Braille or used with a sighted partner. Additionally, those with limited physical dexterity often cannot write easily or use a keyboard or keypad.

Several non-interactive crossword puzzles that do not require visual presentation are known. See, e.g., “Audio Crossword Puzzles Sharply Set” by Leo Z, available at http://store.payloadz.com/detail.asp?c=12&s=23&i=17954&m=6856. However, this audio crossword puzzle solving system provides only one-way audio to produce an aural presentation in the form of initial questions, e.g., the list of clues for across words and down words for solving a crossword puzzle. The system cannot recognize and store user inputs which are essential for solving puzzles of any substantial complexity or generate helpful hints or clues. As a result, the system provides audio puzzles which are typically ten short words or less with questions that are focused on a single theme and have a complexity level suitable for a child of ten or less.

One conventional crossword product, Crossword Fun, available at www.independentliving.com, was developed for the blind. However, this program has no speech recognition capability and requires a keyboard coupled to a personal computer to generate audible responses. This makes the system difficult for the blind to use and is totally unsuitable for use while commuting or exercising.

There are a number of patents related to software that automatically generates new crossword puzzles and various board games that use tokens and boards to replace the printed puzzle. See, e.g., U.S. Pat. No. 5,667,438, U.S. Pat. No. 4,907,807, and U.S. Pat. No. 4,369,973, all of which are incorporated by reference herein.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is therefore an object of this invention to provide an interactive audio puzzle-solving, game-playing, and learning tutorial system and method.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which eliminates the need for a visual presentation and an input device.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which provides an interactive audio dialogue.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which can be used while commuting in a vehicle.

It is a further object of this invention to provide a system and method which can be used while engaging in exercise or similar activities.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which can be used by the visually impaired without the need for translation into Braille.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which can be used by the visually impaired without the need of a sighted partner.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which can be used by those with limited physical dexterity.

It is a further object of this invention to provide such a system and method which generates challenging puzzles, games, and learning tutorials.

In one example, the subject invention results from the realization that an interactive audio puzzle-solving, game-playing, and learning tutorial system and method that provides an interactive audio dialogue between the user and the system to solve a puzzle, play a game, or learn from tutorial while commuting, exercising, or performing any activity that prevents the use of visual aids and/or requires an input device and allows the visually impaired or those with physical dexterity limitations to use the system is effected with a microphone for receiving speech from a user. An electronic subsystem typically includes: 1) an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals; 2) a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into user input data; 3) a memory for storing the user spoken input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, a game and/or a learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, a game and/or a learning tutorial; 4) a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data and/or the rules and/or the initial data; 5) a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output of the logic engine for providing digital speech representing the decision output; and 6) a digital-to-analog converter for converting the digital speech to analog signals. A loudspeaker or earphone converts the analog signal into auditory speech. Speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an innovative interactive auditory dialogue between the user and the system to effectively solve the puzzle, play a game and/or learn from a tutorial.

The subject invention, however, in other embodiments, need not achieve all these objectives and the claims hereof should not be limited to structures or methods capable of achieving these objectives.

This subject invention features an interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system including a microphone for receiving speech from a user. An electronic subsystem includes an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals, a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into user input data, a memory for storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data, and/or the rules and/or the initial data, a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output for providing digital speech representing the decision output, and a digital-to-analog converter for converting the digital speech to analog signals. An audio output device is responsive to the analog signals and converts the analog signals to output auditory speech, and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an interactive auditory dialogue for solving a puzzle, playing a game and/or learning from a tutorial.

In a preferred embodiment, the puzzle may be a puzzle chosen from the group consisting of a crossword puzzle, an anagram, a number block, and hangman. The game may be a game chosen from the group consisting of Blackjack, Ghost, spelling bee, WORD POKER™, trivia quizzes and sports simulations. The learning tutorial may include a tutorial chosen from the group consisting of a vocabulary drill, a multiple choice exam preparation tutorial, a foreign language instructional tutorial, audible manuals, and audible instruction manuals. The logic engine may generate decision output that includes one or more clues associated with the puzzle, the game and/or the learning tutorial. The logic engine may generate decision output that includes one or more clues and the number of characters associated with a correct answer of one of the words of the puzzle. The logic engine may generate decision output that includes one or more hints associated with the one or more clues. The speech provided by the user may indicate an answer to the one or more clues and the logic engine may provide decision output indicating the answer is correct. The speech provided by the user may indicate an answer to the one or more clues and the logic engine may provide decision output indicating the answer is incorrect. The logic engine may generate decision output indicating the user should attempt to answer the clue again. The logic engine may generate decision output that enters the characters of the correct answer into a corresponding location in a grid of a crossword puzzle. The logic engine may generate the one or more clues by locating the word in the crossword grid with the smallest number of blank spaces and the highest percentage of filled-in letters. The speech provided by the user may indicate a request for one or more hints associated with a clue and the logic engine generates decision output including one or more hints associated with the clue. The logic engine may generate decision output including one or more clues and the number of characters associated with the clue and filled-in characters stored from previous answers. The microphone may be coupled to the electronic subsystem by an electrical connection or by a wireless connection. The speech provided by the user may include spoken words or spoken letters. The system may include a database for storing a plurality of rules and initial data associated with a plurality of puzzles, games, and learning tutorials. The rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial may be loaded into the memory by a connection to a website associated with the database on the World Wide Web. The database may be stored on a storage medium. The storage medium may include a storage device chosen from the group consisting of a floppy diskette, a compact disc, a CD-ROM, a DVD, and a flash memory device. The rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial may be loaded into the memory from the storage medium. The system may include an intermediate device for reading the storage medium. The system may include a computer system coupled to the intermediate device. The computer system may be connected to the website associated with the database and the rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial may be stored on the storage medium and/or a memory of the computer system loaded from the database. The rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial may be loaded into the memory of the electronic subsystem from the storage medium and/or the memory of the computer system. The microphone, the electronic subsystem and the audio output device may be integrated with a playback device. The playback device may include a device chosen from the group consisting of a cell phone, a PDA, an MP3 player, a personal computer, and portable game player. The rules for a desired type of puzzle, game, or learning tutorial and the initial data for a specific puzzle, game, or learning tutorial may be loaded into a memory of the playback device. The electronic subsystem may be integrated with an automobile controller and the microphone and the audio output device are integrated with an automobile. The speech generation engine may generate the digital speech from pre-recorded spoken and digitized speech. The speech generation may include a text-to-speech engine for converting a text stream to the digital speech. The audio output device may include an earphone or a loudspeaker. The microphone and the earphone may be integrated with a headset. The speech provided by the user may indicate a desire to save the puzzle, game or learning tutorial and the logic engine may generate decision output to save the puzzle, game or learning tutorial. The logic engine may generate decision output to exit the puzzle, game or learning tutorial. The logic engine may generate decision output to continue using the puzzle, game or learning tutorial.

This invention further features an interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system including a microphone for receiving speech from a user, a electronic subsystem for converting the speech into user input data, a memory for storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, a logic engine for generating a decision output based on the user input data, and/or the rules and/or the initial data and wherein the electronic subsystem converts the decision output to digital speech. An audio output device responsive to analog signals representing the digital speech may generate output auditory speech, and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establish an interactive auditory dialogue for solving a puzzle, playing a game and/or learning from a tutorial.

In a preferred embodiment, the electronic subsystem may include an analog-to-digital converter for converting the speech to digital signals, a speech recognition engine responsive to the analog-to-digital converter for translating the digital signals into the user input data, a speech generation engine responsive to the decision output for providing digital speech representing the decision output, and a digital-to-analog converter for converting the analog signals representing the digital speech to the output auditory speech

This invention also features a method for interactively and audibly solving a puzzle, playing a game, or using a learning tutorial including receiving speech from a user, converting the speech into digital signals, converting the digital signals into user input data, storing the user input data, rules associated with a type of puzzle, a game, and/or a learning tutorial, and initial data associated with a specific puzzle, game and/or learning tutorial, generating a decision output based on user input data and/or the rules and/or the initial data, providing digital speech representing the decision output, converting the digital speech into analog signals, playing the digital speech with a loudspeaker as auditory output speech, and wherein the speech from the user and the output auditory speech establishes an interactive auditory dialogue between the user and the system for solving a puzzle, playing a game, and/or using a learning tutorial.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE SEVERAL VIEWS OF THE DRAWINGS

Other objects, features and advantages will occur to those skilled in the art from the following description of a preferred embodiment and the accompanying drawings, in which:

FIG. 1 is a simplified schematic block diagram of an embodiment of an interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing and learning tutorial system in accordance with this invention;

FIG. 2 is a simplified schematic block diagram showing an embodiment of the interactive audio puzzle solving, game playing and learning tutorial system in accordance with this invention integrated with a playback device;

FIG. 3 is a flow chart showing the operation of the system shown in FIGS. 1 and 2;

FIG. 4 shows an example of a crossword puzzle audibly and interactively solved in accordance with this invention;

FIG. 5 shows an example of partially filled-in spaces of a crossword puzzle audibly and interactively solved in accordance with this invention;

FIG. 6 is a table showing exemplary unfilled words, the number of blanks in each word, and the fraction of the word filled associated with the crossword puzzle shown in FIG. 5 used to determine a cluing sequence in accordance with this invention; and

FIG. 7 shows an example of a manual crossword editor input screen used to create a user-defined audio crossword puzzles in accordance with this invention.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Aside from the preferred embodiment or embodiments disclosed below, this invention is capable of other embodiments and of being practiced or being carried out in various ways. Thus, it is to be understood that the invention is not limited in its application to the details of construction and the arrangements of components set forth in the following description or illustrated in the drawings. If only one embodiment is described herein, the claims hereof are not to be limited to that embodiment. Moreover, the claims hereof are not to be read restrictively unless there is clear and convincing evidence manifesting a certain exclusion, restriction, or disclaimer.

As discussed in the Background section, conventional puzzles, games and/or learning tutorials typically require visual presentation to provide visual clues and an input device to solve the puzzle, play the game, or use a learning tutorial. Conventional auditory solutions for such puzzles, games or learning tutorials do not establish an interactive audio dialogue between the user and the system, cannot provide challenging puzzles, and often require an input device.

In contrast, interactive audio puzzle-solving, game playing, and learning tutorial system 10, FIG. 1, of this invention includes microphone 12 for receiving speech from a user. Electronic subsystem 14 includes analog-to-digital converter 16 for converting the speech from the user, e.g., spoken words or spoken letters, into digital signals provided by line 18 to speech recognition engine 20. Speech recognition engine 20 translates the digital signals into words stored as user input data 21 in memory 22 by line 19. Memory 22 also stores rules 23 associated with a type of puzzle, game or learning tutorial and initial data 25 associated with a specific puzzle, a game, or a learning tutorial. Rules 23 provide the generic logic for audibly solving a puzzle, playing a game or learning from a tutorial and initial data 25 stores the data associated with a particular desired game, puzzle or learning tutorial to be used. Logic engine 24 reads user input data 21, rules 23 and initial data 25 in memory 22 via line 27 and generates decision output via line 26 based on user input data 21 and/or rules 23 and/or initial data 25. As a puzzle is audibly solved, a game is audibly played, or a learning tutorial is audibly used, the speech provided by the user updates and changes user input data 21. Logic engine 24 then generates the decision output based on the new data in user input data 21, rules 23, and/or initial data 25. Speech generation engine 28 is responsive to the decision output by line 26 and provides digital speech by line 30 to digital-to-analog converter 32. Digital-to-analog converter 32 converts the digital speech by line 30 to analog signals on line 34. Audio output device 36, e.g., an ear piece of headset 38, a loudspeaker, or similar type device, then transduces the analog signal to produce the output auditory speech. The result is that the speech input by the user into microphone 12 and the decision output provided by logic engine 24 and converted to output auditory speech by speaker or earphone 36 establish an interactive auditory dialogue between the user and system 10 to effectively and interactively solve a puzzle, play a game, and/or learn from a tutorial.

The interactive audio dialog eliminates the need for any type of visual presentation or input device to solve a puzzle, play a game, or use a learning tutorial. This allows system 10 to be used while commuting in a vehicle, engaging in exercise or a similar type of activity, or any type of activity in which visual presentations and input device cannot be provided. System 10 can also be used by the visually impaired without the need for conversion to Braille or a sighted partner. System 10 can also be used by those with limited physical dexterity. User input data 21, rules 23, and initial data 25 provide system 10 with the ability to present more advanced puzzles, such as crossword puzzles, games, and learning tutorials.

Microphone 12 may be coupled to electronic subsystem 14 by electrical connection 15 e.g., a wire. In other designs, microphone 12 is coupled to electronic subsystem 14 wirelessly. System 10 may be integrated with a playback device, e.g., cell phone, a PDA, an MP3 player, or similar type device (disclosed below), or associated with a computer system. In another design, electronic subsystem 14 and its associated components described above may be integrated with an automobile controller and microphone 12 and speaker 36 may be integral to an automobile system.

FIG. 2, where like parts have been given like numbers, shows an example of system 10′ integrated with playback device 70, e.g., a cell phone, PDA, MP3 player, personal computer, or similar type device. In this example, selected content for rules 23 and initial data 25 may be directly downloaded to playback device 70 by connecting to database 54 associated with the website 52 on the World Wide Web running on the internet via connection 64′. Database 54 stores a plurality of rules associated with a plurality of puzzles, games and learning tutorials and also stores the associated initial data for each of the plurality of puzzles, games, and learning tutorials. Connection 64′ may be a direct modem connection, a direct wireless connection, or Internet connection.

In another embodiment, rules 23 and initial data 25 may be stored in memory 22′ on remote server 74. The voice of the user may be conveyed to server 74 via connection 76, e.g. a landline, a wireless telephone line, or VOIP system, such as provided by Skype. In another example, the user's voice may be digitized locally by playback device 70 as described below and the digital information conveyed to server 74. In this example, speech recognition engine 20′ runs on server 74.

In one design, system 10′ does not require a direct database connection. In this example, selected content for rules 23 and initial data 25 are loaded into memory 22 from database 54′ stored on storage medium 76, e.g., a CD-ROM, DVD-ROM, flash memory card, and the like. Preferably, the desired rules 23 and initial data 25 in database 54′ on storage medium 76 are read by the intermediate device 78, e.g. a CD-Rom drive, memory reader, and the like, by line 80 and loaded into memory 22 via line 82. Typically, intermediate device 78 is associated with a personal computer 90 via connection 81. In another design, the desired rules 23 and initial data 25 stored in database 54 on storage medium 76, e.g., a flash memory type card, may be read directly by playback device 70 by line 93. Storage medium 76 with database 54 can be purchased at retail locations or delivered to customers via the mail, then loaded by the user onto intermediate device 78 or directly to playback device 70.

In another design, selected content for rules 23 and initial data 25 in database 54 on website 52 is downloaded via connection 88 and staged on a personal computer 90 and/or intermediate device 78. The content is then in turn conveyed to playback device 70 via connection 92, e.g., a wired connection such as a USB, a custom cable, or via a wireless connection such as Bluetooth or WiFi or by using intermediate device 78 and connection 82.

Speech generation engine 28, FIG. 1, may generate digital speech from pre-recorded spoken and digitized speech stored in memory 22 via line 37. In other designs, speech generation engine 28 may include a text-to-speech engine 29 for converting a text stream from memory 22 into digital speech.

In a preferred embodiment, the puzzle solved by system 10 above may be a crossword puzzle, an anagram, a number block, Hangman, or any similar type puzzle as known to those skilled in the art. The game played by system 10 may be blackjack, ghost, a spelling bee, or any similar type game. Example tutorials used in accordance with system 10 include a vocabulary drill, a multiple-choice exam preparation tutorial, e.g., SAT preparation, a foreign language instructional tutorial, or similar type tutorial known to those skilled in the art.

In one preferred embodiment, logic engine 24 generates a decision that includes one or more clues and the number of characters associated with a correct answer of one or more words of the puzzle, e.g., a crossword puzzle. If the user is unable to answer the clue associated with a word in a crossword puzzle, logic engine 24 generate decision output that includes one or more hints associated with the one or more clues, as discussed below.

One exemplary operation of system 10 audibly and interactively solving a crossword puzzle is described below with reference to FIGS. 1 and 3. Logic engine 24 generates decision output based on rules 23 and initial data 25 stored in memory 22 to provide output auditory speech by loudspeaker 36 as instructions to the user on how to solve the puzzle, step 100, FIG. 3. Logic engine 24, FIG. 1 then generates decision output played as output auditory speech that asks the user for the level of difficulty for the puzzle, e.g., easy, medium or hard, step 102, FIG. 3. The user then speaks his choice response into microphone 12, step 104, which is stored as user input data 21. Output auditory speech is then provided to the user to request a cluing sequence strategy, step 106. The user then audibly responds to choose the default, straight scan or, shortest word strategy, step 108. The default option, which will be described below in detail, essentially chooses the next clue on the basis of the highest percentage of filled blanks. The straight scan simply proceeds through the across list in numerical order and then through the down list. The shortest word list proceeds in order with the shortest words first. These are just a few examples of a number of possible cluing sequence strategies employed by logic engine 24. System 10 then provides output auditory speech that includes one or more clues associated with the puzzle, step 110. The user then responds indicating an answer, to repeat the clue, or for the next clue, step 112. If the user chooses to have the clue repeated, system 10 repeats the clue, as shown at 113. If the user chooses to have the next clue provided, system 10 provides the next clue, as shown at 114. If the user replies with an answer, system 10 converts the answer to user input data 21 in memory 22. The user may speak the entire word of the response or speak the individual letters or both. Logic engine 24 then uses the combination of user input data 21, rules 23, and initial data 25 to determine if the answer is correct or incorrect. System 10 then provides output auditory speech indicating the answer is “correct” or “try again”, step 118. If the answer is correct, logic engine 24 enters the characters of the correct answer into the corresponding location in a grid of a crossword puzzle provided by rules 23 and initial data 25 stored in memory 22. Logic engine 24 then reorders the clue sequence, step 120, and proceeds to audibly present the next clue, as indicated at 122, and the process repeats.

In order to accommodate users who may have to interrupt their puzzle-solving, game-playing or use of a tutorial before completion, system 10 allows the user to exit at any time and save partial results. By issuing verbal commands such “exit and save” the partial results will be saved for continuation on the device currently being used or by downloading to a home or office computer for further action.

FIG. 4 shows an example of crossword puzzle grid 150 associated with rules 23 and initial data 25 stored in memory 22, FIG. 1. Audible across clues 152, FIG. 4 and down clues 154 associated with crossword puzzle grid 150 are provided as output auditory speech as described above. When the user provides a correct answer, it is entered in the appropriate location on grid 150. For example, when system 10 audibly provides clue 156 “an oinker” and the user response with the correct answer “hog”, it is entered in location 158 in grid 150 and stored in memory 22. The correct characters for the correct across response in location 158 are then provided for down locations 160, 162 and 164 associated with clues 166, 168 and 170, respectively. The process continues in a similar manner until the user completes the puzzle.

In operation, logic engine 24 is typically responsive to user input data 21, rules 23, and/or initial data 25 and generates the next clue based on the chosen clue sequencing strategy chosen by the user. The decision output generated by logic engine 24 includes one or more clues and the number of characters associated with the clues and the filled-in characters stored from previous answers. FIG. 5 shows an example of partially filled-in crossword puzzle grid 170 that is representative of what a user might face midway in the process of audibly solving crossword puzzle grid 170. The letter X indicates a filled-in letter.

The default clue sequencing algorithm used by logic engine 24 typically uses data exemplified by Table 190, FIG. 6. Table 190 shows examples of the missing words shown in FIG. 5 and their associated fraction of filled-in letters and the number of missing letters that in combination that are used by logic engine 24 to determine the next audible clue. In this example, the entries are ordered by placing all the missing words with two missing letters first, followed by the group with three missing letters followed by those with four missing letters. Within each group the entries are then ordered with the highest filled-in fraction first. The ordering in table 190 results in the shortest words with the highest fraction of filled-in letters being presented first, mimicking the order in which many people solve printed crosswords.

Preferably, rules 23 and initial data 25 used by logic engine 24 are optimized to further mimic playing a crossword puzzle similar to conventional methods with visual presentations and an input device as discussed above. In this design, each time a correct answer is entered, the added letters of the new correct word will change the ordering of the list because the orthogonal intersecting words are affected by the new letter entries. For example, a user may traverse the list of clues without providing an answer, e.g., by saying “next” each time until the clue for 5 down, indicated at 220, FIG. 5, is reached. At this point, the user replies with a correct answer. In this case, the entries for 1 across, 11 across, and 12 across, shown in the table 190, FIG. 6 will be affected, i.e., their missing letter counts are reduced by 1 and the numerators of their filled-in ratios are increased by 1. If table 190 is re-ordered by logic engine 24 and system 10 proceeds from top to bottom in the clue sequencing, the side-effect is that all the clues that were most recently bypassed in proceeding to 5 down will be repeated even though no additional information relative to those clues has been added. To avoid unnecessary and possibly annoying repetition, system 10 provide clues to the words immediately affected by the new entry, in this example, the entry for 5 down. This results in a modification to rules 23 that includes the following: after each correct answer is entered, system 10 presents the clues for all the orthogonal words affected by the new entry. If the orthogonal words produce more correct answers, system 10 fills in their corresponding letters in the grid. When no further correct answers are entered, logic engine resumes presenting clues from the point in the original clue sequence where the first correct answer was entered. In the example shown in FIG. 5, clue 5 down led to presenting clues for 1 across, 11 across and 12 across. If any of these clues lead to correct answers then clues for the down words affected would be presented next. When no new answers are forthcoming, the sequence resumes at 17 down just below 5 down, where the original answer was entered.

The result is that system 10 allows the user to choose from a variety of clue presentation approaches and provides an efficient, satisfying, interactive, audible dialog experience for most players that mimics fairly closely the strategy used by many experienced puzzle solvers.

One feature of the interactive audio puzzle-solving, game-playing, and learning tutorial system 10 is a suite of programs to enable a puzzle designer to enter the data specific to each individual puzzle. These include, inter alia, the clues and answers for a crossword puzzle comprising text and associated positional information. System 10 can provide either a manual method or a file-based method for designing the puzzle.

Using the manual method, which is especially useful for “classic” puzzles not available in machine-readable format, the crossword is manually entered by the user with an input module, e.g., input module 300, FIG. 7. Input module 300 is typically part of a software application run on a computer system. The operator first indicates the height and width of a desired grid to generate blank grid 302. Next, the puzzle answers are entered into grid 302, e.g., answers 304 and 306 and the associated clues are entered in an across question textbox 306 and down question textbox 308. Characteristics of the clues may also be captured as index terms. These characteristics may include the level of difficulty, proper nouns, puns, short words, long words, multi-word answers or clues keyed to the puzzle's “theme”, and the like.

The file based method is automatic for puzzles provided in machine readable format. Examples of puzzle file formats include the .puz file format, known by those skilled in the art. In this example, system 10 reads the grid height and grid width and the associated clues and answers, e.g., text and associated positional information and stores them as rules 23 and initial data 25 in memory 22 to be processed by logic engine 24 as described above. Conventional printed puzzles typically include only one clue per answer. In contrast, system 10, of this invention has the ability to support additional clues per answer, as well as the clue indexing.

Although as described above, interactive audio system 10 may be used for solving crossword puzzles, this is not a necessary limitation of this invention. In other embodiments, rules 23 and initial data 25 may be modified to enable existing games and puzzles often played on conventional computer systems that use a display and input device to be played with audio alone. The games and puzzles include, inter alia, Anagrams, Number Blocks (a matrix of numbers partially filled in where the rows, columns and diagonals add up to numbers that are given), Ghost, Hangman and the card game blackjack.

Another interactive audio word game provided by system 10 similar as described above includes a game known as WORD POKER™ that has the word-building challenge of SCRABBLE® but recognizes the human memory demands imposed by lack of a display or image of the board. WORD POKER™ uses common letters like the face cards in poker. These common letters, which are fixed, include all the vowels A, E, I, O, U, that are easily remembered. The player is then dealt five or six randomly generated letters that are spoken by the system 10 as described above with reference to FIG. 1-6 in groups that aid in memorization. If the user forgets the letters, system 10 can be asked for any number of repetitions. The user then tries to construct as many words of as many letters from the combination of his dealt cards and the set of common cards. At any time the player may compare his answers to a complete set of answers generated by system 10 in order to test his performance and to learn techniques for improving his future scores. For example, system 10 may provide output auditory speech to “deal” the letters: M, R, T, S, L, A, in two groups of three letters each for ease of memorization. The user might then respond with the words: SLATE, SALUTE, TEAMS, REAMS, MERITS. The game may be structured in a number of different ways. For example, the user may be given a limit of five words with which to come up with the greatest possible total of letters used to form them. In this example, the total count would be twenty-seven. In another example, the common letters might include a wild card letter in addition to the vowels since this adds no further memory burden.

Interactive audio system 10 may also provide an audible learning tutorial, e.g., a generalized question and answer learning tutorial. The tutorial could be applied to language instruction, basic math skills, SAT preparation and a host of other tutorial applications. The critical criteria for suitability is that the questions can be presented orally, e.g., as output auditory speech as discussed above and the answers spoken by the user are easily translated and processed by the logic engine of system 10, discussed above, e.g., by spelling Spanish word answers to English word questions and vice versa, presenting multiplication tables with number answers, presenting SAT questions with simple multiple choice answers etc.

Interactive audio system 10 may also implement a number of quiz games that are specialized to specific areas of knowledge, e.g., as sports trivia, music, geography and current events, and the like. The interactive audio provided by system 10 not only provides a way for choosing multiple-choice alternative answers, but also provides a way for asking for additional clues so as to enrich the game-playing experience and forms of scoring that provide competitive motivation.

Interactive audio system 10 may also provide a number of simulations that are specialized to specific areas of interest, e.g., sports, and the like. In this example, the interactive audio provided by system 10 allows users to choose from an array of coaching choices faced by a baseball or football coach and the audible simulated game would then play out as if the user were listening to a baseball or football game on the radio. For example, if the user's baseball team were at bat, the user, acting as coach, could substitute pinch runners or pinch hitters, signal an attempt at a stolen base, call for a hit and run, and the like. Users could at any point get relevant statistics on their own or the opposing players. The simulations could be run in “real-time”, to closely approximate the actual elapsed running time of the sporting event or other activity, or extend over longer periods of time.

In other designs, system 10 may also be used for an audible spelling bee competition when all the features of a national contest broadcast on television can be audibly provided by system 10 with the logic engine configured to provide a word, its meaning, its etymology, alternative pronunciations and its part of speech in response to queries by the user. In this example, system 10 checks answers spoken by the user as a string of letters and keep a score of correct and incorrect responses. System 10 could also act as a training method for future contestants as well as a source of entertainment for ordinary users. As discussed above, system 10 can provide the ability to choose the level of complexity and can provide additional cluing that increases the entertainment value for casual users.

Another example of an instructional tutorial provided by system 10 may be used by practitioners or students engaged in hands-on physical work that prevents the use of a display or input device, e.g., auto mechanics, emergency medical technicians, chemistry and biological technicians, home improvement amateurs, and the like. In this example, the interactive audio dialog generated by system 10 provides real-time access to audible manuals to allow detailed help inquiries while physically engaged. Other uses include, inter alia, instructional tutorials that are used by soldiers on the battlefield or in advanced training activities.

Although specific features of the invention are shown in some drawings and not in others, this is for convenience only as each feature may be combined with any or all of the other features in accordance with the invention. The words “including”, “comprising”, “having”, and “with” as used herein are to be interpreted broadly and comprehensively and are not limited to any physical interconnection. Moreover, any embodiments disclosed in the subject application are not to be taken as the only possible embodiments. Other embodiments will occur to those skilled in the art and are within the following claims.

In addition, any amendment presented during the prosecution of the patent application for this patent is not a disclaimer of any claim element presented in the application as filed: those skilled in the art cannot reasonably be expected to draft a claim that would literally encompass all possible equivalents, many equivalents will be unforeseeable at the time of the amendment and are beyond a fair interpretation of what is to be surrendered (if anything), the rationale underlying the amendment may bear no more than a tangential relation to many equivalents, and/or there are many other reasons the applicant can not be expected to describe certain insubstantial substitutes for any claim element amended.