My Little Printer publications

Berg, maker of Little Printer, is shutting down. The future of Little Printer is uncertain. I like my Little Printer though I don’t often press the button to make it print. I’ve been involved in the production of 3 Little Printer publications and thought it would be interesting to share some information about them.

17One Down

2639338359‘One Down’ sends you two clues from today’s Times Crossword. I helped make ‘One Down’ whilst working at News UK (née News International) in the Technology R&D Lab.

It was interesting trying to get the dithering pattern right (it looks much better printed) and making an algorithm that would pick 2 reasonably-sized intersecting clues from a full crossword. I used ambit to make a non-deterministic backtracking algorithm in Ruby (the entire publication is Sinatra, as are all the publications) to describe the ideal intersecting clues as a set of criteria and have the system work it out for me.

The Crossword Team at News UK were not pleased with One Down. They have very specific ideas in mind about how their crosswords should look and work, and they argued that by removing the other intersecting clues it was very difficult, maybe even impossible, to know for sure if you have the right answer. We ignored them and published it anyway, and personally I found it enjoyable but I can see their point: It’s pretty obvious the answer to Across above is DIABETES, but what about Down?

Before I left there was some ongoing discussion with a member of the Crossword Team about producing a one-off series of miniature crossword-style puzzles for Little Printer. Unfortunately it never happened, which is a shame because they had some great ideas for quirky puzzles that would’ve worked really well on the medium.

Amazingly the publication still works, despite it being unchanged and unmonitored since I left nearly 2 years ago. It was available more or less at launch of the Little Printer. 69 subscribers.

187 Spanish word of the day

177438537Inspired by my (future) wife’s language studies, my first solo Little Printer publication took inspiration from Berg’s ‘Word of the day’ publication. It’s surprisingly hard to find a word of the day feed in any particular language, and I was never really happy with this one; it tends to have very simple, uninteresting words. However others seem to like it. 162 subscribers.

272GitHub top trending repository

2652289456This is my favourite of the 3 publications I made. The screenshot above looks terrible, but the dithering gives a nice grey effect in real life. This one has required the most maintenance; it scrapes and they tend to change their CSS every now and then. Perhaps a little niche for Little Printer but I think it’s the kind of publication that Berg wanted because it’s what gives Little Printer its charm. 40 subscribers.

Bonus! Unfinished publication
Pimp My Tweets


Pimp My Tweets was another publication made whilst I was at News UK, but sadly we never finished it. The idea was that the publication would pick a tweet you posted from the previous day and suggest a word replacement, with the goal of ‘Expanding your vocabulary’. It found suggestions by doing a ‘reverse word of the day’. We had a big dataset of ‘words of the day’ and performed a thesaurus look-up on each one. We stored these resulting words and if any of your tweets included one, we would suggest the word of the day it corresponded to.

This would often have hilarious results where the replacement word was nonsensical and we were going to publish it as it was, but Berg unsurprisingly said they would rather it actually worked.

All 3 published publications are Sinatra (Ruby) applications running for free on Heroku. They’ve never cost me anything other than time, and I’m glad I was a small part of the Little Printer ecosystem.

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