CyberPuzzles…a look back at 1997

Back in 1997-1998 I was a pretty decent Java Developer especially since the language was only a year or so old. I had a very rare privilege to be able to work on some very cutting edge code for some online puzzles during my time at OzEmail who at the time were Australia’s largest Internet service provider.

At the time there was nothing like what we had developed anywhere on the internet, we looked it didn’t exist. We had to build it from scratch. So we did and it was amazing for me to be involved with this project.

We built a very sophisticated online crossword puzzle amongst others (Word Chain, Hidden Word, Broken word etc) that leveraged some pretty smart code that would read a data set that we defined stored in a SQL 6.5 database and it would render based on the dataset that it was fed. We had a built in system for clues and scoring, audio and animation all built around some central themes for kids and adults alike. Testing was fun as you can imagine as we had to support all the main browsers such as Internet Explorer 3/4, Netscape navigator. And you guessed they had implemented Java applet runtimes in different ways. We lived by the Java mantra at the time “Write once, Debug everywhere”.

We leveraged custom built parsers, Object Oriented Programming (OOP), SQL Server 6.5 database calls to host the puzzle data, multithreading for loading images and audio, keyboard and mouse input support and the list goes on…

Just to put things into context here was the technology state of play back in 1997:

1) There was NO C# or .NET  or ASP.Net. It would be 3-5 years before that technology came along and became mainstream.

2) Java Applets were all the rage. There was no Angular.JS or Flash we had to handle all the animations and user input ourselves.

3) The cloud didn’t exist but working for a hosting provider we managed to have access to as many servers as we needed.

4) Developer tools were very text based. We had Visual Studio with Visual J++ but Eclipse didn’t exist but we decided to develop in Symantec Visual Cafe which you can read more about here: and looked like this:


Times have really changed but I have to say (without bragging or anything) being involved in this project was a really big highlight of my career and I really do believe that the CyberPuzzles code was some of the best code I have ever written in my 20+ years in IT 🙂

The code is pretty self explanatory but pretty complex and reading through it brings back some very fond memories and I wanted to dedicate this release to my manager at the time Neil Reading who passed away in late 1998 and to my great mentor Bryan Richards who I learnt a lot from at the time.

So for all those Java coders out there that want to have a look at what Java development was like in 1997-98 you can download the CyberPuzzles Crossword code from GitHub here:

The code comes without any warranty and has zero support but is fun to read and have a look at.


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