My spouse and I enjoy playing the New York Times Spelling Bee daily. Here's how it works:

Seven letters are arranged in a hexagon shape, with one letter set in the center and six others surrounding it.

An example of the letters for one NYT spelling bee.

Our goal is to construct as many words as we can that use only the given seven letters, contain the center letter, and have a length greater than or equal to four. Letters are allowed to be repeated, and words have no maximum length.

Points accumulate with each submitted word. Four-letter words are worth 1 point, and longer words are worth as many points as their length. Additionally, words that use all seven letters are considered "pangrams" and earn an additional 7 points.

Each day, the New York Times establishes tiers based on the total number of points amassed. The "beginner" rank is lowest, while the "genius" rank is highest. A hidden "queen bee" rank is revealed to players who manage to find all words in the solution set that day.

An example of the rankings for one NYT spelling bee.

As a competitive household, we like to play until we reach the "genius" ranking. But the New York Times version is only free for players until they reach the "solid" ranking, at which point they require a game subscription to continue word hunting. Unfortunately, the game subscription is separate from the news subscription, and we weren't interested in buying both.

So we made our own version instead. It uses Google Sheets. Try it out!

It's gone through several drafts over the years, and it's not perfect, but it works for us. Our initial version only tested word length and the letters used, but in the last week, it's seen some major upgrades. My spouse just added a check for accepted words as well as the hexagon shape and shuffle button, and I think it looks great.

The recently-added hexagon shape and shuffle button.

It's so easy to forget that Excel has the power to do heavy-duty programming, but this was a good reminder. I'm quite proud of our little DIY project!