The Internet has made it much easier for us to make friends all over the world as well as keep in touch with loved ones who live far away. With the ease of emails, message boards, chat rooms, and instant messaging, we are able to carry on lively conversations on just about any subject you can think of.

Of course, the written word can sometimes be ambiguous when it comes to expressing the feelings behind the words. A great tool that helps put our words into perspective are the happy little smiling faces that so many of use in our messages: the emoticons.

Configured so that they can be inserted into the text of everything from a post on a message board to an instant message conversation, emoticons are often used to make the intent of our words a little clearer. The basic emoticon, known as a smiley, is a way of letting the person you are communicating with that the remark you just typed is meant in a friendly way. Resembling the happy face that was so popular during the 1970's, the most popular style of emoticons are round, often yellow in color, and have eyes and a mouth that are used to convey all sorts of emotions.

There are emoticons that can cover just about any feeling or emotion you want to express. As an example, surprise or shock is often indicated by an emoticon that displays wide-open eyes and a round mouth. Anger may be conveyed by an emoticon that is red rather than yellow, and features a grimace. Love or cordial feelings are often expressed by the use of an emoticon that features a beating red heart. There are even emoticons that can convey boredom, excitement, wild laughter, and a sly wink.

Using emoticons is very easy. Just about every message board and text messaging service provides the user with basic information about how to insert emoticons into communications. Typically, it is a matter of selecting the emoticon from a listing, using the computer mouse. Many systems also allow key sequences from the keyboard to register as emoticons as well. If you are particularly savvy and know how to create the emoticon you want by using your keyboard, you can forego pulling up the emoticon menu and using the mouse to make your selection.

In addition to being informational, emoticons are a way to add a touch of whimsy to any of your electronic communications. Most of us do use these types of communications in an informal manner, so the emoticons will lend themselves well to this type of usage. Opening up an email and seeing a cute remark followed by a line of laughing emoticons can bring a smile to our lips with ease.

Who doesn't like to receive an emoticon conveyed electronic kiss from someone we are romantically interested in? Between the real service of helping to make our written communications clearer to the recipient, and the sheer fun that emoticons bring to our emails and instant messages, they are definitely now part of our culture.

Craig Thornburrow is an acknowledged expert in his field. You can get more free advice on emotion icons and emoticons at

When we were children, me, my brother and sister would sit in the family room and do jigsaw puzzles. I don't want to say exactly how old I am, (my mainly salt and little pepper beard gives a good indication), but back then there was no such thing as cable television. There were only 4 channels that were hard to get, even though you tried positioning the antenna a thousand different ways. You had to be able to make your own entertainment and our family's favorite was jigsaw puzzles.

My brother and I would make a contest of it, while my sister would calmly find the pieces and fit them into the puzzle. She always completed more of the puzzle than we did, but that didn't stop us from proclaiming that we had done the most to complete the puzzle.

Now, instead of buying puzzles at the store, I put them together online. I have to tell you, of all the advanced technology out there, the ones that have been put into puzzle games amaze me the most. These are interactive puzzles that allow you to drag the pieces around the screen to form it. It may sound boring, but nothing could be farther from the truth.

My favorite game site, Big Fish Games, has puzzles that come to life as they take shape. There's one particular game that uses the ocean as a background. You start putting the puzzle together and as the fish shapes are completed, they take on life and begin moving about the screen. Way too cool, as my son would say. Somehow, they've managed to give the puzzles a 3D effect, which makes them even more beautiful when they are completed. The details are so fine, that you feel like you are actually in the room shown in the puzzle.

Another of my favorite puzzles blends objects into the picture and you have to find them all in a certain amount of time. Some of the objects are easy to locate, but others are so well hidden, it's hard to locate them. You can get hints to their location and I am always shocked that I didn't see them earlier, since they appear to have been "hidden" in plain view. These games are excellent to sharpen your observation skills and provide exercise for your mind. Body fitness is given tons of attention, but little is given to how to keep your mind in shape. Puzzle games are a great way to do this and provide a lot of entertainment at the same time.

If you really want to get on a mental treadmill, try the games that make you find the differences in pictures. It might seem easy, but it isn't. This weekend my sister is coming for dinner and I'm going to introduce her to these games. Finally, after all of these years, I think I may actually best her at a puzzle.

Gregg Hall is an author living in Navarre Florida. Find more about this as well as puzzle gifts at