So now you’ve learned the syntax of Python, and are now ready for something else. Something harder. Something that will take the rest of your life to master. Now it’s time for actually doing something useful with your code. This is the hardest part of programming. It’s easy to learn the syntax of a language (unless you’re learning APL), but being able to translate problems into solutions is something that will take significant time and energy, regardless of whether you are using code, mathematics, or some other toolset.

The purpose of this post is to provide an outline for building a small Python project for the Python beginner. The game of Hangman is a fairly popular project for programming beginners for the following reasons:

• It’s approachable – the learner is likely already familiar with Hangman
• It’s rewarding – the learner gets to see the results

I will not be teaching any syntax – the rules of the Python language – in this tutorial. Instead, we’re going to focus on the harder parts.

## Define:

Before we can write a program that does anything, we must first define what we want it to accomplish. Not doing so is an extremely common mistake we programmer folk make – we often jump head first into a problem, trying to come up with a solution to a problem we don’t even fully understand.

Therefore, here’s the definition of our game.

• The game shall pick a random target_word from a predefined word_bank
• The game shall display an underscore for each letter in the target_word
• The game shall repeatedly prompt the user for letter guesses until they “hang” their man or correctly guess the target_word
• On correct guesses:
• The game shall indicate the guess was correct
• The game shall display the guess_word – which is the target_word filled out with correctly guessed letters, and underscores for unguessed letters
• On incorrect guesses:
• The game shall indicate the guess was incorrect
• The game shall penalize the player by “hanging” an additional “body part”
• On all guesses:
• The game shall display the current state of the “hangman” and the guess_word
• Once play is finished:
• If the user won:
• The game shall congratulate the user
• If the user lost:
• The game shall display the target_word and the guess_word

## Design:

Another very common mistake among new programmers and old programmers alike is to immediately jump into their favorite code editor and start writing. This is where new programmers stall, and where old programmers make poor design decisions. The very first thing we need to do before writing any code is to design our product.

The word “design” means something very specific. The dictionary gives the following definition

Design.

1. n. A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of (a building, garment, or other object) before it is built or made.

2. v. To decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it.

So let’s go ahead and design our program.

### Flowcharts:

Not everyone likes using flowcharts, but that’s what I’m going to use for this project because they tend to be more clear. Before we jump in though, I want to explain how to read and use a flowchart. The following is a simple flowchart that contains all of the symbols I will use.

The symbol represents the start of a program. The program will run until it reaches a symbol. This example program will ask for some form of input when it reaches an symbol. This input could be a commandline prompt, reading from a file, fetching a webpage, getting a button press, or any number of other forms of input. Similarly, the program will output some kind of information when it reaches an symbol. Again, this could be printing a message to the terminal, writing to a file, midifying a webpage, sending an email, lighting up an LED, or some other form of output. A symbol means the program does something at that point. It calls a function, performs some mathematical operation, generates a random number, or something else. Finally, we have the symbols. These are where decisions are made. They don’t have to be yes or no decisions, they could very well be something like the following:

They make a decision based on the value of something. This is where the program flow branches.

### Hangman:

At its core, our program will have to start up, pick a random word, and start asking the user for input. We can start with a simple flowchart that shows this, and then add to it later.

Let’s start at the top and work down.

1. The program begins
2. The program picks a target_word
3. The program asks the user for a guess
4. The program validates the user guess. A guess is invalid if:
• It has already been guessed
• It is not a single character
• It is not in the alphabet

These rules can be fairly flexible. For example, you could allow your target_word to include punctuation and numerals, you could penalize the user for guessing a number twice, or you could even guess multiple characters at a time. I would recommend sticking with these rules for now though, and extending them later.

Another thing that this validation routine should do is convert the guess to uppercase or lowercase (your choice), so that guessing A is the same as guessing a.

5. If the guess is valid, the guess_word needs to be updated and displayed, and the hangman should be updated and displayed.
6. The program then determines if the game is won, lost, or still in progress. As long as the game is still in progress it loops back to the top and asks for a user guess again. Otherwise, the game is over.

## Implement:

Now that we have at least one design for our problem, it is now time to implement them. I’m going to give my implementation, but please realize – there’s more than one way to skin a cat – you’re welcome to try things your way.

### Stub

Let’s build the program skeleton first. This is called stubbing out your program. You’re not writing it, you’re defining its core structure, which makes writing the program easier.

Everywhere the pass keyword is used is something you need to write yourself. If you’re new to programming, I suggest you start with this skeleton, and try to fill it out yourself. However, if you’d like more of a challenge, try writing your own skeleton, and compare it when you’re done.

#!/usr/bin/python3
import os
import random
import sys

def pick_random_word(filename):
"""Picks a random word from a given file"""
pass

def get_valid_input(guesses):
"""Prompts the user for valid input"""
pass

def is_guess_correct(guess, target_word):
"""Determines if the user guess is correct"""
pass

def determine_game_state(target_word, guesses):
"""Determines if the game has been won, lost, or if it is still in progress"""
pass

def display_guess_word(target_word, guesses):
"""Given the target word and the user guesses, displays the guess word"""
pass

def display_hangman(num_body_parts):
"""Given a number of body parts, displays the hangman"""
pass

def main(filename):
"""Runs the game"""
target_word = pick_random_word(filename)
guesses = set()
game_state = None

while game_state is None:
try:
# Game logic goes here
pass
except KeyboardInterrupt:
break

# Game is over, give commentary to user.
if game_state is True:
print('You\'ve won! Thank you for playing!')
elif game_state is False:
print('I\'m sorry, it appears you have lost :(')
print('The word you were looking for was', target_word)

if __name__ == '__main__':
# If no commandline arguments are given, use a default file.
if len(sys.argv) < 2:
DEFAULT_WORD_LIST = 'hangman.txt'
print('Running', sys.argv[0], 'on default word list found in', DEFAULT_WORD_LIST)
main(DEFAULT_WORD_LIST)
# Otherwise, use the user specified file.
else:
main(sys.argv[1])


### My implementation

Try to go no further unless you get stuck. There are many ways to write this, and your solution will most likely be different than mine, and that’s okay.

• Picking a random target_word from a file:

It’s quite easy to pick a random item from a list, so we should focus on converting a file of words into a list of words.

  def pick_random_word(filename):
"""Picks a random word from a given file"""
# Create word bank.
word_bank = []
with open(filename, 'r') as f:
# Strip line of surrounding whitespace and convert to lowercase.
word = line.strip()
word = word.lower()
# Add word to word bank.
word_bank.append(word)

# Pick random item from the word bank.
return random.choice(word_bank)

• Getting valid user input:

  def get_valid_input(guesses):
"""Prompts the user for valid input"""
while True:
# Get a user guess and convert it to lowercase.
user_guess = input('Enter a guess: ')
user_guess = user_guess.lower()
# Valid user guesses are one character long and alphabetic.
if len(user_guess) == 1 and user_guess.isalpha():
# Check if the validated guess has already guessed.
if user_guess in guesses:
# If it hasn't already been guessed, return it.
else:
return user_guess
# If the user gives invalid input, return to the top of the loop.
else:
print('Invalid input')

• Determining if a valid guess is correct:

  def is_guess_correct(guess, target_word):
"""Determines if the user guess is correct"""
return guess in target_word

• Determining the game state:

  def determine_game_state(target_word, guesses):
"""Determines if the game has been won, lost, or if it is still in progress"""
# Convert the target word into a set of target characters.
target_set = set(target_word)
# The elements of guesses that are not in target_set.
incorrect_guesses = guesses.difference(target_set)

# The user has incorrectly guessed too many times. The game has been lost.
if len(incorrect_guesses) >= 6:
return False
# If every character in the target word is an element of guesses, the game has been won.
if target_set.issubset(guesses):
return True
# Otherwise the game is still in progress
else:
return None

• Filling out the guess_word from the current guesses and the target_word:

  def display_guess_word(target_word, guesses):
"""Given the target word and the user guesses, displays the guess word"""
guess_word = ""
for character in target_word:
# If the character has been guessed, add it to the guess word.
if character in guesses:
guess_word += character
# Otherwise, fill in the character with an underscore.
else:
guess_word += '_'

print(guess_word)

• Displaying the hangman. This was the hardest part for me.

  def display_hangman(num_body_parts):
"""Given a number of body parts, displays the hangman"""
# An empty gallows.
HANGMAN = "    ||============|      \n" \
"    ||            |      \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"======================   \n"
# A completely hung man.
HUNGMAN = "    ||============|      \n" \
"    ||            |      \n" \
"    ||            O      \n" \
"    ||           \\ /    \n" \
"    ||            |      \n" \
"    ||           / \\    \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"    ||                   \n" \
"======================   \n"
# The start and end indices of the bodyparts.
HEAD_START = 26 * 2 + 18
LEFT_ARM_START = 26 * 3 + 18
LEFT_ARM_END = LEFT_ARM_START + 1
RIGHT_ARM_START = LEFT_ARM_END + 1
RIGHT_ARM_END = RIGHT_ARM_START + 1
TORSO_START = 26 * 4 + 18
TORSO_END = TORSO_START + 1
LEFT_LEG_START = 26 * 5 + 17
LEFT_LEG_END = LEFT_LEG_START + 1
RIGHT_LEG_START = LEFT_LEG_END + 1
RIGHT_LEG_END = RIGHT_LEG_START + 1

# Feel free to add more body parts!
if num_body_parts is 0:
print(HANGMAN)
elif num_body_parts is 1:
elif num_body_parts is 2:
print(HUNGMAN[:LEFT_ARM_START] + HANGMAN[LEFT_ARM_END:])
elif num_body_parts is 3:
print(HUNGMAN[:RIGHT_ARM_START] + HANGMAN[RIGHT_ARM_END:])
elif num_body_parts is 4:
print(HUNGMAN[:TORSO_START] + HANGMAN[TORSO_END:])
elif num_body_parts is 5:
print(HUNGMAN[:LEFT_LEG_START] + HANGMAN[LEFT_LEG_END:])
elif num_body_parts is 6:
print(HUNGMAN)
else:
print(HUNGMAN)


If you’re trying to write this yourself, a suitable alternative while you’re trying to get your program working might be something like the following:

  def display_hangman(num_body_parts):
"""Given a number of body parts, displays the hangman"""
print('You have hung', num_body_parts, 'of your hangman!')

• Tying everything together in the main function:

  def main(filename):
"""Runs the game"""
target_word = pick_random_word(filename)
target_set = set(target_word)
guesses = set()
incorrect_guesses = set()
game_state = None

# Display an empty gallows.
display_hangman(0)

while game_state is None:
try:
# Get a valid user guess
user_guess = get_valid_input(guesses)

# Add the user guess to the set of guesses.

# Determine if the user guess is incorrect.
if not is_guess_correct(user_guess, target_word):

# Find the number of incorrect guesses and display that many body parts.
display_hangman(len(incorrect_guesses))
# Display the guess word.
display_guess_word(target_word, guesses)
# Determine the game state.
game_state = determine_game_state(target_word, guesses)

except KeyboardInterrupt:
break

# Game is over, give commentary to user.
if game_state is True:
print('You\'ve won! Thank you for playing!')
elif game_state is False:
print('I\'m sorry, it appears you have lost :(')
print('The word you were looking for was', target_word)

if __name__ == '__main__':
# If no commandline arguments are given, use a default file.
if len(sys.argv) < 2:
DEFAULT_WORD_LIST = 'hangman.txt'
print('Running', sys.argv[0], 'on default word list found in', DEFAULT_WORD_LIST)
main(DEFAULT_WORD_LIST)
# Otherwise, use the user specified file.
else:
main(sys.argv[1])


## Review:

Now we have a minimum viable product. Yay. You worked for it, struggled, and eventually achieved your goal. But you’re not done yet.

Design is never finished until you review your design. This is your opportunity to implement bug fixes, improvements, or even new features. This is where you also take what you have and clean it up. You should check for consistent indentation and consistent spacing around operators. Your functions should be well documented.

You should take a moment to look for opportunities to take what you have and make it better. Unless you’re one of the 0.0000001% of the population that can do things perfectly the first time every time, whatever you build can always be improved!

### Example

The code that I’ve laid out above is the result of my third attempt to build a game of hangman together with my girlfriend. On our first try, we didn’t sit down and design things first. This is something I wish we had done, because after talking with her about it, I think it would have made it both easier and more enjoyable.

In my implementation, I used set()s extensively. This isn’t a tool most new programmers even know exists, much less is their first choice. When I sat down to review my design, this was one of the things I noticed. Because the point of the post isn’t to explain how to build a game of Hangman, but rather to explain how to build a program from start to finish, I decided to leave it the way it is.

One of the improvements that I added when I wrote this version was the ability to use phrases instead of words. Other improvements I can think of might be to allow for playing repeated games, maybe even displaying win/loss statistics on each round. Maybe you could turn it into a multiplayer game, where multiple players compete against each other. Another improvement that I implemented was to clear the screen before the hangman gets displayed. It’s a cheap and simple improvement that adds quite a bit of polish.

Each of these ideas require deliberate thought and planning. Which, I suppose, you could call the entire point of this post.

As always, if you find a typo, flaw, improvement, or snide commentary, feel free to create a pull request! Also, let me know if you find synonyms for “Implement” and “Review” that start with a “D”.