I recently decided to take another look at my stalled Crossword Compiler word list project. I thought it would be worthwhile to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the Autofill Project and modify my word list management to serve the specifications of my current primary puzzle construction outlet: Crosswords With Friends. Also, tinkering with word lists is always a good way to feel productive while procrastinating on other projects.
Autofill opponents generally cite lousy grid entries as the fundamental and inevitable problem of delegating construction duties to a computer. I was reluctant to jump on this bandwagon and believed that autofill could perform satisfactorily with a well designed word list. I groomed my list for years using a complex word-scoring protocol and eventually developed a data set that could reliably autofill small to medium grid sections. But among the lively fill I noticed subtle word duplications (ATECROW and EATERY), proper names with blind crossings, and grids with disproportionate sets of entries related to entertainment, science, or some other category. I couldn’t think of a way to fine-tune CCWIN to address all of these personal and industry-sanctioned aesthetic standards, so I finally accepted that grid fill requires human oversight.
In the new default word list I am confining entries to five scoring categories. A sophisticated scoring system with a 2-point differentiation between singular and plural nouns is not very important when I am manually reviewing all entries before they go in the grid. The simplified scoring system is making the conversion process easier, and I am already halfway through the scoring adjustments for six-letter entries. The other major change in the new default is reformatting entries to mixed case with spaces. Of the 366,000 entries in my all-caps default list, about 155,000 have been converted to mixed case. The unformatted entries are mostly long phrases and garbage that I don’t need for Crosswords With Friends, but I do want to convert the salvageable material from this list eventually.
While I am making these changes to my default list, I am not making efforts to add a lot of new entries. My current word list suits me fine. I add about a dozen entries a month from my notepad and I will gradually go through the lists that other constructors have sent me, but I don’t plan to search Google for theme lists or start mining AcrossLite files of published crosswords.
Brian Cimmet posted this puzzle on Facebook.
The San Francisco puzzle community has been organizing biannual puzzle miniconventions for 33 years. I learned about these Equinox parties about the same time I attended my first LA minicon and contacted local organizer Henri Picciotto to get on the mailing list. I never found an opportunity to attend until this year when my friend Myles Nye, who recently moved from LA to Bay Area, invited me to stay at his place in Berkeley. I made my plans for a quick weekend getaway that would include an evening puzzle program at the Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists.
When I contacted Henri and told him I was planning to attend, he invited me to contribute an activity for the party. Equinox puzzle content favors wordplay challenges over trivia or logic, but the activities include wall puzzles, mixers, handouts, group games, and extravaganzas. The parties traditionally have themes that inspire the puzzle content. Since this was the 66th party, the chosen theme was “Road Trip,” as a reference to Route 66. I agreed to present a group game and devised a “Travel Bingo” activity in which players would come up with answer words that share a wordplay connection (anagram, letter change, etc.) and then place those answers on a bingo card. Each space on the card had a category and players would try to place answers to match the categories. Play-testers enjoyed generating answers but were confused by some of the rules governing valid answers. I did my best to simplify the rules without making them trivial.
About 70 people attended the Equinox party, and about a quarter of them were also members of the National Puzzlers’ League. I was happy to visit with friends that I see at the NPL conventions as well as people I don’t often get to see like Andrea Carla Michaels, Rosa Quiñones, and NeilFred Picciotto. The program started with a large-group word ladder puzzle created by Roger Wolff. The attendees solved clues on sheets of paper and then arranged themselves based on the letters of the answers to create a long chain that spelled an answer message. NeilFred presented a creative challenge based on a classic wordplay game of finding words that contain license plate trigrams. At each table, the players needed to find words and then use those words in a story that was created by passing a folded sheet of paper around exquisite-corpse style. Andrew Chaikin’s Interstate Roadtrip contained clues leading to answers that could be made of U.S. State postal abbreviations plus one extra letter. The extra letters spelled a clue to the final answer. I cosolved with a new acquaintance Ruth and we worked well filling one another’s knowledge gaps to complete the puzzle in short order. Myles led a game show called Spoonbenders in which a player tried to deduce a phrase from a teammates verbal clues of a spoonerized version of the phrase. I offered up Travel Bingo and made some adjustments on the fly since many of the players were not familiar with NPL terminology. Finally, Rick Rubenstein and Joshua Kosman gave us a very fun extravaganza in which the solvers were hitchhikers working out puzzles to get across the country. It was a puzzle-packed evening that sated my solving muscles.
Crossword constructor Nate Cardin has organized a charity crossword project called Queer Qrosswords. By donating $10 or more to an organization that supports rights for members of the LGBTQ community, you can receive a collection of puzzles from a murderers’ row of puzzle creators who are members of the community you are supporting. The puzzles will contain clues and themes intended to balance the heteronormative cant in mainstream crosswords. In short: three great reasons to support this project. Check it out!