Default 2018


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.





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The Kia Rio has been a handy automotive import for crossword constructors, and the recently introduced Kia Niro (65) is an additional boon. I predict that Kia will next produce an electric vehicle called the Orion.

Last week I met some puzzle room entrepreneurs from Canada. Their main product is virtual reality escape room experiences that they sell to franchisees. I tried a demo of one of their rooms. It was the first time I tried VR and after the fifteen-minute adventure I felt queasy for the rest of the afternoon. I did add Oculus Rift (75) to the database. The entrepreneurs also manage an Archery Tag (72) facility in Ottawa. I wonder if that would make me queasy.

I don’t celebrate the holiday, but I bought some Easter candy (75) today — gourmet jelly beans. I also notice sales on bone-in ham (70), and wondered what other bone-in (60) meats are database worthy. I’ve heard ribeyes and filet mignon described as “bone-in.” Based on length, those would be unlikely entries anyway.



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My Xfinity cable service recently replaced its music channels with the Pandora app. I have a Pandora account but I’ve never been able to train the algorithm to play exactly what I want. I created a station a few years ago that was intended to play contemporary Billboard hits. I tried it out last weekend and discovered that it plays songs that were hits when I created the station, and not hits today. The station also has a tendency to go down rabbit holes. After playing a hip-hop song, it decided to play exclusively hip-hop, establishing that passive listeners are not entitled to variety. I did jot down Brother Ali (65) and Dyme Def (60) for the database, but I wish I could have better way to listen to current top-40 music. Any advice from Pandora experts?

California’s wet winter has produced what news stories are calling a super bloom (70) in desert flora. I’m not sure if this is a regularly used term for the phenomenon, or if it will be an ephemeral buzz-term related to climate like “polar vortex” or “snowpocalypse.”

I added the Michael Masterson book title Ready Fire Aim (70). I’m interested to see if the title phrase gains traction as a hyphenated adjective for impulsive decision making. I’ve seen the phrase used in that fashion in recent commentaries about the Trump administration.








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Mahershala Ali (65) was already in my list, but his Oscar win for Moonlight solidifies another good clue option for ALI.

Mayonnaise cafes (72) are apparently a new culinary trend in Japan. The creamy dressing has been a popular Western import there for a long time, but now the Japanese can seek out trendy restaurants in which all menu items, including dessert, contain generous portions of mayonnaise. I haven’t found evidence of “mayo cafe” as an alternative term.

I saw the phrase “crazy cheap” (80) and wondered if 11C sanctions “crazy” as an adverb. It does, and the adverb definition gives “crazy good” (75) as an example. I added both of those phrases. What other “crazy [adjective]” phrases are common?



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NOTES: Merriam-Webster recently announced a new list of words to be incorporated into the dictionary. Most of the additions are entries I already had in my word list, though I got a few new entries, such as SEUSSIAN (65), that could be useful as general fill. The Trump administration presents an opportunity to add to entries to Default. Members of the White House staff and cabinet require some “vetting” for a crossword database just as they do for their actual job positions, though I did add SEAN SPICER (60) because I’ve been watching those SNL videos with Melissa McCarthy playing the gum-chomping press secretary. MAR-A-LAGO (65) might be utilitarian fill, though I resisted adding its partials that are not already represented as legit letter combos. I’m watching Riverdale on The CW. The modern-noir soap opera reimagining of the Archie Comics characters is hit-amd-miss, but I like the New Zealand-born lead actor K J APA (60) for his name. When Sybil watches, she comments on his massive eyebrows every time he appears onscreen. I hope the show survives so that his name becomes eligible fill for Daily Celebrity Crosswords.



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NOTES: I haven’t seen Zootopia (70) yet but I glanced at IMDb to see the cast and noticed some useful names among the characters: Chief Bogo, Yax, Stu Hopps. Another useful name of animated character that I only discovered recently is Aang (50) from Nickelodeon’s Avatar: The Last Airbender. I’ve been “marking as read” large swaths of A.V. Club RSS feed posts because I haven’t had time to read them, but when I do have a chance to go through the entertainment news I can find some good Notepad additions. I jokingly wrote down Boaty McBoatface (72), the result of a group of U.K. scientists using an Internet poll to name a new research vessel. I don’t think the name will be made official (for the boat or the crossword database) despite its overwhelming popularity by voters, but the name would be a fun 15-letter seed if it sticks.

No sharedoc lists this time. Good luck to those competing in Stamford at the American College Puzzle Tournament this weekend!



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NOTES: Mental Floss ran an article last week about popular Valentine’s Day Internet searches associated with each of the fifty states. The results provided some good word list additions such as couples yoga (80), the top-searched item for Colorado. I decided that the West Virginia entry cheap gifts (-) was a bit to green-painty. Word Spy recently posted a new slang term for hoarding: stuffocation (70). It’s a too-cute portmanteau but I mainly added it because it comes from a James Wallman book title. The astronomical discovery of a planet nine (72) from a few weeks ago finally got added. I hope that astronomers acquire stronger evidence of this solar system rogue very soon so we can have a new planet to name.

LISTS: I’m still working on a chuck of Mark Diehl entries and recently added Hilton Head (75), HTML editor (65), ostrich egg (75), and pencil-thin (65). One entry that three me for a second was loose teeth (63). I couldn’t grasp the meaning of the phrase until I thought of the singular form. While many *tooth phrases feel as natural as their *teeth counterparts, I find that a few lean one way or the other. It’s based on whether the dental phenomenon is associated with multiple instances in the same mouth, thus “buck teeth” is better than “buck tooth,” but “first tooth” is better than “first teeth.” So maybe “loose teeth” seems strange because people don’t have multiple loose teeth simultaneously (or so I assume based on my personal dental history).

AUTOFILL PROJECT: tavern puzzle


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NOTES: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is generating a lot of excitement among action film fans, but I would guess that crossword puzzle constructors are especially excited to have available entries such as Kylo Ren (60) (A new clue alternative to {Stimpy’s pal!}), Maz (45), Hux (55), and Snoke (55). I haven’t seen the film yet but I expect that I will have stumbled upon most of the spoilers by the time I actually get to the theater. Among Golden Globe nominations I noted the crossword friendly additions Carol Aird (45), Cate Blanchett’s nominated title role in Carol and Lili Elbe (55) portrayed by Eddie Redmayne in The Danish Girl. After recent;y adding the neologism “food desert,” I discovered the related term food swamp (72) referring to a geographical area with an abundance of processed foods but little fresh produce, meat, or fish.

LISTS: I found some time to mine some more sharedoc data from Mark Diehl and Matt Jones. Some nice additions include Cosmo quiz (85), crumple zone (80), squash court (80), and tea cup ride (75). I only recently became familiar with the term tavern puzzle (80) and was interested to see the entry show up in list of database additions. We sell metal mechanical puzzles on the lobby of my workplace. Many of the puzzles are designed by local puzzle makers and branded as tavern puzzles due to their popularity as diversions in drinking establishments. I have never been adept at these puzzles, and now part of my job is to organize the display models and reset ones that have been solved by patrons. Even with the solution booklet at hand I struggle to put those damned things together. The shackle puzzle pictured below is the one that gives me the most grief. The solution instructions are fairly clear for removing the ring, but the ones for putting it back on contain “helpful” statements such as “reverse step 3” and “hold the shackles as in figure 2 but upside-down.” I’ll figure it out someday.






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NOTES: I first heard of the online fantasy sports company Draft Kings (75) a few years ago when it was a sponsor of Rob Cesternino’s podcast. Even as its advertising became more and more ubiquitous I didn’t think of adding it to my Notepad until its recent online gambling issues , along with those of FanDuel (70), made headlines.  Word Spy suggests that droneport (72), a facility for drone takeoffs and landings, will soon be widespread phenomenon. I’m still wondering when drones are going to start arriving at my condo with package deliveries. If the drones can keep the squirrels away I may increase my mail-order purchases.

GRIDS: My most recent Unthemely puzzle includes the entry SETSONEDGE. I added the entry to the grid with the assumption that  it was a common transitive verbal phrase that can be used on a person, i.e. “it sets me on edge.”  While writing clues I discovered that Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary only sanctions “(one’s) teeth” as the object of phrase. Other online references and previously published crossword clues also support the “teeth, not person” application. I opted to clue the entry based on my original assumption, believing that “set (one) on edge” is a colloquial, if technically incorrect, usage in the English speaking world. BEQ recently produced a crossword with the entry put on edge (65), and he also clued it as a transitive verbal phrase applicable to a person. Readers, do you agree with these clue approaches?



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NOTES: My Notepad additions have been slowing down over the last few months. I guess I’m noticing fewer new names in the news and I’m being more judicious with entries that I encounter in other crossword puzzles. Recent celebrity additions include Estonian tennis star Anett (45) Kontaveit and singer Hailee (50) Steinfeld. I’m also pleased that Desi Lydic (60) has joined Trevor Noah’s team of Daily Show correspondents, though it looks like she will be out on maternity leave shortly. I recently heard a news piece on the food desert (75) situation facing communities that are too rural to have access to grocery stores with fresh produce. And, with the approach of the day that Marty McFly traveled to the then-future in Back to the Future II, I have added Oxboard (70).Sure, they’re not hoverboards but I guess they’re as close as 2015 technology and marketing can get. I do see a lot of youngsters cruising around on them in Downtown Denver.