Thursday, July 13, 2006

Seven-letter neighbor of Georgia

From Matt Gaffney's 2002 crossword construction diary on Slate:
Try this: a seven-letter word, starts and ends with "A," the clue is "Neighbor of Georgia."

Did you say "ALABAMA"? I hope so. I hope you wrote it in non-erasable ink, in really big letters, and I hope you were saying to yourself, "Jeez, this crossword puzzle is way too easy" while you were writing it.

The correct answer, it turns out, is ARMENIA.

Slate has also put up a section from Gaffney's new book about crossword construction, Gridlock : Crossword Puzzles and the Mad Geniuses Who Create Them,. Gaffney tests his construction skills with two grid-filling databases:
When people find out that I write crosswords for a living, they often ask, "Can't you just write crosswords using a computer program now?" After I finish crying—some people really know how to hurt a guy—I respond that, yes, computers play a role in crossword design these days. There are three parts to constructing a crossword: coming up with a theme, filling in the grid, and writing the clues. Until artificial intelligence makes some serious leaps, humans will do the heavy lifting when it comes to theme creation and clue writing. But the second part, filling grids with words, is quite computer-friendly. It's here that machines have revolutionized the construction of crossword puzzles.

Early efforts in computer-aided crossword design spat out marginal little grids filled with obscure words. But in the late 1980s, Boston computer programmer Eric Albert had an insight while tangling with this problem: A computer could generate high-quality crossword puzzles if each entry in its word database were ranked on, say, a scale from one to 10. An excellent puzzle word like JUKEBOX (gotta love all those high-scoring Scrabble letters) might be worth a nine or 10, while a hacky obscurity like UNAU (a type of sloth that has appeared in crosswords more times than it's been spotted in real life) would be a one or a two. By ranking the words, the junk would be left out and just the good stuff would go in.
Blogger RC on Thu Jul 13, 06:24:00 PM:
what a great and tricky crossword puzzle clue.

--RC of