This post is part of Month to Master, a 12-month accelerated learning project. For July, my goal is to solve a Saturday New York Times crossword puzzle in one sitting without any aid.
Yesterday, I described the Expanding & Contracting (E&C) method for pushing a “stuck” crossword puzzle forward. The technique uses low-probability guesses, specifically related to letter frequencies and statistics.
For example, if I know a particular six-letter answer is I _ O N I _ , would I be able to guess, just based on word shape and my knowledge of the English language, that the last letter is most likely a C, giving me I _ O N I C, and then subsequently guess that the second letter is also a C, giving me ICONIC?
This ability to build out answers, not based on clues, but based on likely letter patterns is an ability I want to cultivate further (as it’s foundational to the E&C technique and how I plan to level up my crossword-solving abilities).
By nature of solving puzzles for the last two weeks, I’ve already started developing a reasonable mental representation of common letter patterns, but I haven’t trained this ability in any deliberate or focused fashion.
Thus, to do so, I built a new computer program called the “Letter Trainer”.
Here’s how it works…
- First, an answer is displayed to me with one letter replaced by a question mark (i.e. I?ONIC).
- In my head, I try to guess what the letter is.
- If I click the Enter key, the clue which corresponds to the answer is shown (i.e. “Quintessential”)
- In my head, based on this clue, I update my guess. Sometimes, if the clue is suggestive of a foreign language, a name, etc., my guess will change to incorporate this new information.
- If I click the Enter key again, the answer is shown in it’s entirety (i.e. ICONIC).
- In my head, I make a note of whether or not I answered correctly, subconsciously tweaking my mental model of letter patterns.
- If I click the Enter key again, an explanation of the answer is shown (just in case I don’t know what the answer means, and want to learn about it).
- If I click the Enter key one last time, the process starts over with a new answer.
The program is simple, only 25 lines of code, but gets the job done…
from random import randintclues = with open('crossworddata.csv','rb') as csvfile:
reader = csv.reader(csvfile, delimiter=',')
for row in reader:
length = len(clues)while True:
randNumber = randint(0,length)
randWord = clues[randNumber]
randAnswer = randWord.replace(" ", "").replace("-", "").replace("'", "").replace("!", "")
lenRandAnswer = len(randAnswer)
randLetter = randint(0,lenRandAnswer-1)
answerList = list(randAnswer)
output = "".join(answerList)print output
To use the program, I can run it in Terminal, which looks like this…
I’ve considered a few other variations of this program (multiple question marks per answer, two answers intersecting at a question mark, etc.), but this most simplified version seems to be sufficient for now.
Tomorrow, during my commute, rather than training with the Crossword Trainer, I will train with this newly-created Letter Trainer and see how it goes.
I’m optimistic that it will help.