October 05, 2004

I look forward to the showdown between Jon Delfin and IBM's Big Black and White

From Jenny (via the National Puzzlers' League mailing list) comes this report of a computer program that solves crosswords. Or so its inventors claim.

Web Crow works in two phases. In the first, it analyses the crossword clue and turns it into a simple query. Then it plugs the query into the internet search engine Google and uses a certainty score to rank the possible solutions in a candidate list. "One time in ten, the correct word is at the top of the candidate list," says Gori.

In the second phase, the program uses an algorithm to figure out which candidate words provide the best fit for the grid as a whole.

So that's all fine, but it seems like a somewhat pointless thing for a computer program to do. I guess it's an exercise in artificial intelligence, but not one that has wide applications beyond solving crosswords. It's not like the program is learning how to parse English grammar or anything. Here's the best part of the article, though.

[Gori] adds, "the idea is not to spoil the enjoyment of players."

Well, that's a relief. I was worried that computers were going to break into my house and start solving my crosswords.

Posted by Francis at 03:59 PM | TrackBack

This actually deflated me a little bit...I'm helping out a professor and a graduate student here at RPI with a project that's this one pretty much exactly, right down to using Google.

[sigh] I guess we have no choice but to do it better.

Posted by: Tyler at October 5, 2004 06:08 PM

Programs such as this might further the evolution of the crossword. The MIT Mystery Hunt, for example, has evolved as a function of teams' web access. And frankly, moving puzzles away from questions which require recall of facts and into questions that require leaps in reasoning is a good thing in my mind.

I'm looking forward to the development of puzzles that function as Turing tests (Cox & Rathvon's "Lopping sweaters" puzzle would seem to be a good example).

And I think Tyler's experience as a constructor will give him a leg up on the original programmers.

Posted by: Jenny at October 6, 2004 07:03 AM