Hacking Boggle: Designing A Fast Solver For A Timed Word Game

Zynga released the Android version of their Scramble with Friends game last weekend, which was our first contact with the game. It’s a social version of Boggle – the players take turns finding words in a 4×4 grid of letters, with a couple of additional elements Zygna threw in to spice things up. So naturally we decided to write a solver for it 🙂

Writing word game solvers has become something of a hobby for me. My first project was a Hangman Solver: this started off as a regex filter (Python) applied to a word file which we tweaked to make it more efficient. The next step was modify the program into a Hanging With Friends Solver: there are a few tweaks in Zynga’s rules which make it easier to guess a word (reduced number of possible answers). This website was built by taking these two Python functions and embedding them in a web framework.  The front end is HTML dressed up with some basic JQuery.

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Most Played Words in Hanging With Friends

This is a quick post since it’s a busy Saturday at the Hyena House. Wanted to share a cool article I discovered on Venture Beat (business website following the startup crowd) which provides – per Zynga – the most played words on Hanging With Friends… This is a slightly different twist on our quest for hard words for hangman and hard words for hanging with friends (used for our hanging with friends cheat) – it overlays a human element on top of the statistical crunching. This is effectively the union of the set of “hard words” with “high scoring words” and “words people actually know”.

Credit Venturebeat for the link:

Venture Beat  – Most Played Words In Hanging With Friends

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Anagram Snarks From Twitter…

– Listen => Silent (saving that one for my kids)

– Presbyterian => Britney Spears (really? My, but the church has changed…)

– Actuarial Math => Claim That Aura (Snicker…I’ve seen that type before)

– hiphop loser => philosopher (they did think Socrates was nuts…)

– Credit Ratings => Citing Retards, Dictating Errs, and Cried “Grant It!”

Towards Better Comment Spam – Designing Spambot 2.0

We’ve had a number of comments over the past couple of days, most of which were pretty recognizable spam (which was promptly sent to oblivion).

I’m surprised, though, about it’s relatively low quality… Seriously, with all the time and effort which goes into spamming, can’t someone write a template-selection heuristic that delivers semi-intelligent comments for an article? It’s not that hard (speaking as the author of a program that writes out a customized “snark-o-gram” for pricing issues)…

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Large Anagram Families – Potential Scrabble Words

Continuing the theme of our prior post, here are a couple of the larger anagram families we’ve found in the Enable dictionary (used for online scrabble games and hangman games). Note: a few of the words in these sets are unusual words, so take the time to look them up before playing them in a game…

By anagram familes, we are talking about groups of words which are anagrams of each other – if you have the letters for one word, you have the letters for the others. For those of you who play Scrabble, these are a good source of word ideas.

For those of you who want to have a little fun, how many anagrams of each of the following can you name?

  • Spare
  • Alerts
  • Earrings
  • Aspen
  • Parsec

[Answers After The Break – Stop Here If You’re Trying To Guess The Words]

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Introducing “Anagram Families”

One of the things that sparked my interest in this site was the idea of “anagram families”, sets of words where the members are direct anagrams of each other. Fortunately, it’s relatively easy to write a Python program to crunch through a dictionary (I’m using Enable as my primary dictionary for this project, although others exist – results will vary) and identify sets of related words.

A simple example is GOAT, which is a direct anagram of TOGA. Makes you wonder exactly how wild those ancient parties got.

You can also have indirect anagrams – where you split the original word into multiple words. WINE => WE IN, clearly a reference of the bonding value of drinking with your clients and prospects. In contrast BEER => BE ER, a ominous note. So the next time you’re trying to close a deal, break out the good stuff!

Scotch was a non-starter – no direct anagrams and the single vowel made it hard to build a set of indirect anagrams. I tried a couple of other forms of hard liquor with similar results.

To play along at home, you can use our Scrabble Helper – enter the letters in the word you are interested in and look at the items on the list of possible words which use all the letters in your hand.

Good Hangman Words For Hanging With Friends

Looking for Good Hangman Words?

It has recently come to our attention that there are a large number of people in the world who cheat at online hangman. They use technology to crack good hangman words. Who knew? I swear, we built our hangman solver strictly as an academic exercise! To quote Captain Renault in Casablanca:

I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on here!

We at Hanging Hyena, as loyal guardians of the public morals, have launched a historic research project. Yup, we’ve already booked our tickets to Stockholm.

Our question: Are certain words for hangman harder to guess than others?

This specific question isn’t exactly unexplored. However, most of the available studies presume an unassisted human player will be using their findings. That’s just so 1995! We’re moving this analysis into the 21st century, and providing our participants with access to the finest hangman solver on the Internet! Our new question:

What words should you play in hangman if you suspect your opponent is cheating?

In other words, we want very HARD hangman words….

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Welcome To Hanging Hyena!

Welcome to the blog for Hanging Hyena!

We should have a couple of articles up shortly – the focus of this blog will be on word game analysis, player improvement tips, and a peak at the technology behind the site (for the technically inclined). In the mean time, check out our hangman solver.