New Website Makes Crosswords Easier

Posted on November 3, 1999

OneAcross is a new crossword help site on the web. Its database is comprised of information gleaned from dictionaries, thesauri, and newswire articles, in addition to an extensive collection of previously published crossword clues.

OneAcross's Michael Littman notes that "'Crossword finishers' are fairly common. These are programs that list all the words that match a given pattern (give them '?n?ry' and you get back 'entry', 'angry', 'unary', etc.). OneAcross does this, too, but it can also give answers using only the clue and the length of the answer ('Door: ?????' returns: 'entry')."

While OneAcross will be useful for casual or novice puzzlers stuck on a seemingly simple word, Littman says, "OneAcross is also very helpful for solving clues with complicated patterns, highly ambiguous clues, highly specific ones, and tough, but common clues." This last category is the source of clues for the 'Crossword Purity Test': you can tell "real cruciverbalists" by how well they recognize common crossword clues.

OneAcross is a spin off of an earlier research effort at Duke University to solve complete crossword puzzles instead of just individual clues. he Duke system, which runs on a collection of a dozen computers, averages 98% letters correct on puzzles from USA Today, The LA Times, and The NY Times, in only 15 minutes per puzzle. Proverb, as the program is called, competed in the 1999 American Crossword Tournament and obtained a score that placed it near the middle of the pack of 255 expert human participants. The Duke team presented their findings at the annual conference of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence in Orlando, FL this summer and received the "best paper award" for their efforts. OneAcross was developed by three of the Duke researchers: Greg Keim, Noam Shazeer, and Michael Littman.