Sunday, January 10, 2010

NPR Puzzle 1/10/10 -- String (of the Alphabet) Theory

Here's this week's puzzle:
Think of a familiar 10-letter hyphenated word that uses all seven letters of the alphabet from "F" to "L" plus three other letters of your choosing. What word is it? It's a word everyone knows, and it's in some dictionaries.
I don't even have to tell you that I just cranked up the computer, do I?  But Ross wanted to solve this the old-fashioned way, so he got out the banana bag.  No, not an IV -- he got Bananagrams (a version of the game Anagrams) for Christmas, and the letters come in a cute yellow banana-shaped bag.  He would have solved it eventually, too, but he got stuck with the H in the wrong place.  A tiny hint from me was all he needed.  That's all I'm going to say on that, lest I hint too egregiously!

Not Ross's Banana Bag -- He's not into status symbol labels!

So we know what the answer is.  What we don't know yet is which dictionaries this hyphenated word appears in.  It's not in Chambers, the New Oxford American Dictionary or Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.  (You know -- the one they give away as a prize for solving the puzzle.  Guess they don't want past winners able to look up this word!)  We'll have a go with the unabridged dictionaries downstairs and will report in on Thursday.

Remember -- watch where the H goes!  (Not sure if that's a hint, as I'm not convinced it even helps...)


Tinyc Tim said...

Your hint did help. I spent some time last night writing a program to scramble the 7 letters, 3 blanks and 1 hyphen, just so I could look at them, hoping some arrangement would stand out and help me.

It took a while but I finally, this morning, I had that "Aha" experience.

I have a Bananagram game somewhere around here but can't locate it. You'll note the program name and a few variables were inspired by your graphic.


Ben said...

Tiny Tim,

Not certain I get with the program!

I looked at your text output file. It seems to be that (as but one example) FLIGHT-JOCK would meet the rules of this week's puzzle, save for the fact that it isn't a word.

Yet when I search your text output for the strong "FLIGH", nothing comes up.

Am I missing something?


Tinyc Tim said...

Hi Ben

The program is written in a C-like language called tiny-c.

You don't find FLIGH because it was not generated during this particular run.

Since there are many different combinations of the 7 letters, 3 spaces and 1 hyphen, it is quite unlikely you'll find a particular combination in a particular run. The program generates a 1000 "words" in a run.

Does this help?

Ben said...

Makes more sense. Thanks.

Is the correct answer buried within the 1000 words that you generated and posted above?

Magdalen said...

Tinyc Tim -- We generally try to avoid giving away the answer before Thursday, so while I don't think there's any harm in your providing a link to 1,000 letter combinations that may or may not have the answer in them, please don't link directly to the answer.

But thanks for the shout-out for Bananagrams!

Tinyc Tim said...

Ben - No, the correct answer is not buried in the 1000 words. Turns out, there are 10*10!/3! ways (6,048,000 ways) to generate 7 letters, 3 spaces and 1 hyphen so the probability the correct answer is in a given output file is about 1 in 6000.

Magdalen - Understood. Thanks.

henry.blancowhite said...

The list of 6 million permutations (are you sure that's right - remember the hyphen can be neither first nor last, so has only 9 possible places) is not very helpful. Can you write a filter that will exclude enough of the obvious unwords to produce a manageable list?

Personally, I got hung up on [redacted] (which I now find cannot be spelled with a J) and [redacted], but still got a plausible answer the old fashioned way in half an hour or so.

Tinyc Tim said...

You are correct about permutations. This was pointed out to me by Blaine over at his blog.

"Tinyc Tim, if you exclude the hyphen at the beginning you might as well exclude it at the end. That makes *nine* potential slots for the hyphen as I noted previously. 9*10!/3! = 5,443,200. As you discovered, the human brain's ability to see patterns will outdo brute force in this case."

My computer program was fun to write but, in its current condition is, as you point out, pretty much useless. It might be interesting to smarten it up a bit but, now that I've got the hyphenated pair in my brain, I doubt I'll work on this.