Not your everyday crosswords

Two interesting bits of news from the world of Across and Down:

1) Constructor Erik Agard put together a small crossword where every clue is represented by a short YouTube video, featuring a great many well-known puzzle constructors and solvers. Go solve!

2) Michael Sharp, aka crossword blogger Rex Parker, has assembled a set of brand new crosswords from folks like Merl Reagle, Liz Gorski, and Brendan Emmett Quigley. Twenty-four crosswords in all! The puzzles are free, but since this is a fundraiser for the American Red Cross, specifically to benefit victims of Hurricane Sandy, I imagine you’ll throw in a few bucks, right? Right. Suggested donation is $20. Go solve!

Kick It

There are two more puzzly Kickstarter campaigns afoot, on top of the ones I told you about last month.

Already fully funded is Mike Selinker’s Maze of Games, an “interactive puzzle novel.” It’ll be something like one of those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure novels — you can’t simply read it from start to finish. You’ll need to skip around instead, deciding where to go, while solving a whole bunch of puzzles along the way. This sounds exciting enough, but if you buy a hardcover edition of the book, you’ll also get “The Conundrucopia,” a bonus set of puzzles from folks like Trip Payne, Ken Jennings, and logic puzzle master Thomas Snyder. (It’s entirely possible I’ll be represented in the Conundrucopia myself.)

Those of you who like variety crosswords and cryptics surely know the name Patrick Berry — he is widely regarded as one of the best constructors in the country. And he too has jumped aboard the Kickstarter train, with a project called The Crypt. At its basic level, it is a bargain and a half: Eight variety cryptics and four standard cryptics for just $15. Throw in an extra $5, and you’ll get three bonus variety puzzles. As I write this, Patrick is just a few hundred bucks from complete fulfillment. You could be the one to put him over!

For puzzle people, this is huge news

ETAOIN SHRDLU!

If that looks like something other than gibberish to you, then you might be a puzzle person — specifically, a puzzler who has solved your share of cryptograms. (Or played PuzzleNation’s Guessworks.) Those twelve letters are the most commonly used in the English language… or so it was widely thought for a very long time.

The original frequency list was put together by a researcher named Mark Mayzner back in 1965. The English language has surely drifted around a bit in the last fifty years — perhaps it was time to revise the list. Furthermore, computing power has improved somewhat since the mid-sixties. Mayzner’s famous list was based on just 20,000 words; a new look would obviously cast a much wider net.

And that is why Mayzner, now 85 years old, contacted Peter Norvig of Google. Using Google Books and the research tool Ngrams, Norvig redid Mayner’s work, but on a grand scale, analyzing 97,565 distinct words, which were collectively used in books over 743 billion times. That breaks down to over 3.5 trillion letters. Norvig sorted them for frequency and — whoa! We have a new list!

ETAOIN SRHLDCU!

Mayzner’s low-tech effort holds up pretty well — we don’t see any variation for the first seven letters. After that, things change a little: I always suspected R was getting short shrift compared to H. I’m not too surprised to see L edge out D, either. And U must be bummed to have slipped a place. “I’m a vowel!” you hear him cry. “I’m just as important as E or A! Do you hear me?!”

Peter Norvig’s full report, with lots more fascinating trivia about letter and word usage, can be read here.

Update: The original frequency list apparently pre-dates Mayzner.