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!

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.

Easy and not so easy

Pudding Monsters

As in so many things, you can’t judge a game at a glance. Pudding Monsters, for iOS, is cartoonish but feels like it might prove to be a complex puzzle game. It’s a variant on the “tilt maze,” in which objects, once they start moving in a particular direction, cannot stop until they hit something. Here the objects in question are globs of pudding with googly eyes. On each level, the various globs wish to be united into one big glob, and they’re relying on you to help them. The game’s sole mechanic is a simple flick of the finger, which sends the pudding monsters sliding this way and that. The mazes are not terribly challenging, however, even given the little curveballs the game designers throw your way, like pudding monsters that cannot be moved until they are woken up, or gooey monsters that leave behind a trail of sticky slime. A determined solver can easily burn through the game’s 75 levels in a day — the three challenge levels you then unlock may take a little longer. Still, for .99, this is a fun diversion, especially for puzzle-loving kids, and like many iOS games, we can assume that additional levels will soon be available.

HundredsHundreds, on the other hand, looks at first like it’s going to be dead simple. The first level is little more than a joke: You touch a circle with a zero in it. It turns red and grows until the number within it hits 100. Ta da! You win!

Savor that victory. On that first level, there’s only the one circle, so there’s no way to go wrong. On subsequent levels, if the circle touches anything when it’s red and growing, that’s it: Instant death. With that intriguing, original idea established, the game designers ramp up the difficulty, crowding the screen with bubbles, spinning blades, immovable blocks, and who knows what else — I’m only about halfway through the game. Getting the circles to add up to 100 soon becomes a serious challenge, and also a thoroughly addictive one.