Computers have long been able to beat even the best human opponents at games such as chess, but humans remain dominant when it comes to the crossword puzzle. For the past three years, Dr. Fill, a crossword-solving computer program created by computer scientist Matthew Ginsberg, has competed informally at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament. Although Dr. Fill has steadily climbed the rankings in those three years, it was still only able to place 65th out of 600 last year.
Dr. Fill is based on a massive database of past clues to crosswords used since the 1980s, as well as the contents of reference works including the whole of Wikipedia. Ginsberg says Dr. Fill solves crosswords by identifying similarities between the clues and past clues, and "then just tries to cram in the words." However, it is the particularly clever and inventive clues that inevitably foil Dr. Fill, such as a clue that suggested its answer had to be written out backward.
"It's something that maybe everyone knows, but [the clue] is worded in a vague way that a computer would have a hard time figuring out if it's not in its database already," says The New York Times crossword editor Will Shortz.
From Public Radio International
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