Who writes better crossword puzzles, humans or computers?

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July 12 2006 4:41 PM

The Ultimate Crossword Smackdown

Who writes better puzzles, humans or computers?

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And here are the other three entries. For now, I'll keep you in the dark about which one emerged from the mind of Byron Walden and which ones came from the computers. If you'd like to play along, give four points to the puzzle you think is best, three to your second favorite, and so forth.

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GRID A:

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GRID B:

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GRID C:

The judges' opinions were pretty scattershot. Each of the four participants got at least one last-place vote, and three of the four contestants got at least one first-place vote. Most amazingly, two of the judges ranked the four grids in the precise reverse order of each other. There's clearly a sizable dose of subjectivity in assessing the quality of a crossword puzzle, especially at this, ahem, elite level.

The final results: GRID A prevailed with 14 points. Close behind were GRID B and GRID C, each with 13 points. I brought up the caboose (sigh) with 10 points.

In GRID A, the judges liked INJUN JOE, LEMON SOLE, I DIG, and ARTICLE V. IN TUXEDOS, though, was slammed as a contrived phrase. That didn't keep the puzzle from taking two of the five first-place votes.            

In GRID B, judges liked DAN MARINO, EAR CANDY, and EZINE. They weren't partial to RAT ISLAND, which was deemed a little obscure.

GRID C got props for LEE J. COBB, N SYNC, and CRASH PAD. But POURBOIRES, a French word meaning "tips," as in a restaurant or bar, was cited by two judges as being outside their ken.

My grid drew the praise and condemnation I expected: one first-place vote but two last places as well. One judge wrote: "This puzzle, to me, screams 'trying too hard.' "

And now for the big reveal. GRID A (14 points) was written by Byron Walden, GRID B (13 points) by Frank Longo's database, and GRID C (13 points) by Peter Gordon's database. That makes the final score: Computers 26, Humans 24. I tip my hat to our cyber-champions but will not hesitate to unplug them if they get too smug in victory. They can't get too smug anyway, because Byron's top score is a reassuring note for human constructors.

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