Magic moments

I'd say about 90% of programming is lining up all the ducks so you can easily knock them down with one shot. And then if you need to knock them down again later, they're still nicely in line. I love the magic moment when you finally get to take that shot.

For the past week or two, I've been ripping out a bunch of UI and core functionality in the Zyzzyva iPhone app so that I can reuse it not just for searches, but for quizzes too. About five minutes ago, I finally put everything together well enough to get this first quiz screenshot. The quiz isn't really functional yet, but the questions really exist and they were pulled from a real SATIRE search.

From here, I just need to set up all the quiz stats bookkeeping, implement loading and saving, implement cardbox, probably work on database stuff, and do a crapload of UI work. The app will still probably look like crap for the initial release by the end of the year, but I don't care too much. The functionality is the thing, and the polish will arrive soon enough.

EDITED TO ADD: Four hours later, I now have the ability to walk through questions and get answers just like Flashcard Mode in Zyzzyva. It works! I've finally invented something that works! I think I'm going to use it to study random 7s and 8s while I'm falling asleep tonight. Two magic moments in one night is a lot, and makes me sleepy.
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100% on Aerolith 6s

After several close calls in the past few weeks, I finally got 100% on the Aerolith 6s daily challenge today. I didn't even have to do too much random guessing. I've been studying words of all lengths 2-8 every day for a couple months now, and it's really been helping. For the 6s, I've made it through 5,700 out of 15,788 words, or about 36% so far.
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Dealing with criticism

I haven't made a whole lot of personal posts lately, but this one is a little more personal than usual.

Yesterday my Zyzzyva Lite app was finally approved by Apple and made available in the App Store. It was a pretty awesome day, at least until about 6:45, but that's another story. I sent out a gazillion emails and got a lot of response, almost all of it positive.

But of course, a negative review is what's really sticking in my mind. I woke up this morning to find an extremely negative iTunes review by "TS" who said that the release was "FAR premature", inadequate for even an initial alpha release; the Zyzzyva Lite UI is horrible and looks like it was written by a school kid; you should get Zarf if you want a real app; and she would give Zyzzyva Lite zero stars if she could. Ouch.

What's interesting to me is observing my own reaction in the few hours since I woke up this morning and read this review. Immediately I was shocked, but within a few seconds I tried to laugh it off. There will always be people who say negative things. That's a fact of life. Move on.

But of course I couldn't just let it go like that. My thoughts turned to questioning who this TS person is and why she would write such a negative review, especially of a free app. Is she the Zarf guy's buddy? Does she not like the fact that I raised money for Zyzzyva? What's her angle? Pretty quickly I determined that these questions are irrelevant if they actually have answers, and if they don't have answers then there is no reason to worry about them anyway.

Finally I started to think about her criticisms. Was she right? In some ways I think her criticisms are fair. The UI is not polished, and it does lack some features that Zarf has, like the ability to sort and group and pinch to zoom. It probably does look like it was written by a school kid, since I didn't do much to make it particularly pretty, just functional. Even as I write this description, the urge to make justifications is irresistible. I can't go without mentioning that Zyzzyva Lite has features that Zarf lacks: custom lexicons, lexicon symbols, inner hooks, multiple search conditions. But the fact is that her criticisms about the UI are correct.

I think some justification on my part is fair as well. I won't go into more justifications here, but believe me, there are plenty of them. I know what I've gone through to create Zyzzyva Lite. I know the reasons why the app is what it is. I also know it will be improving. Mostly I'm proud of the fact that it exists.

Most people are not good at handling criticism, myself included. But I want to be good at it. What do I tell my kids to do when they want to be good at something? Practice, practice, practice. So I'm happy to accept criticism, because I need the practice. I also realize that my success in life and the quality of my products depends a lot on how well I handle criticism and use it to improve myself and my work.

So now I'm entering a stage of accepting the criticism while at the same time remaining puzzled at the extreme negative language. The way it was written, the review still feels like it was intended to be hurtful more than helpful. It might just feel that way because my app is the one being criticized. It's fascinating to watch my own reaction while trying to be as objective as I can, which is of course impossible. I don't know TS or her intentions, but she's done me a favor by demonstrating that not everything is a cause for celebration. Nevertheless I'm celebrating anyway, and now it's time to get back to work.

P.S. Whether you agree with TS's assessment or not, please do leave a review of Zyzzyva Lite on iTunes. I really appreciate all feedback. Thanks!

P.P.S. If you would like to see screenshots of the Zyzzyva Lite app for yourself, you can do so on the Zyzzyva iPhone page.
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Zyzzyva Lite is available on the App Store!

Zyzzyva Lite version 1.0.0 is now available in the App Store! This free "lite" version of the app only includes word judge and search functions. Quiz functionality will be available in the full Zyzzyva app by the end of this year. You can get Zyzzyva Lite here:


If you like the app, please give it a high rating in iTunes! If you don't like it, please let me know how to improve it.

The app comes with several word lists, including OWL2 for North American club and tournament Scrabble, OSPD4 for school Scrabble, and WWF for playing Words With Friends. It also allows you to download your own custom word lists, and create special display symbols to denote words that are specific to a particular word list.

If your favorite word list is not included with the app, you can add it as a custom word list by downloading it from a plain-text file. To add a custom lexicon, go to Settings, then Lexicon, then Add a Custom Lexicon. I've placed downloadable versions of all the existing Zyzzyva lexicons in this directory for your convenience:


To celebrate the Zyzzyva Lite release, I've also discounted all the Zyzzyva merchandise that I currently have in stock. I have lapel pins, Scrabble tiles, and T-shirts in a few different colors and sizes. Check the link below to see what I have available. Once I run out, the deals will be gone.


To discuss the app, or if you have comments or questions, please email me or join the Zyzzyva Users mailing list:


Thank you to everyone who has made this possible. I appreciate the support more than I can say. There will be more where this came from!

Lists of words grouped by number of anagrams in two lexicons

magratheazaphod asked me whether it is possible to create lists of words that have M anagrams in one lexicon and N anagrams in another. For example, is it possible to create a list of CSW07 words that have 2 anagrams, only 1 of which is acceptable in OWL2?

I thought through the problem and got pretty close to a Zyzzyva-only solution, but it wasn't complete. To complete my original idea, Zyzzyva will need an "In Anagram List" search condition similar to the current "In Word List" condition. I'm planning to implement that eventually, but not today.

Instead, I wrote a script to generate some word lists, which you can use with In Word List conditions. I've placed the word lists here:


Under the "words" directory, there is a zip file for each combination of: CSW07/OWL2 ; CSW12/OWL2 ; and CSW12/CSW07. Inside the zip file are several files named like "Lex1-M-Lex2-N.txt", which signifies that each word in that list has M anagrams in Lex1 and N anagrams in Lex2. For example, the file "CSW07-02-OWL2-01.txt" contains all the CSW07 words that have 2 anagrams in CSW07 but only a single anagram in OWL2.

One interesting thing I discovered while creating these lists is that AIKMS has the greatest number of CSW anagrams (5) with no anagrams in OWL2! You can see these words in the file called "CSW07-05-OWL2-00.txt".

Anyway, feel free to use these word lists if you find them useful. Let me know if you have any questions.
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4000 and counting

My study plan is still on track so far. I just hit 4000 for 6s, 7s, and 8s. That's about 25% of the way through the 6s, 17% through the 7s, and 13% through the 8s. Wow, there are a lot of 8s.

Many of the 6s are new because I've never studied 6s, but a lot of them are also plural forms of 5s and singular forms of 7s. All of the 7s are still pretty familiar, but I'm starting to get into some 8s I'm sure I've never seen before. Some but not all, because I'm currently studying by probability with 0 blanks, whereas I previously studied by probability with 2 blanks. A few words from today that I'm sure will come in handy: NOTORNIS, SETENANT, SONORANT. Nice for getting rid of doubled Ns and doubled vowels.

It's gratifying to start getting some new words to miss, instead of just ironing my hands because I keep missing the old ones. I kid, but I'm actually finding that my anagramming speed has gone way up since I started studying again. It's not unusual for me to see solutions within about a second of seeing the question, whereas when I started I had to think quite a bit about almost every anagram. I used to run out of time on the Aerolith 7s and 8s, but these days I usually have at least an extra minute for making wild guesses at everything I missed. It's a good thing my speed is improving, since my cardbox is getting bigger...
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Finally starting to pull some words out of the cardbox

The very first word to make it to cardbox 4 in my current study regimen is not one I would have ever predicted.


I missed this one about 20 times in a row a few years back. I guess drilling the hell out of difficult alphagrams actually pays off. I'm not sure what caused me to miss it again about a month ago, but four corrects in a row means it's out of the cardbox. Never to be seen again until I miss it over the board or I cycle through all the 8s, whichever comes first.
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My Scrabble interview with BBC radio programme "More or Less"

This past week, I was interviewed by Tim Harford of the BBC 4 radio programme "More or Less" regarding an interesting Scrabble situation. The interview has just been posted on the BBC site:


If you want to hear the interview in the context of the show, listen to the last 5 minutes of the 09/09 show here:


... Oh, and yes, I know that 20,000 squared is not 500 million. Both of those numbers were approximate but I probably should have made them consistent. :-)
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The study regimen

I think I might have mentioned that I'm sick of not knowing the dictionary. I really dislike when an opponent plonks down a bingo and I have to wonder about whether I should know it or not. The obvious solution is, of course, to learn every single word, so that's what I'm going to do. (OWL for now.)

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