A blog for fans of Bananagrams, word games, puzzles, and amazing things

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lexicographer: the iPhone version of Guess My Word

As an addendum to my review of the online Guess My Word game, I'm reviewing the iPhone companion game, Lexicographer. Just as with Guess My Word, Lexicographer allows you to guess words and tells you whether your guess is before or after the secret word ("my word").

But rather than having two daily words to guess, Lexicographer will let you keep playing new rounds of "Guess my word!" all day long.

Once you start, there is a running timer (counting tenths of a second!). I found that this totally changed the guessing experience for me. Without a timer, I try to minimize the number of guesses I need to guess the word, choosing guesses in a calculating but leisurely fashion. With the timer constant ticking away, I guessed words in a more frenzied manner.

There is an option that allows you to see how many words are left in the range that you have bracketed. This is a useful way of sharpening your sense of how words are distributed in the alphabet and where the best bisection point is.

We increased the difficulty level from 1 (where a typical word was "talent") to 10 and then struggled on the last few guesses until we narrowed the word down to four possible words (between "parapets" and "paraphrase"). But we were totally stumped at that point. After guessing "paraphobia" (which I hoped to be defined as the fear of parallel lines) and finding that it was not actually a real word, I randomly guessed "paraph". And it was, to my stunned triumph, correct.

(It turns out that a paraph is a flourish someone adds below or to the end of their signature. The example that first comes to mind is below John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence:

It's believed that paraphs originated during the Middle Ages to discourage forgery. I wondered how effective this might have been until I read in Joe Nickell's Detecting Forgery (browsable in Google Books) the following:
It might also be noted that the concept of individuality that today may be expressed in a distinctive signature was less valued in the penmanship of an earlier time, when adherence to strict copybook form was regarded as a virtue. As Jonathan Goldberg notes in Writing Matter: From the Hands of the English Renaissance, "in fact, what differentiated one italic signature from another is more often a paraph, flourish, than the letter itself." [...] Indeed, sometimes so distinctive was the eighteenth-century paraph ([...] like that of John Hancock's or Benjamin Franklin's) that it was sometimes used instead of the signature, thus concealing one's identity except to the initiate.

That was a really interesting word to learn about, but given that I got it through sheer luck, I think I'll be reducing the Lexicographer difficulty level to something more like 5 for now...)

I think that each version of the game has its merits. Guess My Word is fun because you can compete against other people (mostly just names on the leaderboard, unless you happen to know them or invite your friends to play) and see what sequence of words they chose by mousing over their guess history. Guess My Word words often feel more special, as though I can develop an intuition about the kind of words that are likely to be chosen; it's possible that Lexicographer words have a similar property, and I just haven't played enough to pick up on it. Lexicographer's strength is that it can be pulled out anytime and played with a group of friends, as many times as you like. Showing the number of words that you have bracketed allows you to get better at picking the word to bisect the range. Not only does this improve your Word-Guessing ability, it also adds an extra layer to the game, making for a nice complement to Guess My Word.

  • You may notice that Lexicographer no longer seems to be available on its former iTunes Store page. My guess is that the developer decided not to renew his ($99/year) iOS developer license, and Apple has nixed his apps. Which is a pity.
  • You can still play the original Guess My Word game online. You can also read my previous post about Guess My Word.