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-   -   My theory on why the same word pops up in different crossword puzzles (https://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=452647)

BarnOwl 01-23-2008 10:03 AM

My theory on why the same word pops up in different crossword puzzles
 
I haven't noticed any recent threads addressing this matter, but if I'm offering a theory someone else here - or elsewhere - has already advanced, I can only plead ignorance.

Part of it comes down to the fact(?) that many of the finer puzzle constructors are composing under their own names and aliases as well. So, when you see a relatively distinctive word in one puzzle and see it again soon after in another puzzle, it just might be that both puzzles were done by the same person. And with a bit of a twist.

When composing, let's say the PC (puzzle constructor) chooses to use PROFLIGATE as a DOWN word in his grid. Going across he can intersect with words like APE, PERISH, LOST, etc.

So he completes that puzzle, but to increase his output (and thus more efficiently increase his $ intake), he takes the same PROFLIGATE turns it ACROSS in another grid, makes some adjustments of intersecting words and he's taken a big shortcut to getting another puzzle off to a different publisher.

Then, to avoid being obvious, the PC uses a different name.

Of course the PC can use the same distinctive word as an ACROSS word in two grids. Maybe we wouldn't notice. But if I were a PC I wouldn't want to risk it.

Anyway, that's what I think is going on.

I won't be surprised if Twickster pooh-poohs all this. :D :D :D

Exapno Mapcase 01-23-2008 11:31 AM

I'll pooh-pooh it if Trickster doesn't.

I doubt if very many puzzle constructors use more than one name. It's a small field and everybody knows everybody else. You make your name by your puzzles; using a pseudonym doesn't help your reputation. Maybe the small-time puzzle mags get second-rate puzzles by big names using an alias (maybe; I doubt it, but maybe) but the major newspapers are going to credit the right person.

Much more likely is that certain words are good for puzzling because they contain letters or patterns that are useful.

Next most likely is that the puzzle editors have certain favorites that they use when they redo puzzles to make them work better.

Also likely is that you are noticing certain words and not noticing others used just as frequently.

Where are you seeing these duplicates, BTW?

Voyager 01-23-2008 11:34 AM

Some part coincidence, some part the paucity of words that have good noun vowel combinations. When a name shows up in the news with good characteristics, everyone puts it in.

BTW, there used to be a column in a Baltimore independent paper commenting on comics. They also tracked the use of "oreo" in the Sun xword and the Times crossword. It showed up at least once a week.

BarnOwl 01-23-2008 11:39 AM

Do you honestly think I'm thinking of words like Oreo, erst, ute and all the other crap words used in puzzles?

I used PROFLIGATE for my example. That ain't no Oero.

twickster 01-23-2008 12:09 PM

There are people who use pseudonyms -- but they are used with the full knowlege of the people buying the puzzles. Since it is a financial transaction, the buyer needs full, legal name, SSN, etc., of the seller. Pseudonyms are used for other reasons, such as to make it slightly less clear that the same constructor wrote 20 of the 60 puzzles in one issue of a magazine.

Exapno's various theories are all good -- esp. the "good vowel/consonant combo" theory. Note for PROFLIGATE, for instance, that the pattern is CCVCCVCVCV -- a very workable pattern. SHRINKPROOF, for instance, would be CCCVCCCCVVC -- much uglier.

The question "where are you seeing the repetition" is relevant. Seeing the same word twice in one week -- once in a daily puzzle and once in a collection or magazine -- I'd have to call that coincidence. Twice in the same collection or magazine -- if it's not a theme word, the editor may or may not notice; may or may not care (if the use in neither case is a theme entry, e.g.); or may or may not be able to do anything about it.

And sometimes it's just sheer, raw coincidence. Once I spent about 20 minutes putting SUPERMARKET into a puzzle to solve some other problem -- and then noticed that it was elsewhere in the grid. That also happened to me once with DIPSTICK. In neither of these cases was this a theme word -- just something fun and (I thought, mistakenly) different.

BarnOwl 01-23-2008 12:15 PM

I do the NYT and the local paper (Danbury, CT) News-Times.

I see the dupes in these two publications. Not recently, but often enough, involving words that one would not expect to crop up to suspect the absence of coincidence.

That's a cumbersome sentence, but I ask your forgiveness. I have to go do my photography class homework assignment.

Marley23 01-23-2008 12:33 PM

There have to be some words that are better for crossword puzzle makers than others, just due to frequency of use. I used to see "Etna" in so many crosswords it made me mad; it really cuts down on the challenge.

ivylass 01-23-2008 12:42 PM

I think there are also "favorite words" that are used because they're easy to intersect with other words. I can't tell you the number of times EWE and EWER and ESE (for wind direction) has come up.

Granted, I don't do the extremely hard puzzles, but when the clue is ABC_ _ _ GHI it's obvious the puzzle maker is just phoning it in.

MagicEyes 01-23-2008 12:48 PM

I've wondered about this too. I've seen the same word in the same week in two different crossword puzzles too often for it to be a coincidence. These aren't short crossword-puzzle type words (like epee or erne)--they're longer words. I'll try to find some examples, but I haven't been doing a lot of crosswords lately.

twickster 01-23-2008 12:58 PM

I don't understand why you guys are convinced it can't be a coincidence. It's not really any stranger than any other odd repetition of a word (in two different tabloid stories about two different celebrities, or two different book reviews, one of a novel and one of a biography).

Crossword constructors tend to have good vocabularies. They tend to use words with useful combinations of vowels and consonants. There are thousands of crosswords written every year. The fact that two using the same word should appear before your eyes within X amount of time ... coincidence.

Slacker 01-23-2008 01:00 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by MagicEyes
I've wondered about this too. I've seen the same word in the same week in two different crossword puzzles too often for it to be a coincidence. These aren't short crossword-puzzle type words (like epee or erne)--they're longer words. I'll try to find some examples, but I haven't been doing a lot of crosswords lately.

I never knew what an epee was before I started doing crosswords. :D

Antinor01 01-23-2008 01:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by twickster
I don't understand why you guys are convinced it can't be a coincidence. It's not really any stranger than any other odd repetition of a word (in two different tabloid stories about two different celebrities, or two different book reviews, one of a novel and one of a biography).

Crossword constructors tend to have good vocabularies. They tend to use words with useful combinations of vowels and consonants. There are thousands of crosswords written every year. The fact that two using the same word should appear before your eyes within X amount of time ... coincidence.

Well, that wouldn't make a very good conspiracy theory would it? I say BAH to your coincidence notion! And FEH as well just for good measure.

It's all a conspiracy I tell you! What exactly it's meant to accomplish I'm not sure yet....

Beware of Doug 01-23-2008 01:06 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Marley23
I used to see "Etna" in so many crosswords it made me mad; it really cuts down on the challenge.

I saw "Ames" in so many puzzles it made me smile, 'cause I'm from there.

"Singer Ed" or "NASA lab" didn't, so much.

twickster 01-23-2008 01:09 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Beware of Doug
I saw "Ames" in so many puzzles it made me smile, 'cause I'm from there.

"Singer Ed" or "NASA lab" didn't, so much.

Birthplace of Billy Sunday!. City on the Skunk! 'Clones' home!

twicks, who taught at ISU for a couple of years in a prior incarnation

Voyager 01-23-2008 01:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by twickster
I don't understand why you guys are convinced it can't be a coincidence. It's not really any stranger than any other odd repetition of a word (in two different tabloid stories about two different celebrities, or two different book reviews, one of a novel and one of a biography).

Crossword constructors tend to have good vocabularies. They tend to use words with useful combinations of vowels and consonants. There are thousands of crosswords written every year. The fact that two using the same word should appear before your eyes within X amount of time ... coincidence.

I'm with you, since sometimes I see the same word in a Times Sunday puzzle and a Games puzzle from two different people. (Well known enough that I've read their bios.)

On the other hand, some people do have favorite words. I've dug up an old Middleton acrostics book. These get easier as you go along, since he had favorite words with letter combinations that were useful.

I haven't noticed a lot of duplications myself, and I do the Times puzzle everyday. I wonder if the automatically generated puzzles for low class syndicates have lots of duplicates?

twickster 01-23-2008 01:41 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Voyager
I haven't noticed a lot of duplications myself, and I do the Times puzzle everyday. I wonder if the automatically generated puzzles for low class syndicates have lots of duplicates?

Yes.

BarnOwl 01-23-2008 02:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by twickster
I don't understand why you guys are convinced it can't be a coincidence. It's not really any stranger than any other odd repetition of a word (in two different tabloid stories about two different celebrities, or two different book reviews, one of a novel and one of a biography).

Crossword constructors tend to have good vocabularies. They tend to use words with useful combinations of vowels and consonants. There are thousands of crosswords written every year. The fact that two using the same word should appear before your eyes within X amount of time ... coincidence.

Pooh-poohista! ;)

twickster 01-23-2008 02:12 PM

Well, duh, people, do you really think I'm going to reveal the secrets of the crossword cabal on a public message board? :rolleyes:

Antinor01 01-23-2008 02:20 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by twickster
Well, duh, people, do you really think I'm going to reveal the secrets of the crossword cabal on a public message board? :rolleyes:

Ah hah! So I was right!

jayjay 01-23-2008 04:29 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Antinor01
Ah hah! So I was right!

Shhhh! If you have not sacrificed your Ticonderoga #2 in the Temple of Shortz and been shown the Sacred Scrolls of the Four-Letter Words Beginning and Ending with "E", you cannot know those secrets!

Thudlow Boink 01-23-2008 04:36 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by twickster
I don't understand why you guys are convinced it can't be a coincidence.

I've had that sort of thing happen to me every once in a while under circumstances where it couldn't be anything but coincidence. I'll see the same relatively uncommon word (or the same word clued in the same slightly quirky way!) in more than one puzzle in the same week, or even the same day, but the two puzzles come from completely different sources.

As with just about anything else, with a large enough simple space it would be very surprising if there were no coincidences.

descamisado 01-23-2008 05:21 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BarnOwl
. . . . That ain't no Oero.

I'm gonna take a needle from my etui and stitch that on a pillow.

BarnOwl 01-23-2008 07:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by 5-4-Fighting
I'm gonna take a needle from my etui and stitch that on a pillow.


LOL!!!!!!!!!! And be sure to Oero it! I love it. :D :D :D

Chronos 01-23-2008 07:31 PM

Personally, I've had the suspicion for a while that if one were to construct a letter-frequency chart for a large sample of crosswords, that the crossword frequencies would be proportional to the square of the dictionary frequencies. Letters like Q or Z that are rare in normal usage would be even rarer in crosswords, since you'd have to fit them into two different words at once, but common letters (like all the vowels, or S or T) are easy to cross, so they'd be even more over-represented.

Of course, this in turn means that words which have common letters more heavily represented (like "Dunkable cookie", or "Butter substitute") would show up often.

BellRungBookShut-CandleSnuffed 01-23-2008 07:40 PM

If I see one more puzzle with obi in it. I know it's a short, oddly constructed word that fits into places other things wouldn't. But goddamn it, "Sapporo sash," "kimono closer," and "geisha bow" are not clever, challenging clues when they've been used approximately 500 bagazillionthousandhundredeleventy times. Christ people, maybe it's time to retire that clue's number and hang it in the gym. It was good, I admit, it's a strange word that people didn't know before you started sticking it into your puzzles. But there's a reason no one asks why the chicken crossed the road expecting people to laugh anymore (unless the punchline involves being stapled to dead babies).

descamisado 01-23-2008 07:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by BellRungBookShut-CandleSnuffed
If I see one more puzzle with obi in it. I know it's a short, oddly constructed word that fits into places other things wouldn't. But goddamn it, "Sapporo sash," "kimono closer," and "geisha bow" are not clever, challenging clues when they've been used approximately 500 bagazillionthousandhundredeleventy times . . . .

Would they still be allowed to use ibo?

:D

MagicEyes 01-23-2008 09:26 PM

twickster, I'm still not convinced that it's a coincidence. It happens much too often that two puzzles in the same week have the same word. I'm going to go do two crossword puzzles and see if they have a matching word. I'll check back with you when I'm done.

Exapno Mapcase 01-23-2008 09:50 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by MagicEyes
twickster, I'm still not convinced that it's a coincidence. It happens much too often that two puzzles in the same week have the same word. I'm going to go do two crossword puzzles and see if they have a matching word. I'll check back with you when I'm done.

And that will prove what, exactly?

dotchan 01-23-2008 10:04 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Slacker
I never knew what an epee was before I started doing crosswords. :D

Clearly you haven't played any Square-Enix games. :D

lissener 01-23-2008 10:23 PM

This is why I quit doing crosswords: the 187th time I came across the word "eyrie," I decided that, in order to become a "master" crossword puzzler, all you had to do was memorize the extremely limited lexicon of the "professional" crossworder. Where's the challenge in that? That's when I became bored with it.

Voyager 01-24-2008 12:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by lissener
This is why I quit doing crosswords: the 187th time I came across the word "eyrie," I decided that, in order to become a "master" crossword puzzler, all you had to do was memorize the extremely limited lexicon of the "professional" crossworder. Where's the challenge in that? That's when I became bored with it.

I was doing some of an old Margaret Farrar S&S book. Those puzzles are full of obscure geographical locations, animals, Polynesian gods and all sorts of crap. Usually crossing. Now I know why my mother-in-law had a crossword dictionary by her side doing them. I need a dictionary maybe twice a year for modern puzzles. Yes, there is a small set of words with odd letters, but it is nothing like what it used to be. All hail the modern constructors!

Really, get a book of old puzzles and give it a shot. You never complain about an aerie or oreo again.

BarnOwl 01-24-2008 01:31 PM

I want to thank all of you, especially Twickster for acknowledging the truth of my ingenius theory. I promise I won't change. I'll always be the affable, self effacing, supremely lovable, and all around nice guy I've always been, even though I'm light years smarter and cuter than all of you.


Love to all,

BarnOwl
The Modest


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