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A Solution for the Ten Letter Acrostic Puzzle? 258

rmo101 asks: "A story in the Times reports a solution to the ten letter acrostic square puzzle that has defied solution since the ancient Greeks. An acrostic puzzle comprises a square of letters where the arrangement of letters from words written in rows result in the same words appearing vertically in the same order. The ten letter solution, however, is not accepted by all as one of the words does not appear in a dictionary. Sounds like a puzzle in search of a fiendish algorithm for interrogating a dictionary. The ancient Greeks believed that the solver of the ten letter puzzle would become immortal. Anyone fancy their chances?" Of course, the Times article doesn't report the proposed ten-letter solution (they show a five-letter one), but they do mention the controversial word: "nonesevent". Are any of you interested in trying your hand at a better solution?
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A Solution for the Ten Letter Acrostic Puzzle?

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  • by dascandy ( 869781 ) <dascandy@gmail.com> on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:52AM (#14178151)
    The actual square is:


    Which is the vertical flip of the stories' version. This one spells out the sentence in the same direction as Latin would be written (top to bottom). Also, this one generates more hits on google, with 19900 versus 1320 hits (with "SATOR AREPO" versus "AREPO SATOR").
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:53AM (#14178153)
    The creator of the ten-letter acrostic would acheive "a lifetime of immortality"...

    that's useful, hm?
    • It's the same as a 'lifetime guarantee'.

      Once it fails, that's the life over, hence no guarantee...
    • Perhaps the intention was to have them bronzed.

  • by jerometremblay ( 513886 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:53AM (#14178158) Homepage
    Change the dictionary.
  • The solution (Score:5, Informative)

    by alanw ( 1822 ) * <alan@wylie.me.uk> on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:54AM (#14178160) Homepage
    This posting [yahoo.com] by Ted Clarke on the Yahoo! group wordgame-programmers announces his tensquare acrostic

    There are two others mentioned, one of which contains the word "Orangutang", which is also mentioned in the Times article. Interestingly, this directory listing [gtoal.com] implies that the BENCHMARK file, which contains the above solution, was created no later than November 1999. Sorry - but I can't stop the ecode tage from inserting spaces into the text.

    • According to this article [timesonline.co.uk], this solution is contested. First of all, it uses compound words. Secondly, the word "nonesevent" may be made up or a bastardized version of "noneevent". Still, it is apparently considered the best attempt anyone has made without repeating words with the same sound.
  • by jurt1235 ( 834677 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:56AM (#14178166) Homepage
    The solution is not valid if the word does not exist in a dictionary. Does an encyclopedia count as a dictionary? If so I would say:
    Long live Wikipedia.
    Just add the word, and the puzzle is solved.
    Probably the ancient greeks solved it too once, since out of frustration comes the simple answer:
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:56AM (#14178167)
    It's a perfectly cromulent word.
  • by republican gourd ( 879711 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:58AM (#14178179)
    0000000000000000 - (lameness filter
    0000000000000010 - sure is great
    0000000000000000 - there are carrots
    0000000000000000 - on my plate
    0000000000000000 - I have a buick
    0000000000000000 - which I hate
    0000000000000000 - I cut my kittens
    0000000000000000 - into bait
    0000000000000000 - la la la la
    0000000000000000 - lameness filter
    0000000000000000 - is this enough yet?
    0000000000000000 - I realize the kitten line
    0000000000000000 - may be a bit offensive
    0000000000000000 - I'm a supporter of felinism, I swear
    0100000000000010 - I just think that a kitten's place
    0000000000000001 - is in the kitchen)

    I don't see the big deal. How is this one of the big puzzles in computer science again?
    • by swilde23 ( 874551 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:17AM (#14178265) Journal

      What's the difference in computing a square where each position can be 1 of 2 values, vs 1 of 26??? We should only have to deal with the upper half of the square (as it needs to be diagonal)

      So, for a square of size 10 you are looking at 55 open positions. The binary case has 2^55 possibilities. A mere 36,028,797,018,963,968 different squares that need to be checked. If you only use 26 letters you are looking at 26^55 different squares! That's 6.66091878 × 10^77 different squares. Even on a network of computers (seti@home, supercomputers, whatever) that is still going to take a loooong time.

      The problem itself is super easy to run through a computer, it just takes years and years of time to compute. It's the same reason that the major encryption schemes still work. Their formulas may be known, but if you don't know the factors of a number with a thousand digits in it, you can't break it. The real kicker is no one has developed a method for finding factors quickly (at least quickly enough to make encryption obsolete!)

      • That's not quite correct. The state space of this problem is greatly reduced because you're constraining each row or column to be a word from the dictionary. As a result, you don't have a choice of 26 for each grid cell, or 26^10 for each row or column. If you use a 100,000 word dictionary, you're looking at approximately 100000^10 choices for the whole puzzle, which is large, but not completely unmanageable.
      • The easiest way to get this done is via an itterated filter method. You itterate through the thousands of 10 letter words. filter the each word to reduce the possible words left for the next column, and itterate through those. By the fourth column the chances get pretty slim.. So your looking at about a n^2 log N runtime... which isnt quick but it is doable for a reasonable dictionary size. Storm
    • "I don't see the big deal. How is this one of the big puzzles in computer science again?"

      Yeah, that seems to be a common sentiment here. That's because apparently nobody here took an algorithms class.

      Yes, it wouldn't be that difficult to create an algorithm that would theoretically solve this problem. I say "theoretically" because this assumes that you have infinite time and infinite memory.

      Exhaustively testing all the combinations from a dictionary of 10-letter words would have such an astronomical co

  • by Animus Howard ( 643891 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @10:59AM (#14178188)
    Next year's English Oxford Dictionary will have an entry for that last word.

    "Noun;The only word in the 2005 ten-letter acrostic solution which did not appear in a dictionary at the time."
    • Hey, while the other reply ('a 10 letter acrostic') is an elegant idea, it won't get a lot of use. All we need to do is to pick some fun daily-usable meaning and run with it.

      I nominate: nonesevant, noun, Pronounced: NUN-sev-ant, Possessing horrifyingly-bad managerial skills, as in Dilbert's pointy-haired boss was a nonesevant twit. See: nonesevance, renonesevance (like recidivism, falling back into pointy-hairedness), noneseveral, noneseved, and (of course) nonesense (a misguided belief that you're a good
  • We at the United States National Security Agency hereby order you to stop posting on this thread immediately. The solution to this puzzle is clearly of great value to our national defense and therefore is to be used only with proper authorization from us. Big Brother is watching, and any further discussion will be appropriately terminated. And yes we will know. Now get back to work finding some more prime numbers, we need those too.
  • Abra-Melin? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by calharding ( 897307 ) <[cal] [at] [calharding.net]> on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:01AM (#14178192) Homepage
    This brings to mind something I read once about the "Abra-Melin" squares connected to the work of SL Macgreggor Mathers and Aleister Crowley.

    One which stuck in mind goes as follows:


    When ritually consecrated they are said to be capable of producing magic effects; at least according to the mystics.

    • And if you believe that, I have a ten-letter acrostic (comes with free lifetime immortality) you may be interested in buying...

  • "Nonesevent" is a perfectly cromulent word.
  • Anient Greeks? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ThatGeek ( 874983 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:12AM (#14178243) Homepage
    The ancient Greeks believed that the solver of the ten letter puzzle would become immortal..

    Gee, um... I bet it's either less or more difficult to do it in Ancient Greek than in English. Or maybe they ancient Greeks did it in English too?

    Also, as the article states, one of his words does not appear in the dictionary. Now, maybe it's just me, but using words not found in the dictionary seems to make this task a little bit easier. He is basically saying "No one could solve this using real words, but I did using a (fake) one".
    • Using english would at seem much easier at first, since the English langauge has more words than any other language (I can't find this fact on wikipedia [wikipedia.org], but I'm sure I remember it from somewhere credible). This is mainly because we steal words from other languages ( Schadenfreude [reference.com] off the top of my head, from German 'to take pleasure from others misfortune') and we meld words to make new ones all the time ( meld [reference.com] itself comes from melt and weld - or possibly another German word, Melden, according to refere
      • Re:Anient Greeks? (Score:2, Insightful)

        by tom8658 ( 899280 )
        Actually, languages like Latin and Greek are more suited to this type of puzzle than English. Because informal Latin and Greek have no enforced word order, you can use whatever words you like as long as they are in the correct cases and still form a sentence. Most languages now have deprecated their noun declinsions, or augmented them with a word order system (like German).
    • I agree, it probably is either less or more difficult. You make an excellent observation...


  • Only the Fool... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by headkase ( 533448 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:14AM (#14178257)
    Reminds me of a bit of Hofstader's Metamagical Themas [wikipedia.org]:

    Only the fool would take trouble to verify that his sentence was composed of ten a's, three b's, four c's, four d's, forty-six e's, sixteen f's, four g's, thirteen h's, fifteen i's, two k's, nine l's, four m's, twenty-five n's, twenty-four o's, five p's, sixteen r's, forty-one s's, thirty-seven t's, ten u's, eight v's, eight w's, four x's, eleven y's, twenty-seven commas, twenty-three apostrophes, seven hyphens and, last but not least, a single !

    There's got to be a piece of math that finds the positions where all constraints are satisfied as in the above quote.
  • by jesser ( 77961 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:19AM (#14178273) Homepage Journal
    Does that mean you'll be immortal until you die?
  • by RhettLivingston ( 544140 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:22AM (#14178282) Journal
    The only Google hits on nonesevent have to do with this puzzle. The remarkable thing here is not the solving of the puzzle, its the solving of the puzzle with a word so completely fake that even Google hasn't seen its likes before.
    • However, the word nones is.

      From m-w.com
      Main Entry: 4none
      Pronunciation: 'nOn
      Function: noun
      Usage: often capitalized
      Etymology: Late Latin nona, from Latin, 9th hour of the day from sunrise -- more at NOON
      : the fifth of the canonical hours

      A google define:nones query results in:
      # n the old Roman calendar, the ninth day before Ides. The 7th of March, May, July and October and the 5th of other months. See Calends, Nones & Ides
      www.highdown.reading.sch.uk/highdown/pupil/time/ca lendars/terms.html

      # the 5th or 7th
    • Just because it's not on google doesn't mean it doesn't exist... ahhh, who am I kidding?
    • by PromANJ ( 852419 )
      NoNESevent? An event seriously lacking Nintendo Entertainment Systems?
  • by njfuzzy ( 734116 ) <.moc.x-nai. .ta. .nai.> on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:24AM (#14178289) Homepage
    If I remember correctly, there were about 20,000 words in the ancient Greek language. There are over 300,000 and counting in English. I think it's safe to say we're practically cheating. The problem was probably impossible in their time, but not in ours.
  • by h4ter ( 717700 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:29AM (#14178303) Homepage
    Benjamin Zimmer over at Language Log notes some problems with the story [upenn.edu]. Most notably:

    There's no evidence that the composition of word squares, let alone 10-squares, was a pastime in ancient Greece.

    And, there's the timeliness of the article:

    [I]t's unclear why the Times thought that this was at all newsworthy, considering that Clarke announced his discovery of the square back in April 1999, in an issue of his e-zine WordsWorth.
  • german... (Score:5, Funny)

    by CaptnMArk ( 9003 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:36AM (#14178331)
    If you're German, you just put 4 5x5 solutions together and you are done :)
  • According to Mr Clarke the word, perhaps more correctly nones-event, is an event that takes place during a period of the month known as the nones by the Ancient Romans, rather like the Ides of March.

    In other words, he combined two Latin-based words to solve an English version of a Greek puzzle.

    Suddenly, English [mithrilstar.org] neologisms [ucam.org] that combine Latin and Greek don't bother me at all.
  • by tnsimonson ( 731364 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:49AM (#14178365) Journal
    I solved this puzzle when I was a kid back in 352 A.D.
  • Sparse space (Score:5, Interesting)

    by tgv ( 254536 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @11:53AM (#14178380) Journal
    It's a sparseness problem. The space of two letter words is pretty full, but as the length of the words increases, the number of words does not increase as fast as the number of possible combinations.

    I've actually written a program to generate the Dutch solutions to the 5x5 puzzle somewhere around 1990, and it found several good solutions with a 210,000 word dictionary. However, it didn't find solutions for the 6x6 square. So I would expect that the 10x10 square is near impossible, unless wacky compounds would be allowed, since they are the only thing that can keep the letter combination filled...
    • I've actually written a program to generate the Dutch solutions to the 5x5 puzzle

      How does the time needed to find all NxN solutions grow with N?
      • Can't reconstruct it, as the code is long buried, but the complexity would be O(k^N), where k is the number of words of length N. This is however not an good upper bound for an efficient implementation, as the first word limits the choice of the second word with a factor 26 (well, the alphabet size of first positions, to be precise) on average. Choosing the second word will limit the choice of the third word with a factor 26^2, since the first two letters are now fixed, etc. For choosing the last word, a si
  • Using a dictionary

    (1) Calculate all the possibilities for the first five words
    (2) Calculate all the possibilities for the last five words
    (3) Look for a compatible pair

    You can filter the possibilities down quite a lot before you start match-finding. And you can do this recursively to a certain extent.
  • 10 Letter Words (Score:3, Informative)

    by sugapablo ( 600023 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @12:04PM (#14178417) Homepage
    Well, if anyone wants a good place to start, here's a URL with a big long list of 10 letter words:
    http://aaron.doosh.net/lexicon/10LetterWords.html [doosh.net]

  • cruel (Score:4, Funny)

    by plopez ( 54068 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @12:12PM (#14178445) Journal
    Tossing something in front of an audience with a larger than normal percentage of people with some sort of OCD. What were you thinking? I for one am getting tired of having to quit my jobs, drop out of school and deal with relationship breakups while i try to be the first to solve yet another stupid puzzzle... :)
  • Language? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Transcendent ( 204992 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @12:19PM (#14178478)
    Wouldn't you have to solve it in ancient greek since any new language could just make up words to fit?
  • English solutiosn (Score:3, Insightful)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @12:20PM (#14178485)
    Some English solutions are given How abut a GREEK solution in ancient greek? Just make a list of all 10 letter words and have a program a go at it. The worst that can happen is that it will be proven that there is no solution.
    Do the same for all other languages as well.
  • Orangutang (Score:4, Interesting)

    by frovingslosh ( 582462 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @12:29PM (#14178524)
    So what's the problem with Orangutang? It seems like a perfectly valid word to use in such a "puzzle" to me.

    And the real solution to the problem seems obvious. Considering that the term "Cyber Monday" was only created two weeks ago but is now being reported by all the major news organizations as a real thing, it would seem to me that all one needs to do to solve this problem is to work out a solution where one or two of the words look reasonably well formed and sound ok even if they are in no dictionary. Then start using them, work them into some blogs, get them some mention in the news, and wait a year or two for them to show up as new words in the dictionary (what's a year or two to an immortal?) Problem solved.

    • Re:Orangutang (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Scarblac ( 122480 )
      Is "orangutang" the correct spelling in English? The original Malay is "orang utan".
      • Orangutan - without the trailing G, seems to be the most accepted spelling, but there are enough cases of Orangutang as a spelling that I take it to be an alternate spelling that has come into wide use (Google gets about 125,000 hits). It's certainly not the only case of a word that has more than one recognized English spelling.
        • Re:Orangutang (Score:3, Informative)

          by CastrTroy ( 595695 )
          You can't use human stupidity as an argument. Just because a lot people think that's how you spell orangutan, doesn't mean that's how you spell it. It's like saying you have proof that go exists, just because people believe him.
        • When "u" (meaning "you") gets in the dictionary, I'll accept "orangutang" in the solution.

          Of course, that will also be the day I shoot myself in the head.

          • Given the recent trend of the Oxford dictionary of modern English to accurately describe the usage of words (whether they have only one letter or more). I suspect that could happen in the next edition. However I would like to see two dictionaries produced, the standard one, and the dictionary of contracted spelling. When reading typed communications, "u" meaning "you" is becoming very common, and a dictionary *should* describe the meaning, otherwise how do you know what the person was trying to say?
    • There is no second 'g' on Orangutan. It is a common misspelling.
  • Of course, the Times article doesn't report the proposed ten-letter solution (they show a five-letter one)
    Looks like they want to keep that immortality all to themselves!
  • Now do it with a Cube.

    ON - NO
    NO - ON

    net - ewe - ten
    ewe - wow - ewe
    ten - ewe - net ...

    Then a hypercube...
  • Here's a dumb little perl script I slapped together this morning. You can use it to find these puzzles using words from a dictionary file. If you find anything good, please post it here. (You might want to randomize the order of your dictionary file first, otherwise you're just testing the same word combinations that everyone else has already tried).

    Yes, it's bad code, in a language poorly suited for the task. And really inefficient. Probably has bugs, too. Blow me. I was bored and wanted something fast.

    • Here is some recursive c# code. It will take a while to run though. On my computer it takes a couple of seconds per word, using the 20000 word dictionary linked to elsewhere in this article thread.

      using System;
      using System.Collections.Generic;
      using System.Text;
      using System.IO;

      class AcrosticSolver

      static void Main(string[] args)

      const int PuzzleSize = 10;

      static Dictionary dictionary = new Dict
  • I've assigned finding such wordsquare puzzles a few times as a programming problem. Its a pretty easy recursion problem.

    On a similar note, Will Shortz, on the NPR Sunday morning show asked a few weeks back for word squares (but without the symmetry) but where instead of each cell containing letters, it contains the symbols for the chemical elements. Someday that or a variant of it could well be another good homework assignment/programming contest problem.

  • Wrong Language (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FJ ( 18034 ) on Sunday December 04, 2005 @02:28PM (#14179183)
    To be a valid solution to the ancient Greeks (and win the immortality prize), shouldn't the solution be using Greek words?
  • What the fudge do the ancient greeks have to do with this? Maybe they had problems with a ten letter Greek acrostic, but that has absolutely no bearing on an English acrostic!

  • 10 letter word? That's a no-brainer, it's gotta be:


  • The Greeks invented this puzzle and seemed to think it was impossible -- in Greek. I do not see how solving it in English would count for anything.

    If one could use any language, why not use Hawaiian or some other Polynesian language. With few vowels and consonants, it should be relatively easy construct one of these things.

    Non-Greek solutions should be invalid.

"Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats." -- Howard Aiken