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Toughest Word in Hangman: Jazz
August 20, 2010

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Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald or certainly Wynton and Branford Marsalis would certainly have something to say about this: the hardest word to solve in the age-old game of Hangman is JAZZ.

This according to a computer programmer who wrote a program specifically to tell his daughter how she could beat a computerized version of the Hangman game. The program simulated 15 million games, using 90,000 words from a dictionary and guessing in a semi-random method (just like a person would). No matter how many variations the programmer wrote into the program, the toughest word to guess was always the same.

Hangman is a simple game with a morbid premise: One player (or a computer program) chooses a word and reveals only how many letters it has. At the same time, that player draws a hangman's noose. Another player guesses letters one at a time, and the first player reveals how many of each letter the secret words contains. When the guesser correctly guesses a letter, that letter is revealed all the times it is in the word. If a letter guessed is not at all in the secret word, then a part of a body is drawn on the hangman's noose. If the guesser is incorrect enough times, the first player draws an entire body and the game is lost.

In the computer simulation, shorter words proved more difficult to guess than longer words. Not surprisingly, words with uncommonly used letters — like z and u — were near the top of the difficult list. And, the fewer pieces the computer got, the more difficult the words proved to correctly guess.

Among the other words that proved very difficult for the program to guess were these:

buzz
faff
hajj
fizz
jinx
fuzz
vex
fox
fax
puff
babes
jay
quiz
zap
huh

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