One of the games in the Blindfold Word Games pack is Hangman. Almost everyone knows hangman, but making the game fun requires that the words be challenging. Otherwise, you’ll guess the word in 6 or 7 attempts.
It’s easy to find a list of words that are easy or of moderate difficulty. Finding really hard words on other other hand takes a bit of research. It’s not the length or obscurity of the word that makes it hard; its the use of infrequently used letters, such as “X” or “Z”.
Here’s an excerpt from a blog by Jon McLoone: “Back in 2007, I wrote a game of hangman for a human guesser on the train journey from Oxford to London. I spent the time on the London Underground thinking about optimal strategies for playing it, and wrote the version for the computer doing the guessing on the return journey. It successfully guessed my test words and I was satisfied, so I submitted both to the Wolfram Demonstrations Project. Now, three years later, my daughter is old enough to play, but the Demonstration annoys her, as it can always guess her words. She asked the obvious question that never occurred to me at the time: “What are the hardest words I can choose, so that I can beat it?”
Jon used game theory to design a program that could play hangman and learns as it wins and loses each game, and then, using a 90,000 word dictionary, he simulated 15 million games.
So back to the question: which are better, long words or short? Jon was surprised to discover that the average mistake rate is highest for short words. The reason seems to be simply that the more the letters vary, the less likely a person is to miss them. In the extreme, a word with 14 different letters cannot win a 13-game. There are only 12 wrong letters out there.
For short words, he found “jazz” to be one of the hardest. For long words, “powwowing”, “bowwowing”, and “huzzahing” are difficult.
Blindfold Word Games now include all of the hard words he found in the “difficult” game level.