Nick, looking unnecessarily stern, as generated by OpenAI

Hi, I'm Nick. This is where I write about things.

It's been a very long time — way more than a decade I think — since I had a personal website that actually got maintained with any sort of regularity.

This means I am really out of practice.

In the intervening years, I've posted a few times at these places:

... but having my own site sounds fun for the first time in a long time. So here I am.

Bell System Vehicle Graphics Manual (1973, PDF)

A eulogy for Dark Sky, a data visualization masterpiece

How a Berkeley eccentric beat the Russians and then made useless, wondrous objects

Every possible Wordle solution visualized

Starting words, Wordle

According to the NYT, few players use a consistent starting word when playing Wordle. Of the 28% of players (with more than 10 games played) who have used the same starting word 90% of the time, the words are: ADIEU, AUDIO, STARE, RAISE, and ARISE.

Full disclosure: I’m pretty sure I’m in this sample group and RAISE is my starting word.

Many months ago at the outset of the Wordle craze, long before the NYT bought it, I wrote a Wordle solver — a computer program that will play Wordle against itself and keep lots of fun statistics about those games.

To folks in reading this in the far future: This is the sort of activity the pandemic forced us into.

I’ll save the details of how the Wordle solver works for another post (short version: it does same math as it would if it were solving Mastermind), but I was curious how these words would perform against each other. So I took my solver, looked up a few other sources for “best starting words” and simulated 100,000 games with each of them.

Would my RAISE come out on top?

Word Win Percentage Average Number of Rounds ± Rounds
1 slant 86.65% 4.9680 1.51
2 trace 85.37% 5.0417 1.57
3 crate 85.36% 5.0340 1.57
4 crane 84.93% 5.0744 1.60
5 piano 84.65% 5.1039 1.55
6 slate 84.02% 5.0526 1.62
7 audio 83.74% 5.1774 1.56
8 stare 82.95% 5.1180 1.66
9 snare 82.62% 5.1358 1.67
10 roate 82.59% 5.1500 1.69
11 tears 82.43% 5.1214 1.71
12 yuppy 82.12% 5.4342 1.35
13 adieu 81.84% 5.2540 1.64
14 soare 81.21% 5.2077 1.71
15 raise 80.01% 5.2551 1.79
16 quest 79.98% 5.3882 1.67
17 arise 79.72% 5.2750 1.81

No. No it didn’t. It came in a very (very) sad 15th place out of 17.

So I guess I need to change my starting word to SLANT? With a 6% better win rate, it seems silly not to.

To define what’s going on in that table a little better — “Win Percentage” is the number of times the solver was able to guess the right word by the 6th guess (inclusive), and “Average Number of Rounds” is the average number of rounds it took to solve the puzzle (I let the program keep solving past 6 rounds just so that it doesn’t get discouraged).

Which all adds up to “RAISE” is a bad choice for a starting word. Old habits die hard though, so despite it being suboptimal I know I’m going to have a hard time changing.

I should note, all of these games are played on “hard mode” — which is to say every guess must use all of the information from all of the previous guesses. If the solver knows a word has an “E” in it, it won’t guess “COUNT” for example.

Maybe the next experiment with the solver should be removing the hard mode restriction? What happens if, instead of just specifying the first guess, the first two guesses are scripted to be words that contain different letters from one another? For example, like “RAISE” as a first guess and “COUNT” for the next guess. Would that increase the win percentage? Would the number of rounds to solve the puzzle go up because it’s more often than not throwing away one extra guess?

Minoan Star Sailors: Linking place orientations with maritime trade routes and celestial navigaion (PDF)

An audio engineer explains NPR's signature sound

Autonomous Restructuring of Asteroids into Rotating Space Stations (using robot spiders, PDF)

You've been challenged to a duel

I’m getting a kick out of these rules for dueling as published in 1847. Despite the fact I have no intention of dueling anyone, it never hurts to know the rules. To start with:

No gentleman may notice the insulting language of an inferior.

And what if your ladyfriend is disparaged? Well it’s important to know there are no takebacks. Which seems a bit strict.

For direct insult to a lady, no apology can be received. But as this code is intended for the use of gentlemen, and as no individual of that caste is capable of insulting a lady, the despicable hounds so transgressing are hereby surrendered to the ear-slitting clemency of the lady’s friends.

Even if you loathe your dueling partner, be sure to say “hi” on the field. Don’t worry, you won’t be required to use actual words.

After taking your place, you will salute your antagonist with a distant but not discourteous inclination of the head.

Should you win the duel, please know that despite your elation at not having a new hole in your body, the moment is not right for gloating.

After the duel, apply no recriminating or disparaging language toward your late antagonist…

From the lengthily titled “The code of honor or, The thirty-nine articles; with an appendix, showing the whole manner in which the duel is to be conducted; with amusing anecdotes, illustrative of duelling; to which is prefixed a dissertation on the origin and progress of the duello, by a Southron”.

Lake Superior's North Shore

Lake Superior North Shore

Taken in 2018.