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NY Times Spelling Bee

Published by marco on

Updated by marco on

I recently wrote that Kath and I have a one-year streak going in the NYT Crossword Puzzle. While that is still ongoing, we’ve also recently discovered a little gem called Spelling Bee (New York Times). The concept is elegant and simple:

  • You get seven letters arranged in a honeycomb.
  • You have to combine these letters to come up with as many words with four letters or more as you can.
  • The middle letter is required.
  • You can repeat letters as much as you like.
  • Answers can overlap one another. (E.g. “glad” and “gladly” are two separate answers).
  • The longer the word, the more points you get.
  • You can an extra bonus for pangrams (words that use all of the letters at least once)[1]
  • The puzzle rates your performance with “good”, “nice”, “great”, “awesome”, and, finally, “genius”[2] (You can click your progress indicator to see how many points are required for each level.)
  • There is always a pangram (a word that uses all of the letters)

You can check your word list against the master word list only on the next day, which is kind of nice and zen.

Queen Bee

There is a level beyond genius called “Queen Bee”—and we finally got one.

 Pangram = Adjourn


Here are a couple of games that we’ve completed, just to show off.

Now, the bad news

Would I be reporting on this fun little game if it was all sunshine and roses? No, no, I probably wouldn’t.

You see, there are some words I’ve learned over the years, for which I’ve borne more than my share of ridicule for knowing, that the puzzle refused to acknowledge as being “in its word list”.

I was shocked and disappointed[3] to see that certain words that I’ve kept in my back pocket, as it were, for just such a rainy day as this, were not recognized.

Proof? Of course I have proof.

The following are definitions from the Free Dictionary. While not exactly common, these are all non-archaic words that are not proper nouns. Those that are chiefly British (e.g. demobbed) might be understandable as “too rare” were the puzzle not to regularly include incredibly obscure references to fish and fruit species. There isn’t really much consistency on what is considered a proper noun or what is considered “rare”.

adit: An almost horizontal entrance to a mine.

alembic: An apparatus consisting of two vessels connected by a tube, formerly used for distilling liquids.

anil: An indigo plant or the blue dye obtained from it.

appel: A quick stamp of the foot used in fencing as a feint to produce an opening.

arity: The number of arguments or operands taken by a function or operator

badonkadonk: buttocks; booty; an extremely curvaceous female behind

becalm: To render motionless for lack of wind; to make calm or still; soothe

bedamn: To curse thoroughly

betel: A vine or nut

betitle: To bestow a name upon something

biddy: A hen; A fowl; A woman, especially an older one who is extremely talkative.

bimbo: A person, esp a foolish one

bint: A derogatory term for girl, woman

bokeh: The effect of blurriness in the areas of an image that fall outside a photograph’s depth of field

boolean: Of or relating to a logical combinatorial system treating variables, such as propositions and computer logic elements, through the operators AND, OR, NOT, and XOR

bole: Tree trunk

bytecode: A form of instruction set designed for efficient execution by a software interpreter

calcite: A common crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, CaCO3, that is the basic constituent of limestone, marble, and chalk.

calif: A leader of an Islamic polity, regarded as a successor of Muhammad and by tradition always male. (Also: califf or caliph)

camelia: Any of several shrubs or small evergreen trees having solitary white or pink or reddish flowers

celtic: Of, relating to, or characteristic of the Celts or the Celtic languages

chink: A narrow opening, such as a crack or fissure. (presumably not recognized because the snowflakes think it could only be a slur for Chinese person.)

cloacal: Related to the common cavity that serves as the opening for the intestinal, genital, and urinary tracts in many vertebrates, including amphibians, reptiles, birds, monotremes, and some fishes

cope: To contend with difficulties and act to overcome them

craic: Irish vernacular for “fun”, e.g. “when I’m at the pub with the lads, we always have a good craic.”

cunt: Used as a disparaging term for a person one dislikes or finds extremely disagreeable.

decile: Any of the groups that result when a frequency distribution is divided into ten groups of equal size.

demobbed: Demobilization of armed forces

donator: A person who gives to a charity or cause

epaulette: A shoulder ornament, especially a fringed strap worn on military uniforms. (common alternative spelling)

enzian: A plant from the gentian family

faff: A thing that is awkward or time-consuming to do; to dither or fuss (also, faffing about

fain: ready; willing; happy

fairing: An auxiliary structure or the external surface of a vehicle, such as an aircraft, that serves to reduce drag.

gaff: A metal hook fastened to a pole; to cheat; fleece; harsh treatment or criticism (also, gaffing)

gilet: A vest or bodice

gnomon: The piece jutting from the center of a sundial

gonif: A thief, scoundrel, or rascal. (also ganef)

gorily: In a gory manner

hemophage: A cell that destroys red blood cells by phagocytosis.

huck: To throw or toss.

ichor: The blood of the Gods

inline: Incorporated into a body of text rather than placed as a separate section

italian: Of or relating to Italy or its people, language, or culture.

ladyboy: The Indo-European language of the ancient Latins and Romans and the most important cultural language of western Europe until the end of the 17th century.

lamplit: Lit by a lamp.

latin: The Indo-European language of the ancient Latins and Romans and the most important cultural language of western Europe until the end of the 17th century.

latina: A woman or girl who is a member of one of the Spanish-speaking peoples of the Americas.

lede: The introductory portion of a news story, especially the first sentence.

liana: Any of various climbing, woody, usually tropical vines.

luff: To flap while losing wind. Used of a sail.

olla: A rounded earthenware pot or jar, used especially for cooking or for carrying water

panamanian: A native or inhabitant of Panama (which was accepted as a word, although it’s a proper noun)

telic: Directed or tending toward a goal or purpose; purposeful.

tufa: A soft, friable, and porous sedimentary rock consisting of calcium carbonate and formed by the evaporation of water, especially at the mouth of a hot spring or on a drying lakebed.

tuple: A generalization of ordered elements in any dimension.

vair: A fur, probably squirrel, much used in medieval times to line and trim robes.

villi: A minute projection arising from a mucous membrane, especially one of the numerous vascular projections of the small intestine. (singular, villus)

wadi: A valley, gully, or streambed in northern Africa and southwest Asia that remains dry except during the rainy season; an oasis

wain: The Big Dipper; A large open farm wagon

welch: To fail to fulfill an obligation (alternate spelling of welsh)

[1] I made up a thing called a “natural pangram”, which uses each of the letters exactly once (e.g. laundry), in order to prove to Kath that my pangram was better than hers.
[2] At which point we usually stop, although we’ve never gotten every last one of the possible words.[4] Being called “genius” once a day by our soon-to-be robot masters is rewarding enough.
[3] The German word bodigt, as in “defeated to the ground”, seems to do the feeling the bare minimum of justice.

In the meantime, we’ve “cheated” with two open windows to be able to find out that there is, indeed, a final status for having found all of the words: “Queen Bee”.

We haven’t managed it for real—sometimes because we miss a word or two that should have known, but sometimes because there’s a word we didn’t know was a word, e.g. “footwall”—but we’ve gotten within one word one time. We had “knick”. We had “knack”. We forgot “knickknack”.