What is the Hardest Word to Guess in Hangman?

Published by patrick honner on

hangmanIn 2007 Jon McLoone used Mathematica to create a Hangman game pitting the computer guesser against the human word-selector.  As his daughter became old enough to play against the demonstration, and old enough to get frustrated with the computer guesser always winning, she asked her dad the obvious question:  to beat the computer, what are the best words to choose?

Surprised that he had not considered such a good question himself, McLoone set about playing 15 million games of Hangman (automated, I imagine) using every word in the dictionary and arming the computer with a number of different letter-guessing-strategies.  The word that the computer failed to guess the most often was somewhat surprising.

So what kinds of strategies make the best guesser?  And to counter that, what kinds of strategies should the word-selector employ?

patrick honner

Math teacher in Brooklyn, New York


Jen · September 3, 2010 at 1:06 am

I usually use the word RHYTHM. Even though it’s easy to think of once a couple letters have already been guessed, I almost always win with it.

Since practically every word has a vowel, people generally guess a, e, i, o, and u before moving on to other letters. This way, I have five strikes on the player before he/she even has an inkling as to what the word is. The next guess is usually y, a key letter, but seeing two ys in one word is also confusing to the player.

MrHonner · September 3, 2010 at 7:51 am

Of course, a knowledgeable player might recognize “rhythm” once he or she has tried all the vowels and sees no letters revealed. And make sure you spell rhythm correctly!

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