Here’s an update on my game Middles.

Dominus told me that Bill Gosper was also inspired by …MEOW…, and made a version of this game. His version allows only four-letter substrings, and allows those substrings to occur anywhere in the word (so GULC would be valid). When Dominus mentioned Gosper’s work, I assumed that it was in, like, 1983, since Gosper is fifteen years older than my parents, but it was actually just a couple of years ago. So I’m not that far behind the curve. Update: No, actually I am way late. Dominus further informs me that he learned about it in More Mathematical People(1990), p 114. Gosper attributes it to a friend of his.

A former co-worker mentions Wordiply, a Guardian game with non-unique middles. I hate it, because the longest words are very often a mess of affixes. Consider “utel”: the best word is “absofuckinglutely”, which contains both an infix and a suffix; the best word they are likely to actually accept is is “irresolutely”, which contains both a prefix and a suffix. And they let you riff on affixes, so you can do things like remitting, remittingly, unremittingly; this is often a totally reasonable strategy. There’s nothing wrong with affixes, but there’s also nothing interesting about affixes.

A game that plays somewhat like Middles is Superghost; Jed Hartman describes it nicely; there, the goal is not to make a word. Another friend mentioned it in the context of a James Thurber piece from 1951 (paywalled; your library may have New Yorker archive access). The logical next step is, of course, Superduperghost, which allows inserting letters at any position. Jed Hartman also describes this version; Wikipedia says it wasn’t invented until 1970, which seems surprising.

Hartman also mentions “the occasional several-minute wait between letters”, which points to a problem with this whole category of games: without a time limit, you can often spend hours thinking about a turn. Gil Hova’s Prolix solves this problem with a timer. This is a problem I complain about whenever someone wants to play Codenames. Yes, Codenames comes with a timer, but nobody uses it, and it’s too long anyway. This is one reason I wanted a game like Surfwords.

There are often a lot of ways to approach the same game concept. Today I was at MoMath and discovered Balance Beans. I had definitely considered making a game on this premise, but mine was going to be a computer game, and it was going to involve trucks trying to drive across the balance beam, with some slop in the system to allow a truck to be driven onto just one side. Also, my trucks were going to have different weights at the same one-square size, as opposed to having size and weight conflated and having connected groups. After playing it, I think their choices might be better. But mine would have offered some neat sequencing puzzles. (Just a note: their physical design is a bit crap; if you aren’t careful while removing a piece from the heavy side, the motion will disrupt some of the other pieces).

PS: I’ve also corrected a flaw in Middles. Dominus and another player mentioned that yesterday’s EYAN could be the somewhat obscure word ABEYANCE instead of the expected CONVEYANCE. I’ve added a button for this situation, which lets you enter an alternate answer and (if your alternate answer is on my long word list and you entered a letter that would have been correct for the alternate answer) gives you a point back. This is a weird solution, but I didn’t want to just accept alternate answers as you type them, since that could lead a user to a word that they think is obscure.

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