Computer program places 141st in national tournament

It’s not quite IBM’s Watson, but Dr. Fill performed decently at a national crossword tournament.

Dr. Fill is the name of a computer program designed by one Matthew Ginsberg, with the goal of being able to understand English context and play-on-word phrases such that it can solve crossword puzzles like a normal human.

And Ginsberg knows something about this subject. He helps design crossword puzzles for the New York Times.

As a proof of concept, he was allowed to show off his creation at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in New York City. But Dr. Fill was only a symbolic contestant. He receives no official standing.

Nevertheless, Ginsberg had hoped that Dr. Fill would be able to finish the competition in the realm of the top 50 human competitors.

That didn’t happen. Had Dr. Fill been an official contender, his spot would have been rank #141, out of 600 contestants. That’s still decent, but certainly in the “Man vs. Machine” tally, this one has to go to Man.

One of Fill’s biggest stumbling blocks was a crossword puzzle that required puzzle solvers to enter words that were spelled backward. However, on all of the “normal” crossword puzzles, he was able to run through without a hitch.

Ginsberg was quoted by the New York Times as saying two puzzles, including the backward-word one, “were bizarre,” and promised, “I’ll be back next year.”

In the human world, a man name Dan Feyer was the one who bested Dr. Fill by the highest margin. He won the tournament for the third year in a row.