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Code Puzzles And Letter Frequencies

If you are interested in tackling the codewords on Wordy Puzzle, but are not sure how to get going with the puzzles, then here is one of many tactics you can use to help you crack open the puzzle: letter frequencies.

You will no doubt know that some letters appear a lot more often in English than other letters. Trivially you can see just by reading this page that the letter E appears a lot more times than the letter Q.

So how can you use this to help you solve codewords? Well, the way that many people start solving codewords, when the E isn't given, is by trying to work out which number represents the E. The best way to do this is to look at which number appears the most times in the codeword puzzle - and this is often, although of course not always, the E.

For those who play games such as Scrabble, you'll know that some letters have a higher score than others - this is because they are harder to play, and the reason they are harder to play is because they appear in less words - they have a lower occurrence frequency in English.

So what are the overall frequencies of letters in English? One way to find this out is to take a large amount of text from a variety of sources in English, and then simply count how many times each letter occurs. Of course, over time some letters may come in and out of fashion, and it may also vary depending on which version of English you look at: most people in England use -ise and -ising forms of words, whereas in the US it might be -ize and -izing, making 'z' more frequent than in British English.

As a guide to the overall letter frequencies, here is a list of them, with the most common letter (E) in pole position - NB some positions may vary a little depending on what your sample source is and how many words it contains, but generally this is directionally correct:

E, T, A, O, I, N, S, R, H, D, L, U, C, M, F, Y, W, G, P, B, V, K, X, Q, J, Z.

If you can work out where the 'E' is in a codeword, then often that is all you need to break the back of the puzzle and to solve it. This is why codewords where the E is given - and more generally a vowel - are often a little easier than those where they are not given, or where there are of course less given letters at the start of the puzzle.
Date written: 17 Mar 2015



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