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Computers And Cryptic Crosswords

One of the debates that pops up from time to time is around cryptic crosswords and computers - and specifically whether a computer program can be written to create a good cryptic crossword.

Now, in this debate it is generally assumed that what is being talked about is whether the computer can create puzzles from a database of clues written by a human - it is generally agreed that a computer cannot write good cryptic clues: if you know of any then we would love to hear about them, so please let us know in the comments section.

But can a computer simply put together clues in the way that is often used for a quick crossword in order to make a good cryptic crossword puzzle?

Most people would say no, and the reason is that a setter will typically write some clues based on others in the grid, whereas a computer would fill a grid 'blind'. Most importantly, a good setter will look to have a balance of different clue types in a grid, whereas a computer just picking clues blindly would not be able to do this.

Others have countered that a computer could write a good puzzle by having different types of clue categorised and then ensuring a grid fill that has a good balance of clue types.

The defendants of the human creator would then say that the human setter will consider more things again - perhaps for instance using ellipsis clues that flow nicely together, or perhaps having a little theme running through the puzzle that a computer can't replicate, or again referring to another answer with several other answers in the grid.

This has been tried in the past - apparently a major British newspaper introduced cryptics created from a database of past clues once, but soon reversed the change after enough people complained that the quality of the puzzles fell. What would be a more interesting test is if a newspaper introduced computer compiled cryptics but didn't announce it, and see if anybody picked up on it.

What are your thoughts - can a computer create a good cryptic puzzle from human-written clues or not? Or perhaps you think a computer could even write the clues, if not now, then one day - please do share your thoughts below.
Date written: 19 Mar 2015

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