Browsing Senior Theses & Projects by Author "Adams, Jocelyn"
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- ItemA Pragmatic Analysis of Crossword Puzzle Difficulty(2015) Adams, Jocelyn; Fernald, Theodore B.The language of crosswords is intended to trick readers to some degree while still eventually leading them to the correct answer. While crosswords are governed by fairly strict rules dictating word length, grid structure, and clue content, clues are often purposefully ambiguous and provide a level of context that would be insufficient for normal conversation. In many newspapers, including the New York Times, daily puzzles become more difficult as the week progresses. For a puzzle later in the week, the creator may assume that solvers are seasoned enough to know the basic crossword patterns and can begin to play with conventions. This thesis explores how the methods by which crossword creators write difficult clues mirror the Gricean maxims. It breaks down crossword entries into several difficulty factors: requirement of cultural knowledge, obscurity, ambiguity, underspecificity, and trickiness. Each of these factors is explored at length and then analyzed quantitatively using a large data set of entries from New York Times crosswords. My findings indicate that many of these factors are interrelated. The distinction between puzzles at each day of the week is more nuanced than some abstract, monotonically increasing "difficulty" function. Some of the factors tum out to not be highly correlated to difficulty at all. In some cases, clues later in the week appear to favor entertainment value over sheer difficulty level. Additionally, I show how pragmatic theories can be applied to a highly restricted and unnatural form of communication. My work extends similar research into the use of Gricean maxims in jokes and advertisements. This thesis combines natural language processing approaches on a full corpus with detailed manual analysis, demonstrating that computational methods can be used to address an area such as pragmatics.