Move over, Watson: Dr. Fill to take on top crossword puzzlers

Move over, Watson: Dr. Fill to take on top crossword puzzlers

EUGENE, Ore. - Move over, Watson: The crossword-solving computer program "Dr. Fill" will take on human competitors at the world's premier crossword puzzle tournament next month.

Matt Ginsberg of Eugene plans to take his creation to the 35th Annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament to play against humans. It’s the world’s oldest and largest tournament, set for March 16-18 in Brooklyn, NY.

"I decided, well, if they're going to make such a big fuss about Jeopardy!," he said, "then I'm going to do crosswords which are actually harder and have real artificial intelligence inside and see how far I can go."

Ginsberg, who runs two software companies here in Eugene “On Time Systems” and “Green Driver,” told KVAL News started building “Dr. Fill” a year ago.

But crosswords and computers have been a long-term interest for Ginsberg.

"It's a hobby," he said. "I'm a terrible solver, and this is my vengence on the crossword community. Dr. Fill is way better than I am."

So how does Dr. Fill work?

For starters, the doctor is not a male.

"It's an it," Ginsberg said. "It solves puzzles totally unlike how humans solve puzzles, and it's not a him.

"At first it looks at all the clues, and it tries to get some understanding of what the clues are about," he explained. "Unlike a person who actually understands the clues, Dr. Fill does some statistical analysis and says, oh this might mean whatever but it's really not terribly well-informed.

So to speak.

"I have a database of pretty much every crossword clue that's been used since around 1990. It's got the body of wikipedia so it looks in there just to see if something comes up, but not a whole lot, it's got a very careful list of words that are probably good crossword words," Ginsberg said. "It just tries to say well I've seen something like this before."

As a result, it can solve crossword puzzles in minutes.

But so can the top human solves.

Hence the trip to Brooklyn next month.

"Everybody's curious," he said of the crossword community. "I know if you go to the tournament this year and you beat Doctor Fill, you get a button saying I beat doctor fill."