Word Ways


A. Ross Eckler


One Sunday in 1953, Cornell students Doub McIlroy and Bob Vanderhoek, weary of solving crossword puzzles, decided to try a different word game -- that of finding examples of words containing each of the 676 bigrams from AA (bazaar) to ZZ (puzzle). More than a decade later, Doug posted the incomplete list on a Bell Telephone Laboratories bulletin board in the mathematics department, asking for help in filling the gaps. Ed Gilbert, another Bell Labs employee, had recently acquired a computer-generated list of all tetragrams appearing in words in Webster's Second Edition; using clues provided by this he was eventually able to discover examples for the 613 different bigrams this implied were in Webster. The results appeared in a Bell Labs memo and were later published in the November 1969 Word Ways. With the aid of the Webster computer tape used to generate the tetragram list, Doug issued another Bell Labs memo in 1974 listing the shortest dictionary words for each bigram.