What is the best order in which to learn words?

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Sam Cappleman-Lynes
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What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Sam Cappleman-Lynes » Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:32 pm

This question is triggered in part by Jack's thread about the pattern for letters max progression. I don't know the answer.

In that thread, Jack suggests that a good way to learn words is to first learn the word that appears as a max most often, then the word that appears as a max most often in rounds where the first word is not a max, and so on until you know the whole dictionary. While this is an excellent way to learn words if your goal is to get as many maxes as possible, this isn't the goal for most people. The goal is to win games of Countdown, and for that goal I think there's room for improvement.

There are probably more considerations than the two I'm about to give, and I also won't put forth any suggestions for how to actually improve, but hopefully this gets some discussion going.

Consideration 1: 9 letter words

There needs to be a massive weighting given to 9 letter words. If your opponent gets a 9 that you don't, you can only win the game if they make a mistake in at least one other round, quite often two rounds. That is a dreadful position to be in. Missing a 9 is much worse than missing an 8, even more so than just weighting by the points 8 compared to 18.

Consideration 2: Fruitful stems

Common words that stem with lots of letters are pushed way down the rankings because they are very rarely a max, but they can still be excellent words for beating (or matching) your opponent. If you learn in Jack's order, both the root word and all its stems will be fairly low down the list, but I think you'd be better at winning games of Countdown if you learned the root word early on. Remember, it's not just about spotting words that your opponent misses, it's also about not missing the ones they get. You'd look a bit stupid if you learned the top 5000 words and won rounds with words like MOWDIES, POORGAS, MAROTIC, IDEATUM and TAIHOAED (just off the top of my head) but couldn't spot NOTARISE, PAINTERS or ANGRIEST when they cropped up.

Paul Anderson
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Paul Anderson » Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:38 pm

Interesting thread

I must say I started off my Apto "career" as the former. 3 weeks ish, spent on here just playing prune but mentally noting the 9's I missed. I've always sought out high scores rather than maxes, until recently, where I now see the importance of getting more maxes, including the odd 5's and 6's that, as you say, win you the round

Thomas Cappleman
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Thomas Cappleman » Fri Oct 23, 2020 4:27 pm

Sam Cappleman-Lynes wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 2:32 pm
Consideration 1: 9 letter words

There needs to be a massive weighting given to 9 letter words. If your opponent gets a 9 that you don't, you can only win the game if they make a mistake in at least one other round, quite often two rounds. That is a dreadful position to be in. Missing a 9 is much worse than missing an 8, even more so than just weighting by the points 8 compared to 18.
Very much this. Having got back into playing recently I'm noticing so many occasions where losing to a 9 leads to my losses. Particularly against those who have put the time into learning them, as they're harder to learn just by osmosis while playing, as there's obviously only 1 solution (with permutations) to give any given 9. (Though I'm also just bad at some of the weirder ones that do come up a lot).

At least the common fruitful stems will come up a decent amount in regular play.

Dan Byrom
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Dan Byrom » Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:17 pm

If you didn't know, Rob Foster has a spreadsheet in which he's simulated a few million games and ranked words by usefulness. (I think Jack Hurst and Paul Erdunast may have contributed in some ways - I don't remember exactly so apologies if I'm not giving appropriate credit!)

In the spreadsheet, you can set a ratio of 3-vowel, 4-vowel and 5-vowel rounds and it will return a list of the top however-many most useful words (using a usefulness metric that is superior to just 'this was a max x many times' because it includes information about whether other more useful words are available in the same round).

Personally, I've estimated my own ratios of 3/4/5, then exported a list to a deck of flashcards Anki, which is a really really brilliant app for learning stuff. Each day, you do your flashcards and note how easy you found them, then it essentially reminds you of information just at the point where you're about to forget it, and is therefore extremely efficient (no time wasted on stuff you know really well). Because 9s are more valuable, I've separated them out and learn them at a much faster rate than they appear in the list.

In uni term time, I learn maybe 5-10 new words a day. When I'm less busy it's more like 25-40. I've now gone through about 5000 words this way.

This has helped me grow from 1300-1850 ish over the last n months.

The main drawback I've found is that this method is pretty much optimal for increasing max percentage, but perhaps not for beating an imperfect opponent. For example, common 7s that are very rarely maxes don't do well in the list but would probably be very helpful to learn (a) to beat imperfect opponents and (b) to have something nailed down early so even if you miss the max you've got something decent.

I also know that learning stems can be extremely helpful (from previous experience) but from my perspective with limited time per day, this way is very efficient.


I realise that a lot of my comments kind of echo what Sam was saying in his initial post but I kind of just ended up doing a brain dump of my own thought process, which happened to overlap quite a lot.

Sam Cappleman-Lynes
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Sam Cappleman-Lynes » Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:32 pm

Dan Byrom wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:17 pm
(using a usefulness metric that is superior to just 'this was a max x many times' because it includes information about whether other more useful words are available in the same round).
This is the methodology I was trying to summarise in the first part of my post before pointing out its shortcomings. And it looks like you roughly agree:
Dan Byrom wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:17 pm
The main drawback I've found is that this method is pretty much optimal for increasing max percentage, but perhaps not for beating an imperfect opponent.

Sam Cappleman-Lynes
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Sam Cappleman-Lynes » Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:57 pm

Dan Byrom wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:17 pm
Personally, I've estimated my own ratios of 3/4/5, then exported a list to a deck of flashcards Anki, which is a really really brilliant app for learning stuff. Each day, you do your flashcards and note how easy you found them, then it essentially reminds you of information just at the point where you're about to forget it, and is therefore extremely efficient (no time wasted on stuff you know really well). Because 9s are more valuable, I've separated them out and learn them at a much faster rate than they appear in the list.

In uni term time, I learn maybe 5-10 new words a day. When I'm less busy it's more like 25-40. I've now gone through about 5000 words this way.
Maybe we should have a separate thread about how to actually go about learning the words once you've identified them!

I didn't find either Anki or Zyzzyva worked in quite the way I wanted to be able to use them, so I made my own SRS app specifically for Countdown that is customised to exactly the way I want to be able to learn words.

The words are segregated into a few categories (5 vowel words are learned separately, and within 3/4 vowel words, 9s are learned separately). I learn 9s at approximately half the rate of other words - that is, one 9 for every two non-nines. Back in April I was learning 200 words a day on average but eventually the reviews became overwhelming. I've now settled into a routine whereby within each pool of words, if I have fewer than 200 to review that day then I add 100 new words. So each pool has on average between 200 and 300 words to either learn or review each day.

I kept that up until my filming dates and then had post-filming fatigue and didn't do any revision for nearly 3 months. I've nearly caught up with my reviews now.

At one point in the past I was also systematically learning the valid conundrums in a random order, but I decided it wasn't worth continuing with that until I had a bigger base in the other areas. I got to about 4000 before stopping, so sometimes it's fun to bust out MELANCHYM or NOCTILUCA as the answer to a Bash Room or chat teaser but I haven't seen much of an impact on the game. I expect you'd need to filter out ones that will probably never be used and learn at least half of the remaining ones to really reap the rewards.

Dan Byrom
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Dan Byrom » Fri Oct 23, 2020 6:10 pm

It seems that you're way ahead of me (which is not really a surprise!) and have thought about everything I had to say, but hopefully it might be somewhat helpful to someone else!

JackHurst
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by JackHurst » Fri Oct 23, 2020 10:46 pm

If you are an existing player who is good but looking to become elite then maxes is all that matters imo.

If you are a new player looking to get good then I agree that the maxes only approach probably isn't very good.

Another thing to consider is the difficulty of remembering words. Some words I will remember first time when I see them (like URANINITE) but other words I might find harder to learn because I forget exactly what order the letters go in (like RUINAAYTE), so you can't assume each word requires the same amount of effort to get stuck in the brain.

Then you have to think about words you might learn where you get others for free, e.g. NOTARI(SZ)E(-DS) where you learn 6 words for the price of 1.

9s are super important for reasons stated and also remember that they could be a conundrum.

JackHurst
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by JackHurst » Sat Oct 24, 2020 10:56 am

Sam Cappleman-Lynes wrote:
Fri Oct 23, 2020 5:57 pm

I didn't find either Anki or Zyzzyva worked in quite the way I wanted to be able to use them, so I made my own SRS app specifically for Countdown that is customised to exactly the way I want to be able to learn words.
On the topic learning methods, I have made an app to practise with which has the following:
  • Letters / Conundrums / Numbers
  • A database that records each round you played and whether it was a max
  • A graph showing your max% over time
  • Ability to rapidly go through conundrums in Ascension style
  • Ability to replay your missed rounds, which sounds very similar to Sam's SR system. You can also manually add rounds that you have not missed in the game. I do this e.g. when I miss maxes in Webcam games for example.
  • Ability to generate word lists in the app, or externally import them
  • SR System for blasting through the added word lists
  • A dictionary function which is basically the same as Lexplorer
I've been using it for around 15 months, played 18K letters rounds, solved around 14K conundrums and drilled countless lists. My letters improvement over the whole time is around 20%. A big chunk of the 20% is rust and new dictionary though.

Image

(It's far from being ready to publish, very buggy and crappy UI, but it does the job I need it to!)

Sam Cappleman-Lynes
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Sam Cappleman-Lynes » Sat Oct 24, 2020 11:46 am

JackHurst wrote:
Sat Oct 24, 2020 10:56 am
(It's far from being ready to publish, very buggy and crappy UI, but it does the job I need it to!)
I particularly enjoyed SelectListActivity.

In seriousness though, this is really cool to see, and thank you so much for sharing it! Once upon a time I considered making an all-in-one learning tool like this and releasing it to the community, but I lost the motivation (and also stopped playing the game).

Dan Byrom
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Re: What is the best order in which to learn words?

Post by Dan Byrom » Sat Oct 24, 2020 5:33 pm

That is very cool Jack.

I might try and do something similar in my gap year... It looks both fun and helpful!

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