Thursday, January 26, 2017

Using the wrong answer to lead you to the right answer

Howdy folks...

You'll remember I mentioned the last time that saying words aloud or to yourself, particularly ones you miss in practice, can help reinforce what you've learned. Today I'll talk about a specific way to apply that technique to help you reach correct solutions faster and more reliably. It's especially useful for words that don't follow the most common prefix and suffix patterns.

Practicing solving an anagram is really practicing a path to the solution. The first time you see AGIMNOST, maybe you think of trying -ING words first, then -INGS, then MIS- or -ISM or -IST words, and so on. Those are all false paths in this case, and you'll probably give up before thinking of trying ANTI- words. The first thing you saw was probably something like MOATINGS* or SOMATING*, and either you entered one of those as an incorrect guess or you correctly ruled them out but did not find the real answer.

You've missed the question, and the solution is revealed: ANTISMOG. I can solve this one reliably now, but when I was first studying it, I would always see MOATINGS* and either I'd think it was good and try it or I'd go down a number of other blind alleys and give up. What I needed was a way to be able to jump from my instinctive wrong answer (MOATINGS*) directly to the right one (ANTISMOG). So I would say "MOATINGS* is ANTISMOG, MOATINGS* is ANTISMOG" to myself every time I missed it (or even the first few times I happened to get it right, until I knew it well enough that I didn't need to). Whenever I see those letters now, I still see MOATINGS* first, but that sentence I said to myself long ago is ingrained enough that I instantly know it's ANTISMOG without having to try anything else. I don't always use this technique, but it's nice to have in the tool box.

So that's the principle for today: For anagrams you have trouble with, try to create a link in your mind between the wrong answer you tend to see first and the solution.

I will warn you that there is a hazard to this method, and I've been bitten by it a couple of times. You have to be careful that you don't start thinking of your wrong guess as an actual legal word. I played OVERBIND* in a game a long time ago, thinking, oh yeah, that sounds familiar to me, I think that's good. Shortly after I hit my clock I realized, whoops, no, OVERBIND* is OVENBIRD. Fortunately my opponent didn't challenge. This isn't usually a problem, but it's something to watch out for - when you see a word during a game, spend a moment to make sure it's a real word and not just a reminder for a different real word.


  1. For me it's CONARIES* -> SCENARIO

  2. Good advice and something I can work on during word study. I used this method for a word once (Grob anus), but never thought of extending it to other examples.