Word Chains

Here's one for the Must-Get-A-Life Department. Yesterday, in one of our internal mailing lists, with reference to a snafu with somebodies laptop, I saw a reply containing

"Is this one of those test (sic) to see how many steps you need to get from ACER to BORG? "

Now I knew what he meant, but my brain started to think about word games. Just how many intermediate words would you need (changing one letter at a time) to get from ACER to BORG?

I decided to see if there was any software out there to help me. I went a-googling. The problem initially was knowing what you call this sort of thing. After a bit of searching, I found out that they are called Word Chains or sometimes Link Letters.

After about another five minutes, I came across exactly what I was looking for. Ruby Quiz #44 is all about word chains. I downloaded the solutions, and as I didn't particulary care exactly how fast it solved this, I just picked the first one from Adam Sheely.

I initially used a copy of the standard Unix dictionary of words (to which I added "acer"), but it didn't find a solution:

   % ruby wordchain -d /export/home/richb/wordchain/words acer borg
   Wordchain Finder
   Connecting acer -> borg
   nil

I needed a bigger dictionary. Back to googling. I found the Windows & Macintosh Dictionary Search And Creation Software webpage, and downloaded the Macintosh version of Dictionary Genesis. I unpacked it and extracted a much larger English dictionary and copied it over to my Solaris machine.

Now when I rerun the wordchain program, I get

  % ruby wordchain -d /export/home/richb/wordchain/English_Dictionary acer borg
  Wordchain Finder
  Connecting acer -> borg
  acer
  aper
  aped
  sped
  sued
  surd
  surg
  burg
  borg

So the answer to my original question is 7.

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