Super-smart people fascinate me, especially the ones who apply their talents in ways that benefit the rest of us.
Take FOBB&B Joon Pahk. When not teaching at Harvard or parenting his two kids, he's usually contributing something to the world of puzzles and word games. He writes crosswords for newspapers around the country, blogs about them at crosswordfiend.com, serves as faculty advisor to his school's crossword club, and makes puzzle tournaments that much more interesting just by showing up (and usually winning).
Joon's latest venture is an ingenious word game applet called Guess my word! in which you try to, well, guess his word. For every wrong guess, the computer tells you whether the secret word is alphabetically before or after your guess. Then you keep guessing until you get it right or give up.
There's a leaderboard that tracks the fastest and most efficient guessers of the day and shows their guess sequences. Joon chooses a new word every day, and you can also play his words from over the preceding week as well as the words chosen by a shadowy figure named Mike.
As in every puzzle or word game, there's a strategy facet. I try to zero in by guessing words roughly halfway into the set of remaining possible words. For example, my first guess starts with M, the 13th letter of the 26 in the alphabet.
Joon tends to choose longer, less conventional words, so the other technique I've started using is to begin with short guesses (man, top, pet) and guess longer words as I get closer to the target since the answer is going to be one of them (raffish, rainmaker, raiment).
Sometimes I solve it; other times I get close but don't think of the answer and give up. Since it's on a computer, I should probably come back to it an hour or two later, as that is often the way to break through a crossword corner or NPR puzzle.
Try it, you'll like it.