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The Linguistics of Crosswords | Language Trivia Night

Language Squared:
The Linguistics of Crosswords

Tom McCoy

Saturday, October 10, 2020, 2 – 4 pm | Register to attend online.

Tom McCoy is a linguist and crossword constructor. He will talk about the linguistic properties that drive crossword puzzles, from the types of ambiguity that make clues tricky to the predictable patterns that arise among the letters in the answer grid.

Many nuances of language go unnoticed in everyday conversation. Crossword puzzles bring these nuances to light. For example, crossword clues reveal the ambiguity of common expressions: “British rock group” might refer to THE BEATLES or STONEHENGE, while “Traveling light” could mean UNBURDENED or PHOTONS.

Tom McCoy is a Ph.D. student in cognitive science at Johns Hopkins University. He studies how linguistic structure is learned and represented by humans and computers. He is also a prolific crossword constructor, having created puzzles for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Johns Hopkins University, and Buzzfeed. He combines these interests by writing linguistic puzzles for NACLO, a contest that introduces high school students to linguistics.

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