Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

Wild About Wordle

I want to commend Glenn Meyers on his article (“An Actuary Takes on Wordle,” July/August 2022). I, too, have fallen for the Wordle craze. I have a few comments and questions.

First, I didn’t realize that all the possible words were available. Are these available to find somewhere?

Next, I learned that my initial word is one of the best, which I thought had to be true, because the letters involved were some of the most common. Coincidentally, it was the same letters as what you used, but I start with ARISE. I am not sure which might be better with the positioning of the first two letters, but do think guessing that an A is in the first position might be more informative because if it was not right in the second position of RAISE, it might be more difficult to guess. I also found it interesting that ARISE was not on your initial list of guesses. And yes, I got ARISE from “The Tonight Show,” which is also where I learned about Wordle.

Like you, I like our combination of letters better than the top word, SOARE, because the O is easier to use in the second guess than I.

I also wanted to discuss more about the second guess because that is also important in order to be more successful. If I find that R is the only correct letter but out of position, my next word will be ROUND to pick up at least the O and/or U. If I find that only S is correct, I will use either SOUND or SOUTH, again to pick up the O and/or U. I also note that all of these guesses also have fairly common other letters as well.

My main additional question for you: If none of the initial letters match, what are the best second guesses based on your scoring method? I know this will depend on what the first word used is, but how about using your RAISE as an example. I will typically use TOUCH or MOUND, or I might substitute a P for either the T or M, depending on my mood. These choices are based on what I think are the next most common letters, plus knowing that an O and/or U must be right.

Thank you again for the interesting—and for players, informative—article!

Al Klein
Chicago, Ill.

Learning Can Be Fun

I’d like to thank Glenn Meyers for his article about his adventures with Wordle, which is a gateway into puzzling for the English-speaking world. His account of working the information in the guesses/probes reminded me of the article on solving Mastermind in “Etudes for Programmers” by Charles Wetherell, in which he worked to reduce the solution pool with each guess.

I don’t recall whether that piece contained information theory, because I wrote my Mastermind solver in FORTRAN IV back in 1978. What I do remember was how satisfying it was as a student to have written a computer program that could wipe me out in Mastermind at 3 a.m.—when I could afford the computer time.

We should have more “learning can be fun” articles.

Chuck Thayer

Hamilton, N.J.

More Thoughts on Social Security

I read Eric Klieber’s article (“Thoughts on Social Security,” May/June 2022) with a great deal of interest, as Social Security has always been of interest to me. I have a few thoughts.

Apply the new disability own occupation exemption from age 65 to the new proposed normal retirement age (NRA), as that makes the updated NRA a feasible and equitable option without unduly burdening those whose body won’t support continuing manual labor.

With respect to increasing the benefit base: Subject all earnings to Social Security (as is done with the Medicare portion), but simultaneously add a third bend point. Without that third bend point, the deferred benefits from the additional taxes would be as much or more than the tax paid. Put a third bend point in at the current ceiling and then have the benefits in excess of that third bend point be 5% of the excess earnings instead of 15%. That is still in keeping with the social insurance concept (not means-tested, but some benefits for all)—and maybe add a fourth bend point at $1 million where the earnings in excess of the fourth bend point are taxed at 25 basis points.

Now I want to draw your attention to another unintended consequence of the first proposal of increasing the FICA tax from its current 7.65% to 14.4%. Beyond the impact on those who live paycheck-to-paycheck—this is a huge increase—is the impact on those who are self-employed and are currently paying 15.3%. Think the Uber or Lyft drivers and the gig economy. Everyone who is self-employed is already paying twice the “employee rate.” There would need to be a reduction for the lowest-paid members of society, as unlike income tax, this tax is already regressive at the current level—even though they get a much larger percentage benefit at retirement.

So perhaps even the tax rate needs to depend on the level of income (and be indexed for inflation) and also a total level for the self-employed may need to be capped. Maybe this does not eliminate 43% of the proposed deficit, but it would not send people from work to welfare, either.

Sarah Christiansen

Georgetown, Texas

Once More on Social Security

I would like to comment briefly on David Snedeker’s letter in the July/August issue, which references Eric Klieber’s article on Social Security in the May/June issue. In his letter, Mr. Snedeker notes that improving the rate of return of Social Security assets by allowing the program to make loans “to entities that meet a strict set of criteria…may materially impact the projected solvency of the program.”

As financial economics scholars have often stated, the expected value of a liability is not altered by changing the associated investment strategy. Permitting Social Security to make such loans may very well improve the solvency of the program. On the other hand, the increased risk may very well damage the program’s solvency, especially if the loans are made, not prudently, but politically.

Don Solow

Madison, N.J.

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