Very important news for everyone who does the GroundUp Target!

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GroundUp’s Target on Monday 10 June.

Although GroundUp won awards for exposing corruption in the Lottery and for uncovering the Thabo Bester prison escape, by far the most important public service we do is publishing the Target on Mondays and Fridays.

Exposing shenanigans at the provincial social development departments, answering readers’ questions about social grants, exposing the poor state of sanitation, education, housing and policing in townships and informal settlements across the country: these pale in significance compared to this word game.

As a news publication we must expect some readers to get irate with us, especially when we err. But beware the entirely justified wrath of readers when the Target is missing a word, such as manga in Monday’s Target.

So it is with both excitement and trepidation that we announce a major change to our Target rules starting on Friday 14 June. We’d like to say that it was because of popular demand, but the truth is mundane: one of our family members suggested it and we agreed. The new rules are:

Except possibly for the nine-letter word:

  • There are no plurals ending in s. (But geese would be allowed.)
  • There are no third-person singular verbs ending in s (e.g. cooks in “He cooks bobotie”).

Anything goes for the nine-letter word. So it could be aardvarks. Or is it aardvarke?

How we create the Target

While we do not know the origins of the game, a version of Target has been syndicated to newspapers across the world for decades. (See this Wikipedia article.) When the quality of a certain daily newspaper in Cape Town that publishes the Target took a nosedive, we decided to create a version of Target on GroundUp with a few changes, such as often having a nine-letter word with a South African flavour.

We programmed the game in-house. The code is open source.

One of us, Grethen, decides the nine-letter word and the middle letter. The program then generates words from four to nine letters long from a list of about 72,000 words. Grethen then looks through the list removing plurals and extremely obscure words like hila that are in our word list.

We are in awe that someone somewhere in the world for decades set the widely syndicated Target every day without computer assistance.

Is Grethen losing her job to ChatGPT?

We wondered if AI would put Grethen out of a job soon (or do better than our program).

So we asked ChatGPT:

Select a nine-letter word. Then select one letter in it. Then list all words that can be made using four or more of the nine letters, but always including the letter you selected.

ChatGPT replied:

Let’s use the nine-letter word “PRESENTLY”.

Selected Letter:


Words that include ‘E’ and are made using four or more of the letters from “PRESENTLY”:

  1. Enter
  2. Steen
  3. Stern
  4. Steen
  5. Reset
  6. Rente
  7. Leper
  8. Repel
  9. Steer
  10. Trees
  11. Spree
  12. Peels
  13. Sleep
  14. Slept
  15. Spelt
  16. Repels
  17. Leers
  18. Lenses
  19. Sleeps
  20. Steeps
  21. Speels
  22. Enters
  23. Entree
  24. Tenser
  25. Renter
  26. Serpent
  27. Presents
  28. Pestle

These words include the letter “E” and use four or more letters from “PRESENTLY”.

Impressive, but besides being over 100 words short, it also has errors, such as repeating the letter s or r in some words even though they occur only once in presently. (This is before the task of removing plurals and third-person present tense verbs.)

We think Grethen’s job is safe for now — maybe.


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