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How to create a Boggle Board from a list of Words? (reverse Boggle solver!)

There are a couple of general ideas for speeding up backtrack search you could try:

1) Early checks. It usually helps to discard partial solutions that can never work as early as possible, even at the cost of more work. Consider all two-character sequences produced by chopping up the words you are trying to fit in - e.g. PUMAS contributes PU, UM, MA, and AS. These must all be present in the final answer. If a partial solution does not have enough overlapped two-character spaces free to contain all of the overlapped two-character sequences it does not yet have, then it cannot be extended to a final answer.

2) Symmetries. I think this is probably most useful if you are trying to prove that there is no solution. Given one way of filling in a board, you can rotate and reflect that solution to find other ways of filling in a board. If you have 68K starting points and one starting point is a rotation or reflection of another starting point, you don't need to try both, because if you can (or could) solve the problem from one starting point you can get the answer from the other starting point by rotating or reflecting the board. So you might be able to divide the number of starting points you need to try by some integer.

This problem is not the only one to have a large number of alternatives at each stage. This also affects the traveling salesman problem. If you can accept not having a guarantee that you will find the absolute best answer, you could try not following up the least promising of these 68k choices. You need some sort of score to decide which to keep - you might wish to keep those which use as many letters already in place as possible. Some programs for the traveling salesman problems discard unpromising links between nodes very early. A more general approach which discards partial solutions rather than doing a full depth first search or branch and bound is Limited Discrepancy Search - see for example http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=

Of course some approaches to the TSP discard tree search completely in favor of some sort of hill-climbing approach. You might start off with a filled boggle square and repeatedly attempt to find your words in it, modifying a few characters in order to force them in, trying to find steps which successively increase the number of words that can be found in the square. The easiest form of hill-climbing is repeated simple hill-climbing from multiple random starts. Another approach is to restart the hill-climbing by randomizing only a portion of the solution so far - since you don't know the best size of portion to randomize you might decide to chose the size of portion to randomize at random, so that at least some fraction of the time you are randomizing the correct size of region to produce a new square to start from. Genetic algorithms and simulated annealing are very popular here. A paper on a new idea, Late Acceptance Hill-Climbing, also describes some of its competitors - http://www.cs.nott.ac.uk/~yxb/LAHC/LAHC-TR.pdf

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