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written by Sam Greenspan

A stick figure of a person for the game Hangman.

If winning is everything to you, here are hangman ideas and strategies to dominate the game like I do. That’ll show those kids.

Ya know, they say video games are violent. But long before there were video games, people were playing a game where they happily snapped a man’s neck just because the letter “b” wasn’t in a word.

I know it’s a little obsessive to write an entire list about dominating Hangman since, most likely, you’ll be playing it against a 10-year-old cousin or something. But a win is a win. 

Also, you might play the Hanging With Friends app which isn’t pure Hangman but certainly draws from it. (It’s nice to see Zynga rip off a game that isn’t copyrighted occasionally.)

Best Hangman ideas and strategies for dominating the game

So much like my list of 11 Strategies For Dominating Monopoly (hint: mortgage everything and go for the kill immediately), here’s my list of suggestions for dominating Hangman.

Now you show those tweens who the REAL genius is.

1 | Aim for a simple Hangman

You don’t want to play Hangman where he gets gallows plus a head, body, two arms, two legs, hands, feet, eyes, nose, ears, mouth and penis.

Since you’ll be picking more difficult words and making smarter letter guesses, you want as few turns as possible between guessing and death. Six is the minimum, eight is ok, 10 and 11 are standard.

I recommend starting by pushing six. You’ll get a big backlash for at least 10, maybe 11, 12 or 13. Make a big deal about it — “That’s half the alphabet!” — and finally faux-acquiesce to eight, which is what you wanted all along.

2 | Don’t bring up minimum word length

Another one of my hangman ideas I always sneakily use is to play short words. And you must want to play short words. If you say anything like “No minimum size on words, right?” or “Any length word is ok?” then you’re inviting discussion on the topic.

If you don’t mention it, anything goes. Remember: Just like in life and cognitive dissonance land, lying through omission isn’t actually lying.

One more wrong guess and he's hanged.

3 | Hustle the other person in by curbing early cleverness

Assuming you’ll play multiple games, you’ve got to treat this as a long term play, not a “take it one game at a time” cliche. And that means you need to run a minor hustle as if you were a pool player with the same first name as a state (male) or lethal Korean woman in a catsuit (female).

As we’ll get into below, “jazz” and “buzz” are the hardest words to guess. But if you bust them out first, you’ve shown your hand. You’re an obscure letters guy. And then you can get blown up because your opponent will stop guessing nice, suburban letters like E and S and start guessing letters from the wrong side of the tracks like X and K.

So for your first word, go with a difficult but not too aggressive pick like “embryo.” Or sucker them in even more with a word like “rhythm” or “crypt” or “gypsy” — that will make them prematurely guess the mediocre letter Y for several games to come.

4 | Now play a short word with obscure letters

I’ll be referencing this statistical analysis quite a bit through this list. But the best way to win at Hangman is to give the other person a brutal four-letter word.

The hardest word to guess in Hangman (at least against a computer or a rational human)? Jazz. Based on letter frequency of words in the dictionary, J is the least common letter and Z is the fourth-least. (Although A is more common than I in terms of vowels. So if you’re playing Dirty Hangman, take that as a hint.)

Buzz and jazzed are the next hardest words to guess, followed by hajj. If someone challenges you that “hajj” isn’t a real word, play the race card.

5 | After one or two turns, get off the Z words

So a word with a double Z is great for an early win. But after you get that victory, you’ve just made the other person savvy to your style.

So now you can dip down into other good four-letter words to obfuscate the other person: Hajj, jinx, puff, jiff, zine, junk, fife, foxy, jays, and duff (or Fudd, if proper names of imaginary beers are allowed).

Or try using some British words that Americans don’t know if your opponent is an American, or English words that Americans know, but British don’t if you know, they’re Brits. This will give you a nice win while exposing their weakness.

Ornaments hanging in a market.

6 | Prepare for the switch to longer words

Once four-letter words have been banned because the other person has unleashed a barrage of *other* four-letter words at you for being a dick, switch to longer, more difficult words.

Five-letter words can include fazes, foxed, waxes, staff, babes, and joker. Also, if you want to go back to using multiple Zs, you can do jazzy, fuzzy, fizzy, dizzy and swizz. Which isn’t just the made-up first name of the guy who used to make beats for DMX, apparently.

Some good, even longer, words are zapping, bopping, queuing, blobbing, fluffiest, wooziness, babbling, kookiest, overjoying, woolliness, hobnobbing, mummifying, alkalizing, cockiness, voodooing and overjoying.

If adding -ing to a word sounds too common, consider using words like foods that start with q because they are just so unexpected and quite difficult to guess.

7 | Switch to phrases by combining tough words

If you then have to switch to phrases, just combine a few of these awkwardly. Like “Foxes Like Jazz” or “Queuing With Babes.” And if your opponent questions the validity of your phrases, you can always say they’re the names of indie bands.

This is one of those hangman ideas I often use because it gives me an unexpected edge. The next thing I do is to watch my opponent try to decipher my phrases and figure out what the heck I’m talking about.

8 | For almost every word of every length, your best four guesses will be vowels

In the next point, you can see which vowel to guess first. But the rule should be roughly this: Guess E with your first or second turn. I and A are next, then O.

We’re conditioned to gravitate toward T, but based on a conditional probability analysis, it’s never a great guess in the first four letters. Just because it’s popular doesn’t make it right. Like watching Bachelor Pad.

The best guesses are vowels, even U. S is the best consonant to guess, although if it’s at the end of a word it doesn’t give you much valuable guessing information.

9 | Strategically pick your first vowels based on word length

Based on a breakdown of the standard dictionary, A is the most common vowel in words four letters long and less. E is most common in six- to 12-letter words. I is most common in words 13 letters and longer. U is always the least common. O is more common in short and long words than mid-length words.

But vowels are virtually always the best statistical plays — and nothing says “double the fun” like bringing math into a word game.

Dictionary page with definitions.

10 | Follow up correct guesses with semi-common letters

Since we’ve all watched Wheel of Fortune forever, we know that R-S-T-L-N and E are roughly the most common letters in English words. But we also know that no one in the history of Hangman has gone with the word STREETS or RESENT or, fittingly, LETTERS.

So after you’re done with a few vowels, each time you correctly guess a common letter, guess a less-common one or the least used letters on your next turn. Based on what you’re seeing in the word, there’s a lot of mileage in D, G and B — and even the more infrequent F, V, K and W.

11 | Use the other person’s guesses to eliminate obscure letters

This is one of those hangman ideas that only a very few people use as part of their strategy, as it involves the guesses from your opponent.

You don’t just get information when you guess, you can mine good information when your opponent guesses as well. The other person isn’t going to give away their obscure letter by guessing it. So if you get a J or a Z guess, assume the word you’re guessing isn’t “jazz.” Or “Jay-Z.”