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Cardboxing 201

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If you’ve read our Cardboxing 101 article and are eager to learn more about the subject, great! Here are some tips and tricks to help you build and maintain your cardbox with the best of them. This article focuses on cardboxing in the NASPA Zyzzyva (NZ) desktop application or NASPA Zyzzyva Mobile (NZM) mobile app.

It’s best to start building your cardbox on a system where you’ve already built up a quiz history, because NZ and NZM will give you credit for words that you seem to know well, planting them deeper in the cardbox. If you’ve never done quizzes before, everything you add to the cardbox is going to land in Cardbox 0 and be due immediately. If you’re just starting out with NZM, be sure to sync your data with your habitual NZ setup first, to bring that quiz history up to date in both places, and, for the love of all that is good and holy, please be careful not to sync a new and virtually empty mobile cardbox/quiz-stats database over any older desktop database that you wanted to keep — read the warnings in the mobile app! For information about data synchronization, see the help text in NZM’s Quiz tab.

Where to Start?

As we pointed out in the introductory article, with cardboxing as with any abstruse study, discouragement is the enemy. With that in mind, it’s almost always best to start small.

Maybe we should start with that word, ABSTRUSE. Looks like a good word to know, and one that most expert players wouldn’t easily see in their rack of AEUBRST as they fixate on finding a place for ARBUTES or BURSATE (or SURBATE#, if they play the International English lexicon). NASPA Zyzzyva tells us that ABSTRUSE is middlingly probable as eight-letter words go, #12184 out of 31523, but, with its two S’s and its familiar meaning, it seems more worth knowing than, say, FROMENTY (#12126). So, we have to make a decision: Do we populate our cardbox by raw probability or by pattern, and how big do we go?

We recommend that you start by pattern, using defined groups of words that many word players have come to recognize as worth studying. (You definitely won’t enjoy the result if you populate your cardbox with the 12184 most probable eight-letter words.) You may have heard people talk about “stem” groups like TISANE? and SATIRE?, and these are definitely the ones to go with if you want to cardbox with seven-letter words and don’t know where to start. Or, maybe you’re not so concerned with long words and just want to know the “high fives” (words beginning or ending with four- or five-point letters) that can easily score 30 or 40 points when played in the right spot. Either way, a pattern search is where you should start.

If you’re using NZ on a desktop computer, you can do these searches quickly using the Search tab’s many predefined search specifications (e.g., Load Search… → [up a level] predefinedTop 7s By Stem001 TISANE.zzs) and its Belongs to Group condition. Run a search, see how many words it finds, then decide if this is a group worth studying. If so, right-click the list of found words and choose Add list to Cardbox… The NZM app can do basic pattern searches, like TISANE?, but for more complex searches you may want to consider populating the cardbox in NZ and then syncing it to NZM.

Surviving the Early Days of Cardboxing

Even a small cardbox of 200 words or so can be a bit overwhelming to start, especially if you’re intent on keeping at it every day until there are no more questions due. It can be like a new baby to start. Here are some anti-infanticide tips:

  • Prioritize small wins over completeness. Rather than spending minutes on a difficult question, mark it incorrect and move on to the next one. The backlog remains the same when you do this, because the question goes to Cardbox 0 and you’ll see it again within a day, and you give yourself the chance to dispatch the next one quickly, which will push it up a level and out of the current logjam. It may seem counterintuitive to give up easily, but it’s actually better for your study habit, both short- and long-term.
  • Resist the urge to expand. Until you’ve figured out how to divide your cardbox into subgroups, keep all of the questions circulating and don’t add more words until you see that the daily due count is down to something manageable, between 20 and 100 questions, depending on your style and availability. Later on, when you do add more words, seeing those more familiar questions interspersed with the new ones will give you those small wins, and keep you on your toes, too.
  • Turn on the sprinkler. A trick that some people use to break up big clods of cardbox questions is to designate Cardbox 15 as a “sprinkler” box. Since it would normally take many years for any question to reach Cardbox 15 “naturally”, you should feel free to change the cardbox schedule settings for that box to have a short Schedule value and a long Window value; then, as needed, you can tell NZ or NZM to move a clod of due questions to Cardbox 15, and they’ll magically reschedule themselves over a wider period of days. Having solved them correctly a few times, and when things are more under control, you can revisit the sprinkler box (where all of the correctly answered questions will still be, since there’s no higher box to advance to) and move the questions somewhere more fitting, like Cardbox 5, which will spread them out over a seven-day window.
  • Phone a Friend. Maybe you know someone who’s cardboxing and wants to help you. There’s no shame in sharing! Any cardbox they’ve built is one you can copy and use. If they’re a NZ user, the database files are in their data directory under quiz/data. If they’re strictly a NZM user and use data synchronization, they’re in their Dropbox cloud storage under Apps/Zyzzyva/quiz/data. (If you’re strictly a NZM user, then you’ll have to run that process in reverse to sync the copied database back into your mobile device.) After that, you’ll have a gently used cardbox that might conform to your solving abilities better than a brand-new one would.

When It’s Time to Go Pro

This would be a good time to review the points in Cardboxing 101 about scheduling and sizing, now that you have mastered the controls.

How far can you go with cardboxing in NZ and NZM? That depends only on your availability and your patience. There are people who study tens of thousands of words this way, short ones and long ones, and the benefits are huge. One thing you’ll notice is that you’ve gained both inclusive and exclusive knowledge of anagrams: It’s valuable to know the nine words to be found in AEINRST, and even more valuable to know that there aren’t more than those, so you can instantly challenge RESTAIN*.

The next step, for those who care about agility in game situations, is to drill by speed of recognition, which is something your cardbox won’t do (unless you enable NZ’s timer option on your cardbox quiz). For that, we recommend Aerolith’s WordWalls, an online tool with nearly infinite depth for everyone from intermediate players to world champions.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the difference between a “Standard” quiz and a “Cardbox” quiz?

A standard quiz is one you create (in NZ or NZM) without selecting the cardbox option, and it doesn’t require a cardbox to work. You just tell it how to search for the words to quiz on, and the program will shuffle the questions in random order and track your progress over time. If you leave it and come back to it later, it will remember where you were, so all of the “state” is built into the saved quiz itself. A cardbox quiz is only useful if you’ve already built up a number of words from earlier searches that you want to study repeatedly, and this type of quiz is never actually saved, because all of the progress “state” is in the cardbox database, as it tracks your successes and failures and the due dates for each question. You may open your regular cardbox quiz and find that there are no questions due, or a hundred. Then, it’s up to you to decide how to tweak the settings and the number of words in the cardbox to suit your style.

I goofed a question, so now it’s back in Cardbox 0, but I really do know it. How do I correct this?

If you mark a question incorrect by mistake, you have an opportunity to fix that in the moment by clicking Mark as Correct (NZ) or the Check button (NZM), but, once you’ve moved on to the next question, you’ll need to make the repair manually. One way is to run a search for that word you missed, then move the resulting words to a specific cardbox. On NZ, that means right-clicking the list, choosing Remove list from Cardbox, then right-clicking the list again, choosing Add list to Cardbox…, clicking Specify cardbox, and telling it where to put the question. On NZM, press Action, choose Move to Cardbox, then tell it where to put the question. On NZM, there is another way, which is to use the Manage tab to locate the question in Cardbox 0, select it, then press Action, choose Move to Cardbox, then tell it where to put the question.

I’m ready to move beyond patterns, and I want to study by probability by putting the top thousand seven-letter words in my cardbox. What should I do?

Searching by probability is something you won’t see in the streamlined NZM interface, so for this you’ll need NZ. Open a Search tab, choose a Length condition to limit the search to seven-letter words, and add a Probability Order condition with minimum 1 and maximum 1000; a Lax search will return more than 1000 words if those following words are equally probable, which is what you probably want. Click Search, then right-click the list and choose Add list to Cardbox… with the default option to Estimate cardbox based on past performance. (A lot of the listed words will end up in Cardbox 0, but some may be higher if you’ve solved those quiz questions correctly before; any question that was already in your cardbox will stay where it was.) If you want to quiz in NZM with your newly expanded cardbox, you’ll need to sync out from NZ and back in to NZM.

How do I divide my cardbox so that I can study just a subgroup of them for a while?

A lexicon’s Anagrams cardbox is never actually subdivided, so what you are wanting is to run a search-restricted cardbox quiz. You’ll find the option to impose a search restriction in the New Quiz dialog in both NZ and NZM. You can save that quiz as you would any other quiz, then load it when you feel like quizzing on just the -ING words, or whatever. Since the NZM interface’s selection of search options is limited, only NZ can create a cardbox quiz that is restricted by probability or various other conditions, but (aha!) once you’ve saved that quiz and synced it to your mobile device, the quiz engine in NZM will respect the search restriction when you load that saved quiz.

Is there an “In Cardbox” condition that I can add to a search?

Sadly, no. The word engine that does searches is aware only of the lexicon files in the installation and any lexicon-database files that you may have created from them, not the contents of your cardbox. You can run a cardbox quiz with a search restriction, though. If your purpose is to extract the list of questions in your cardbox, we recommend you (carefully) open the quiz-statistics/cardbox database in an application such as DB Browser for SQLite.

My cardbox seems uneven — it hits me with too many questions at once. How can I fix that?

That’s probably because you’re too good at this! Both NZ’s and NZM’s cardbox settings have a default Schedule value and a Window value for each cardbox from 0 to 15. When a question is placed in a box, it’s given a random due date that is up to Window days more or less than Schedule days, as the Window value controls how widely to spread them. The default settings are fairly good at smoothing out the curve of questions due per day, which you can see in NZ’s Cardbox tab and NZM’s Manage tab (under By Schedule), but you’re welcome to increase those Window values if it helps even out the lumps.

What do the various rescheduling commands do?

The cardbox system keeps track of each question’s due date even after they come due, so you can always see how many days past due your questions are. Rather than moving individual questions between cardboxes as a way to reschedule them, you should get to know the Shift by Days and Shift by Questions Due actions in NZM’s Manage tab; in NZ, choose ToolsReschedule Cardbox Contents… and look for the similarly named buttons. Both of these rescheduling commands have the same effect, which is to shift all questions forward or back by the same amount of time, the only difference being how that amount of time is calculated. The Reschedule by Cardbox command is stronger; it scrubs all existing due dates, maintaining each question in its current box but with a new due date based on the Schedule and Window values — almost the same as what would happen if you deleted them all from the cardbox and then added them back. This latter command is useful after you’ve been studying just a subgroup of words in your cardbox for a while, when you switch back to the full cardbox, and find to your horror that the words you stopped studying are now way past due and want to be done before all the rest.

I want to cardbox on multiple devices. How should I go about it?

Both NZ and NZM can operate on cardboxes that are synced with Dropbox cloud storage, and in that way, multiple devices can sync their cardbox/quiz-statistics databases with each other. In the case of NZ up to version 3.3.0, you won’t see any mention of syncing in the application interface, but you can use the Preferences dialog to make it look for its data directory in a location that Dropbox is passively syncing (though NZ doesn’t actually move the data for you, so you’ll have to do that yourself). If your Dropbox installation is set up for automatic syncing of the Dropbox directory in your home directory, then you should retarget NZ’s data directory to Dropbox/Apps/Zyzzyva and move your data there. Having done that, you’re now ready to sync with other desktop and mobile devices through Dropbox. NZM, on the other hand, is programmed to sync with Dropbox on its own and has buttons for that purpose. If you’re firing up a new NZM installation, and already have a usable data directory waiting in the right location on Dropbox, you can start by pressing the Sync button, signing in and giving permission when prompted, and then — please! — read the prompts about conflicted items before you agree to proceed with the sync. For first-time use, you should tell it to sync in one direction only, from Dropbox to your mobile device, by answering Yes to the first question and No to the second before answering Yes to start syncing. It will take a while, and it will try to keep your device awake, because NZM isn’t programmed to pause a sync and finish it later; since iOS tolerates only short periods of background activity before killing an active app, you should let it run in the foreground. After one or more tries, having completed this initial sync, NZM will only sync files that have changed, so it’ll be very quick. The one thing to remember, to avoid disappointment, is to sync when you start cardboxing and again when you stop, because otherwise you could end up with two or more devices that both think they have newer cardbox data, and this will be flagged as a sync conflict later on.

How do I move cardbox data forward when moving to a new lexicon?

There is one Anagrams cardbox for each lexicon, and the contents won’t automatically be brought forward when you begin to study a new one. Currently, NZM has no mechanism for importing cardbox/quiz-statistics data, so, here are a couple of ways to do it, both involving Dropbox sync. One is to use NZ’s Cardbox tab to target the new lexicon and use the Import… button to merge the old lexicon’s data into the new lexicon’s database, then sync everything back to your mobile device. The other, which doesn’t require NZ, is to go to dropbox.com and copy the Anagrams.db file from one lexicon’s subdirectory under Apps/Zyzzyva/quiz/data to the other, then go back to NZM, sync, and create a new cardbox quiz that targets the new lexicon.