How to find list of possible words from a letter matrix [Boggle Solver]

Lately I have been playing a game on my iPhone called Scramble. Some of you may know this game as Boggle. Essentially, when the game starts you get a matrix of letters like so:


The goal of the game is to find as many words as you can that can be formed by chaining letters together. You can start with any letter, and all the letters that surround it are fair game, and then once you move on to the next letter, all the letters that surround that letter are fair game, except for any previously used letters. So in the grid above, for example, I could come up with the words LOB, TUX, SEA, FAME, etc. Words must be at least 3 characters, and no more than NxN characters, which would be 16 in this game but can vary in some implementations. While this game is fun and addictive, I am apparently not very good at it and I wanted to cheat a little bit by making a program that would give me the best possible words (the longer the word the more points you get).

Sample Boggle

I am, unfortunately, not very good with algorithms or their efficiencies and so forth. My first attempt uses a dictionary such as this one (~2.3MB) and does a linear search trying to match combinations with dictionary entries. This takes a very long time to find the possible words, and since you only get 2 minutes per round, it is simply not adequate.

I am interested to see if any Stackoverflowers can come up with more efficient solutions. I am mostly looking for solutions using the Big 3 Ps: Python, PHP, and Perl, although anything with Java or C++ is cool too, since speed is essential.


  • Adam Rosenfield, Python, ~20s
  • John Fouhy, Python, ~3s
  • Kent Fredric, Perl, ~1s
  • Darius Bacon, Python, ~1s
  • rvarcher, VB.NET (live link), ~1s
  • Paolo Bergantino, PHP (live link), ~5s (~2s locally)


I am adding a bounty to this question as my way of saying thanks to all the people who pitched in with their programs. Unfortunately I can only give the accepted answer to one of you, so I'll measure who has the fastest boggle solver 7 days from now and award the winner the bounty.

Bounty awarded. Thanks to everyone that participated.


import java.util.HashSet;
import java.util.Set;

 * @author Sujeet Kumar ( It prints out all strings that can
 *         be formed by moving left, right, up, down, or diagonally and exist in
 *         a given dictionary , without repeating any cell. Assumes words are
 *         comprised of lower case letters. Currently prints words as many times
 *         as they appear, not just once. *

public class BoggleGame 
  /* A sample 4X4 board/2D matrix */
  private static char[][] board = { { 's', 'a', 's', 'g' },
                                  { 'a', 'u', 't', 'h' }, 
                                  { 'r', 't', 'j', 'e' },
                                  { 'k', 'a', 'h', 'e' }

/* A sample dictionary which contains unique collection of words */
private static Set<String> dictionary = new HashSet<String>();

private static boolean[][] visited = new boolean[board.length][board[0].length];

public static void main(String[] arg) {


// show all words, starting from each possible starting place
private static void findWords() {
    for (int i = 0; i < board.length; i++) {
        for (int j = 0; j < board[i].length; j++) {
            StringBuffer buffer = new StringBuffer();
            dfs(i, j, buffer);



// run depth first search starting at cell (i, j)
private static void dfs(int i, int j, StringBuffer buffer) {
     * base case: just return in recursive call when index goes out of the
     * size of matrix dimension
    if (i < 0 || j < 0 || i > board.length - 1 || j > board[i].length - 1) {

     * base case: to return in recursive call when given cell is already
     * visited in a given string of word
    if (visited[i][j] == true) { // can't visit a cell more than once

    // not to allow a cell to reuse
    visited[i][j] = true;

    // combining cell character with other visited cells characters to form
    // word a potential word which may exist in dictionary

    // found a word in dictionary. Print it.
    if (dictionary.contains(buffer.toString())) {

     * consider all neighbors.For a given cell considering all adjacent
     * cells in horizontal, vertical and diagonal direction
    for (int k = i - 1; k <= i + 1; k++) {
        for (int l = j - 1; l <= j + 1; l++) {
            dfs(k, l, buffer);


    buffer.deleteCharAt(buffer.length() - 1);
    visited[i][j] = false;

This is the solution I came up with for solving the boggle problem. I guess it is the most "pythonic" way to do things:

from itertools import combinations
from itertools import izip
from math import fabs

def isAllowedStep(current,step,length,doubleLength):
            # for step == length -1 not to be 0 => trivial solutions are not allowed
    return length > 1 and \
           current + step < doubleLength and current - step > 0 and \
           ( step == 1 or step == -1 or step <= length+1 or step >= length - 1)

def getPairwiseList(someList):
    iterableList = iter(someList)
    return izip(iterableList, iterableList)

def isCombinationAllowed(combination,length,doubleLength):

    for (first,second) in  getPairwiseList(combination):
        _, firstCoordinate = first
        _, secondCoordinate = second
        if not isAllowedStep(firstCoordinate, fabs(secondCoordinate-firstCoordinate),length,doubleLength):
            return False
    return True

def extractSolution(combinations):
    return ["".join([x[0] for x in combinationTuple]) for combinationTuple in combinations]

length = 4
text = tuple("".join("fxie amlo ewbx astu".split()))
textIndices = tuple(range(len(text)))
coordinates = zip(text,textIndices)

validCombinations = [combination for combination in combinations(coordinates,length) if isCombinationAllowed(combination,length,length*length)]
solution = extractSolution(validCombinations)

This part I kindly advise you not to use for all the possible matches but it would actually provide a possibility to check if the words you have generated actually constitue valid words:

import mechanize
def checkWord(word):
    url = ""+word
    br = mechanize.Browser()
    response =
    text =
    return "no exact matches"  not in text.lower()

print [valid for valid in solution[:10] if checkWord(valid)]

I know I am really late at the party but I have implemented, as a coding exercise, a boggle solver in several programming languages (C++, Java, Go, C#, Python, Ruby, JavaScript, Julia, Lua, PHP, Perl) and I thought that someone might be interested in those, so I leave link here:


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