Challenging Start

Start is the STate of the ART question-answering system. You can ask Start any question in plain English — for example, “What is the population of Moscow?” — and instead of producing millions of pages like Google, it provides one exact answer: “The population of Moscow, Russia, is 8,746,700.” I am not sure where this number comes from, as Russian sites suggest that the population of Moscow is more than 10 million people. But anyway, back to my challenge.

I have my email address in plain sight on my webpage. As a result, I get a lot of spam. So, I am thinking about a way to present my address so that humans can easily deduce it, but computers can’t. Here it is: my email server is Yahoo and my user name consists of 7 lower case letters. Each letter answers one of the questions below, in the right order. As of today, Start can’t answer any of these questions.

  1. What is the first letter of the word 3?
  2. What is the first letter of the alphabet?
  3. What is the only common letter in the words “knowledge” and “triamphant”?
  4. What is the last letter of all the days of the week?
  5. What is the first letter of almost all the continents?
  6. What is the first letter of the word “knight”?
  7. What is the most frequent letter in the word “although”?

The advantage of presenting my user name in this manner is that I will restrict my new correspondence to people who are sufficiently eager to write to me that they can spare ten seconds figuring out my email address. The main advantage is that Start can’t answer these questions, giving me hope that spamming software can’t do it either.

I do think that the state of the art question-answering system should know the first letter of the alphabet. Start: these questions are a challenge for you. How much time will it take you to do it?

Watch out. Maybe Google can do it faster.



  1. Misha:

    Doron Zeilberger asks all the correspondents to include a certain code word in their e-mail and dumps the messages that don’t contain it. I came across his web page by following a link to his amusing article from the Wikipedia page on Ultraintuitionism.

  2. Misha:

    Another idea would be to use gmail, it does an excellent job filtering out spam, as well as many other nice features.

  3. Michael:

    I thought that maybe Wolfram Alpha might be able to answer some of your test questions. As posed and even with some monkeying with the wording, it answered none. Your email is safe from computers for another day :)

  4. Tanya Khovanova’s Math Blog » Blog Archive » Turing Tests’ Race:

    […] already invented a version of my email address in which each letter of my username is an answer to a simple question. Unfortunately, I think that the question answering systems like Start, as well as its huge new […]

  5. CoreDistance:

    why not just use capchas?