showcase: Phone Mnemonics

dialabc phone mnemonics

Phone Mnemonics

DialABC web site connects phone numbers to words


since it's inception in 1996, users around the world have run tens or millions of phone numbers through's words search to find the words hiding in the numbers. The site, intended as an information design showcase, solves two problems:

1) it finds the words hiding in phone numbers
2) it presents them to use the user in an efficient visual way that lets the user see all possibilities in a single picture

Finding the Words

Finding the words hiding in the phone number turns out to be a fascinating problem, especially if it is to be done efficiently. There are several different ways of doing it, requiring different amounts of preparation. They all start with a long list of words, somewhere between 40,000 and 120,00 depending on the language. The list is pre-digested and turned into a big data structure that can be searched efficiently.

Coming up with the best way to prepare the dictionaries for searching is really the first hard problem to solve.

When the user then types in a phone number, the site then uses that data structure to quickly find all the relevant words.

Displaying the Results

The results, of course, are not just words. The order of the words matter, as does the position of each word within the number. Yes, you can list every possible combination of words, but you can easily wind up with an unusably long list.