I considered a bucket approach as well - but not quite the way you did it. What I was going to do was bucket all words of the same length and then at the end roll up 2 letter words into 3 letter words, 3 letter words into 4 letter words, etc. I realized this won't guarantee the best solution because of what I have explained elsewhere in this thread (taking some from one group and some from another can lead to the best solution)
I ran your code against 2of12inf.txt (actually, the file I had already reduced). On my machine it took 2 hours and 3 minutes. Here is the output:
Working with 40933 words
Number of words: 316
The correct answer has 346 words.
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