An Ode to Crosswordese

crossword1

Ah, crosswordese. Rarely a day — or a puzzle — goes by without at least one example of crosswordese making its presence felt.

For the uninitiated, crosswordese consists of words that appear frequently in puzzles, but not nearly as often in conversation or common use. My favorite variation on that definition is “words that crop up a lot in grids but are otherwise pretty useless.”

We’ve had some fun with this peculiar subset of the language in the past, whether we’re constructing grids full of crosswordese or challenging our fellow PuzzleNationers to identify examples of crosswordese in our View a Clue game.

Personally, I always enjoy seeing people work crosswordese into puzzly poems and stories. A few years ago, we stumbled across The Cruciverbalist’s Ball, a poem that packed loads of crosswordese into rhyming verse.

And now, another intrepid puzzler has contributed a puzzle poem for the world to savor. Writer, musician, and programmer Julian Rosenblum crafted a work he calls “An ODE to Crosswordese” and he managed to fill every line with all sorts of words you’re only likely to encounter in a crossword grid.

Enjoy!


An ODE to Crosswordese

The EMIR who went to ETON said AHA to James AGEE
“Point your EPEE O’ER toward ERIN and we all can sail ALEE”

Brian ENO drove an EDSEL; Arthur ASHE, a GTO
Raced from ASTI down to AGRA beating ASNER and DAFOE

“My ETUI contains an ATRA,” said the AGA to the ROI
That’s when ODIE said to ASTA, “this AIOLI is A TOI!”

Now the ONE L who’s in ONE A met the SUPE in MMI
Back when OLAF ate his OLEO and ELSA taught ELHI

If your I BEAM needs a T NUT then call OSHA, do it STAT
If your ARIA needs OBOE, try A MINOR or B FLAT

Each time ENYA visits ELBA she brings ORCA from OMAN
The YSER’s no match for YMA who serves EDAM with ELAN

On AER Lingus, trust the ETD; EL AL, the ETA
If your RTE is SSE, PANAM is AOK

Though you’ve NE’ER refueled at ESSO, seen an ERNE, or met Mel OTT
They’re ingrained in your AORTA like AMO AMAS AMAT

What did you think of the poem? Did any of your favorite bits of crosswordese make the cut? Let us know in the comments section below! We’d love to hear from you!


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The New Capital of European Crosswords?

First, it was Lvov, Ukraine: a city that created a crossword spanning the entire side of a 100-foot-tall residential building.

Now, another country in Eastern Europe is making bold choices with crosswords in mind: Estonia.

estonia-map-boundaries-cities-locator

[Image courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica.]

Crosswords are a global phenomenon. We’ve featured puzzle books from Europe on more than one occasion. So, naturally, each country must have its own concept of crosswordese, the curious and strange vocabulary that seems to exist only in the world of crosswords.

In Estonia, the editors behind the puzzle magazine Nuti compiled a list of ten towns and villages that frequently appear in their crosswords. Names like Aseri, Uulu, Erra, and Leisi were among those chosen for the fan vote.

But the winner by a landslide (162 votes!) was…

Aa.

estoniaaa

[Image courtesy of Pohjarannik.]

Yes, that picturesque coastal village in the north of Estonia we all know and love. Where you can see such sights as the Aa manor house and, I kid you not, a sand beach.

According to the 2000 census, the population of Aa was 190. There were nearly as many votes for the village as there are people living there!

And yes, I’m still calling it a landslide victory. The next nearest place, Aseri, had 89 votes. That’s nearly half! The lowest, Erra, garnered only 17 out of the 517 votes cast. That’s a landslide in my book.

Congratulations to the people of Aa. Can’t wait to see how you change the world of Estonian crosswords!

[Check out the original post that inspired this one, a New York Times piece by the marvelous Deb Amlen.]


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Farewell, Rip Torn, Star of Stage, Screen, and Crossword Grids

rip-torn

[Image courtesy of Page Six.]

It is always a sad day when the puzzle community loses one of their own, no matter how rare those events are. It’s rarer still to say goodbye to someone whose contributions were made by appearing IN grids, rather than by constructing or cluing them.

Alas, it is one of those rare times, as this week we mourn the loss of crossword icon and Hollywood actor Rip Torn.

Rip was famously aware of his status as a go-to crossword entry. When he was asked if his name had given him anything but grief over the years, he replied, “Well, when I couldn’t get a job, everybody would say, ‘Where do I know you from?’ I said, ‘Crossword puzzles!’ That kept my name alive for years.”

And it’s true. Some names are simply crossword friendly and have shown up regularly over the years, transforming from pop culture reference to fully accepted part of the crosswordese lexicon.

Although we lost Una and Ona and more than one Ida over the years, Rip hung around amongst stalwart compatriots like Ono and Eno and Esai.

riptornrip

[Image courtesy of The Chive.]

An actor known for both his stubbornness and the realism he brought to his performances, Rip essentially had two careers in Hollywood. He was a serious dramatic performer throughout the 1960s, until his reputation for being difficult to work with led to a dry spell in the 1970s. (This reputation was famously cemented when he lost the role later played by Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.)

He would later enjoy a career renaissance in the mid-1990s and beyond for his considerable comedic talents, leaving behind memorable performances in the Men in Black films, and perhaps most notably, HBO’s meta talk show comedy The Larry Sanders Show. Personally, I always enjoyed Rip as the gruff but entertaining mentor figure, which made his appearances in Dodgeball and 30 Rock a particular delight.

For his talents, his humor, his honesty, and that inimitable arrangement of letters that made him oh-so-crossword-convenient, he will be missed.


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Putting Clever Cluing to the Test?

crossword1

As a puzzler, there are few article titles that serve as more efficient clickbait than “6 CHALLENGING CROSSWORD PUZZLE CLUES THAT WILL LEAVE YOU CLUELESS,” so when I saw that title, fellow puzzlers, you know I clicked.

This article by the crew at Wealth Words claims to offer “the trickiest clues that have ever existed.” That is quite a bold statement. Shall we try our luck and see how we do?


Now, before we start, it’s worth noting that we’re at a huge disadvantage here, because any clue, easy or tough, can be made easier if you know some of the letters in the word thanks to words in the grid you’ve already placed that cross this particular entry. We don’t have any of those helper letters, so we’re going to have to rely solely on our sharp wits, wordplay skills, and love of punnery.

Okay, let’s get to it.

Clue #1: Leaning column? (9 letters)

Most crossword fans know that a question mark virtually always means there’s wordplay afoot, so you know you can’t take this clue at face value, which means anything relating to Pisa is probably out. If you focus on “leaning,” that could take you anywhere from Jenga to drunkenness, so let’s play with “column.” Other columns appear in graphs, Excel files, and newspapers.

A-ha. Newspaper column. And some of those “lean” to either the left or the right, depending on the author. This train of thought leads us to the intended answer OPED PIECE.

Grade: A- (It’s a solid clue where the answer doesn’t necessarily immediately jump out at you, but makes total sense once you’ve puzzled it out.)

Clue #2: Strips in a club (5 letters)

[Now, to be fair, “club” was capitalized in the clue on the webpage, but I felt like that was misleading, so I fixed it here. After all, capitalization can be used to great effect in crafty cluing — particularly if you conceal the capital word by making it the first word in the clue, which is always capitalized regardless — but here, it becomes an unnecessary red herring.]

This one is slightly harder, because you don’t immediately get the hint that there’s wordplay involved, since there’s no question mark.

This is one of my favorite kinds of clever cluing, the sort where our preconceived notions of word forms works against us. (Also, it sounds naughty, but isn’t, which I also quite enjoy.) At first glance here, the phrasing makes it sound like “strips” is a verb, when it’s really a plural noun.

And once you get into that mindset, you realize that we’re not talking about that kind of club, and the intended answer emerges: BACON.

Grade: A (Misdirection plus a tongue-in-cheek bit of lewdness? Great stuff.)

Clue #3: Group of crows (6 letters)

I have no idea how this one made it onto the list. Anyone who knows their animal groupings knows that a group of crows is a MURDER. There’s no tricky cluing or misdirection here, just something that might not be in the common knowledge. (But again, I think people are more likely to come up with this one that “exaltation of larks,” “smack of jellyfish,” or “parliament of owls.”)

Grade: D- (Could be difficult for some solvers, but only for unfamiliarity, not style.)

Clue #4: “Yep, perfectly clear” (7 letters)

Okay, this one has quotations around it, which both means it’s a spoken line and it’s likely non-standard, so you won’t find it in a dictionary. It’s probably a phrase, and used in casual conversation.

The answer, as it turns out, is I HEAR YA, which I don’t think any solver would come up with unless they had a few crossing letters filled in for them. The slangy spelling of YA and the informal wording altogether pretty much precludes this from being a “see-it-and-get-it” sorta clue.

Grade: C

Clue #5: [Boo-Hoo] (5 letters)

Brackets are used less commonly than quotation marks or question marks in crossword clue, so it’s more likely that a casual solver wouldn’t immediately recognize what to do with this clue. Usually, brackets indicate this is a non-traditional clue, either making an oblique reference to something or indicating it’s a non-verbal clue like a cough.

In this case, this is meant to be the actual sound of someone crying or something of that nature. So it could be something informal like CRYIN’ or TEARS (as opposed to the more traditional “in tears”) or something like that.

As it turns out, they were looking for I’M SAD. Which is pretty blah. It’s not a standard phrase, and comes off as a cheaply constructed way out of a bad corner, not a solid bit of fill to keep the puzzle interesting.

Grade: F

Clue #6: They come in last (3 letters)

This clue is fairly tough, because it’s both vaguely worded and has a curious letter count. It’s plural phrasing (with “they”), so that immediately makes you want to tack an S onto the end of the word. But it’s also such a short entry that a two-letter word plus S doesn’t seem to fit the clue.

So what comes in last? “End” would fit, if not for the plural phrasing. “P.S.” comes in last, but “P.S.’S” is really clunky, and I don’t recall ever seeing that pluralized.

So what were they looking for? XYZ. Ah. Alphabet entries. You’ll usually see entries like this centering around the first three letters (ABC) or a random string (“RST” seems to come up more often than most), and XYZ certainly fits the bill. But, in the end, it’s not a real entry, and it feels a little cheap, despite the decent wordplay involved in the cluing.

Grade: C-


So, what did I think of the Wealth Words “6 CHALLENGING CROSSWORD PUZZLE CLUES THAT WILL LEAVE YOU CLUELESS” challenge?

I thought it started off very strong with two clever, slippery clues that required you to play with the words and come at them from several angles before stumbling upon the correct solution, and I quite enjoyed those clues.

But the quiz took a real nose dive in quality starting with Clue #3, which had no wordplay at all. #4 and #5 relied heavily on being slangy non-standard verbiage rather than adept cluing or creative fill, and #6 was a bit of a cop-out, even if the cluing quality rebounded nicely.

All in all, I thought the specious entries outweighed the clever cluing on display early on, making for an underwhelming set of clues.

Final grade: C+.

What did you think of these group of challenging clues, fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers? Did you enjoy them or find them wanting? Let us know in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you!


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The Future of Crosswords: Multilingual Grids?

[Image courtesy of Seton.]

Anyone familiar with crosswords these days knows that you need more than a thorough knowledge of English to be a topnotch solver these days.

Sure, English is still the basis for the vast majority of crosswords you’ll encounter — even if some weird, unexpected, and obscure words pop in from time to time — but you’ll need a grasp of other languages to complete most grids these days. (And I’m not just talking about European rivers or foreign currencies.)

After all, the Greek alphabet shows up in crosswords all the time. I can’t recall the last grid I completed that didn’t have ETA, IOTA, RHO, or PHI in it. And clues like “Fraternity letter” are rarely specific enough to help you fill the clue on your first try.

[Image courtesy of Greek Boston.]

You need to know your Latin to solve puzzles too. ET TU, AD HOC, DIES IRAE… plenty of words and phrases pilfered from Latin litter crossword grids.

The modern crossword will send you on a linguistic tour of the globe. From “Scottish Gaelic” for ERSE and “Indian nanny” for AMAH to “Kimono sash” for OBI and “German mister” for HERR, you could visit the languages of half a dozen countries in a single crossword.

But if you’re talking about other languages in crosswords, the top two are undoubtedly Spanish and French.

[Image courtesy of Wikipedia.]

Spanish and French words are so common that Wordplay, the blog dedicated to The New York Times crossword, has entire articles dedicated to Spanish and French words you need to know.

For Spanish, they list entries like BESO for “kiss,” ESTA for “this,” and RIATA for “rope.” (Though they missed TIO/TIA for “uncle/aunt” in their rundown.)

On the French side of things, you get common crossword entries like AMI for “friend,” ROI for “king,” or SEL for “salt.”

(The crew at Crossword Unclued even wrote an article about how often French words are used in Cryptic-style cluing, for fans of that version of crosswording.)

[No, something a little tougher than that. Image courtesy of Mommy Maestra.]

All this multilingual puzzling made me wonder… has anyone tried to create a bilingual crossword? I’m talking about a crossword where a significant portion of the entries (if not half) are from a second language.

As it turns out, constructor Bryan Betancur recently accepted that challenge, creating “Bilingual Puzzle #1.” This puzzle not only features a fair number of Spanish words in the grid — not as filler but as significant entries (which I won’t mention, in case you want to solve it yourself!) — but many of the clues for Spanish AND English words are written in Spanish, ensuring a mental challenge beyond the usual crossword fare.

Yes, it was a confusing solve not to know whether the answer to a given clue would be English or Spanish, but that made it all the more satisfying when I was able to confidentally place words in the grid.

It’s the only crossword on the WordPress Blog “Bilingual Crossword,” but here’s hoping others join it soon.

In the cultural melting pot that is modern society, there’s not only opportunity for inclusivity, but there’s also opportunity for challenging, bilingual crossword grids to pique your interest (and make you wish you’d paid more attention in high school foreign language classes).


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The Crossword From Hell

This is an innocuous looking grid. A smattering of black squares. Classic diagonal symmetry. At first glance, this could be any crossword.

But this isn’t any crossword. This is The Crossword From Hell.

A brilliantly tongue-in-cheek takedown of obscure cluing and other frustrating puzzle conventions, The Crossword From Hell challenges you to come up with, among other things:

–The opposite of “forty”
–Person who did not speak quote
–Color I am thinking of
–Color I will be thinking of for tomorrow’s puzzle
–He batted .219 in 1953
–“… a ______” (Keats)

I have to confess, I love this puzzle. The mix of fill-in-the-blank clues that could be ANYTHING and the incredibly obscure, yet specific, requests for trivial minutiae delightfully skewer the worst crossword constructing practices, particularly crosswordese.

This parody puzzle is the creation of Dr. Karl M. Petruso, an anthropology professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. I reached out to Dr. Petruso regarding his hilariously snarky rejoinder to the puzzle community, and here’s what he had to say about the puzzle:

Yes, that puzzle is my only foray into crossword composition (well, fake composition, truth be told. I did field at least one email from somebody who said he had solved all the clues but one, and he believed that I cheated on that word. I suspected he was pulling my leg…).

Since my grad school days in the ’70s I have been a snooty puzzle solver: only the NYT puzzle, and even then, nothing earlier than Thursday, always in ink. I was able to solve maybe a third of the Saturday puzzles, but it took me well into the next week to do it. I love the clever themes and wordplay in the Sunday puzzles, and could often complete them, but by no means every time.

I decided to take my frustrations out on clues that were at once obscure and too much trouble for someone as lazy as me to remember the words for. Creating that puzzle was very satisfying, kind of like an exorcism or something. I don’t know. I have always thought the web is the perfect place to post snark and work out dark impulses.

Perhaps the funniest thing about this exaggerated crossword is that, to many who struggle with tougher crosswords, it probably doesn’t seem exaggerated at all.

Great crossword puzzles manage to be clever and challenging while sidestepping many of the pitfalls featured in The Crossword From Hell. But this is a wonderfully funny reminder of what you should strive NOT to do.

A huge thank you to Dr. Petruso for his time AND his creative efforts on behalf of puzzlers everywhere.


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