When he was asked if his name had given him anything but grief over the years, actor Rip Torn 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 established element of crosswordese.
Many constructors have ETTA James, Arthur ASHE, Alan ALDA, IONE Skye, and Yoko ONO to thank for getting them out of a tight spot. Others owe completed grids to Mel OTT, Bobby ORR, ESAI Morales, Judge Lance ITO, and Robert E. LEE. (At this point, some of these actors could probably cite The New York Times or The LA Times on their IMDb pages.)
Then, of course, you have the numerous obscure ladies offering helpful three- and four-letter names to constructors. UNA and ONA and OONA and OSA and ENA and ESME and ISA and EWA, for starters. (Of course, INA and ANA have lucked their way into being more contemporary references, thanks to SNL’s ANA Gasteyer and Food Network’s INA Garten.)
(Una Merkel, someone many crossword solvers easily recognize
by name, but probably wouldn’t recognize from her picture.)
The one I’m guiltiest of overusing in puzzle editing is easily author ELIE Wiesel, because there’s only so many ways to clue ERIE before you start looking for other options.
If there was a top contender for person most frequently appearing in crosswords, I have to imagine it’s an ALI, ELI, or LEE, though each of these can reference multiple people, so the title would have to be shared.
Unless you also want to factor in fictional characters. I imagine ULEE of “Ulee’s Gold” or Mr. SMEE from “Peter Pan” would rank pretty high on the list of common crossword entries.
Unfortunately, some names are simply more suited for crosswords than others. Author Norman Mailer actually commented in an interview that he was disappointed not to be a common crossword entry:
“I’m hurt that I’m never in one of them. And I’ve got a last name with three vowels. You’d think I’d be hot cakes, but I’m not.”
Tough luck, Norman. But hey, maybe you’ll make a cameo in one of the puzzles in this year’s American Crossword Puzzle Tournament this weekend!
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