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.”
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.
Crosswordese is the bane of solvers and constructors alike.
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: “words that crop up a lot but are otherwise pretty useless.”)
Not only does crosswordese prevent new solvers from enjoying crosswords to the fullest — by forcing them to learn a weird, esoteric jargon that feels exclusionary — but it hounds constructors who are trying to build solid, engaging grids, tempting them with easy letter combinations and tricky corner resolutions.
Crosswordese is so prevalent in the field that some crossword enthusiasts try to craft stories that include as many examples of crosswordese as possible.
The father of Reddit user Cheedrifin went another way, though, penning a delightful poem full of crosswordese!
We’ve posted it in full below. Enjoy!
THE CRUCIVERBALIST’S BALL
I was stunned, I’ll admit, when I got the call To go to this year’s cruciverbalist’s ball. For eons I’d wanted to earn such a bid To see all the bigwigs who live in the grid.
I should say that I don’t have a poet’s portfolio Up to describing this fabulous olio, But I’ve always said “Carpe diem’s my motto.” I’ll give it a shot with some help from Erato.
The lot of us boarded a sleek SST And flew over what looked like the dry Aral Sea. But just where it was held, I can’t properly say. They swore me to silence at point of epée.
But it might have been Riga, or maybe Oman. The Rhine? The Rhone? Iraq or Iran? It could have been Agra—I know it was far— Or maybe an aerie perched over the Aare.
Wherever it was, they served us some naan, Aioli and Nehi and roasted eland. And down at our heels, keeping watch for dropped pasta Were dogs from the A-list: Ren, Odie, and Asta.
We all settled down at the sound of a raga Announcing arrivals of sri, shah, and aga. Still more eastern royals stepped out of the car: An Arab emir and a ranee and tsar.
The big names could not keep away from this forum. Mel Ott! Ernie Els! William Inge and Ned Rorem. And brimming with pride both paternal and filial, The architects Saarinen: Eero and Eliel.
Sajak was stoked to meet old Ayn Rand. And Ezio Pinza hailed Elia Kazan. Malia and Oprah remembered Chicago, And Amis and Imus examined Iago.
James Agee went on about where he had been With Ani DiFranco and Anaïs Nin. We saw Uta Hagen, who didn’t speak German To Yma and Uma (yeah, Sumac and Thurman).
E. Utne shared new-age convictions with Moby While Cheri Oteri was tying her obi. We sampled the ahi (it’s really just tuna) With dear Mrs. Chaplin, who said “Call me Oona.”
We sang and we danced till they all had to go, Catching planes to the Urals, or trains to St. Lo. Now I’m stuck for an ending. Have one I can borrow? I guess I’ll just wait for the answer tomorrow.
So many of the chronic crosswordese offenders are included! Did the poem miss any of your favorites/least favorites? Let us know in the comments section!
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Tricky clues can come in all shapes and sizes, from wordplay that sends you down the wrong path (like “Intel processor?” for SPY) to clues with some tongue-in-cheek humor (like “Car bomb?” for EDSEL). But perhaps the most diabolical are clues that rely on alternate pronunciations to deceive solvers.
These clues are especially crafty, because oftentimes, it’s only when spoken aloud that the alternate meaning reveals itself. There were two prime examples of this cluing style in the Indie 500 puzzles I’ll be reviewing later this week.
At first blush, the clue “Layers of rock?” seems to point toward STRATA or something similar, except the question mark indicates some sort of wordplay is afoot. But if you use lay-ers (as in “those who lay”) of rock, suddenly the answer is apparent: MASONS.
Similarly, the clue “Water tower?” seems straightforward until you consider the question mark. But pronounce tower tow-er (one that tows) and you’ve cracked it: TUG.
Friend of the blog and Penny Press crossword guru Eileen Saunders also contributed a terrific example, “Sewer junction?” for SEAM.
Of course, the perils of pronunciation are hardly restricted to the world of crossword cluing. One need only travel abroad and encounter some of the towns in England to discover some curious pronunciations awaiting them.
In the music video below, chap-hop artist Sir Reginald Pikedevant, Esq. offers a litany of examples of curious British pronunciations in his song “Shibboleth.”
In the video, he defines shibboleth as a word which distinguishes between group members and outsiders by the way it is pronounced. The word comes from the Hebrew Bible, where the word itself was used to distinguish between Ephraimites (who could not pronounce the word properly) and Gileadites (who could).
And while historical uses of shibboleths usually had unpleasant connotations, Sir Reginald’s video is simply a whimsical look at the weirdness of language:
And now, given the subject at hand, I have a challenge for you, my fellow puzzlers and PuzzleNationers!
Below I’ve posted a poem called “The Chaos,” designed to highlight the many irregularities in spelling and pronunciation in the English Language. Created by Dutch writer and teacher Gerard Nolst Trenite, it has appeared in various formats for nearly a century, and it’s a taxing read, to be sure.
I hereby challenge any member of the PuzzleNation readership to create a video of you reading the poem in its entirety! [Note: this is, in fact, a truncated version, but I feel it would be torturous to make you read all 274 lines of this version!]
So, if you accept the challenge, post your video on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or wherever, and send me a link! The most impressive performance will earn a suitably puzzly prize!
Dearest creature in creation,
Study English pronunciation.
I will teach you in my verse
Sounds like corpse, corps, horse, and worse.
I will keep you, Suzy, busy,
Make your head with heat grow dizzy.
Tear in eye, your dress will tear.
So shall I! Oh hear my prayer.
Just compare heart, beard, and heard,
Dies and diet, lord and word,
Sword and sward, retain and Britain.
(Mind the latter, how it’s written.)
Now I surely will not plague you
With such words as plaque and ague.
But be careful how you speak:
Say break and steak, but bleak and streak;
Cloven, oven, how and low,
Script, receipt, show, poem, and toe.
Hear me say, devoid of trickery,
Daughter, laughter, and Terpsichore,
Typhoid, measles, topsails, aisles,
Exiles, similes, and reviles;
Scholar, vicar, and cigar,
Solar, mica, war and far;
One, anemone, Balmoral,
Kitchen, lichen, laundry, laurel;
Gertrude, German, wind and mind,
Scene, Melpomene, mankind.
Billet does not rhyme with ballet,
Bouquet, wallet, mallet, chalet.
Blood and flood are not like food,
Nor is mould like should and would.
Viscous, viscount, load and broad,
Toward, to forward, to reward.
And your pronunciation’s OK
When you correctly say croquet,
Rounded, wounded, grieve and sieve,
Friend and fiend, alive and live.
Ivy, privy, famous; clamour
And enamour rhyme with hammer.
River, rival, tomb, bomb, comb,
Doll and roll and some and home.
Stranger does not rhyme with anger,
Neither does devour with clangour.
Souls but foul, haunt but aunt,
Font, front, wont, want, grand, and grant,
Shoes, goes, does. Now first say finger,
And then singer, ginger, linger,
Real, zeal, mauve, gauze, gouge and gauge,
Marriage, foliage, mirage, and age.
Query does not rhyme with very,
Nor does fury sound like bury.
Dost, lost, post and doth, cloth, loth.
Job, nob, bosom, transom, oath.
Though the differences seem little,
We say actual but victual.
Refer does not rhyme with deafer.
Foeffer does, and zephyr, heifer.
Mint, pint, senate and sedate;
Dull, bull, and George ate late.
Scenic, Arabic, Pacific,
Science, conscience, scientific.
Liberty, library, heave and heaven,
Rachel, ache, moustache, eleven.
We say hallowed, but allowed,
People, leopard, towed, but vowed.
Mark the differences, moreover,
Between mover, cover, clover;
Leeches, breeches, wise, precise,
Chalice, but police and lice;
Camel, constable, unstable,
Principle, disciple, label.
Petal, panel, and canal,
Wait, surprise, plait, promise, pal.
Worm and storm, chaise, chaos, chair,
Senator, spectator, mayor.
Tour, but our and succour, four.
Gas, alas, and Arkansas.
Sea, idea, Korea, area,
Psalm, Maria, but malaria.
Youth, south, southern, cleanse and clean.
Doctrine, turpentine, marine.
Compare alien with Italian,
Dandelion and battalion.
Sally with ally, yea, ye,
Eye, I, ay, aye, whey, and key.
Say aver, but ever, fever,
Neither, leisure, skein, deceiver.
Heron, granary, canary.
Crevice and device and aerie.
Face, but preface, not efface.
Phlegm, phlegmatic, ass, glass, bass.
Large, but target, gin, give, verging,
Ought, out, joust and scour, scourging.
Ear, but earn and wear and tear
Do not rhyme with here but ere.
Seven is right, but so is even,
Hyphen, roughen, nephew Stephen,
Monkey, donkey, Turk and jerk,
Ask, grasp, wasp, and cork and work.
Pronunciation — think of Psyche!
Is a paling stout and spikey?
Won’t it make you lose your wits,
Writing groats and saying grits?
It’s a dark abyss or tunnel:
Strewn with stones, stowed, solace, gunwale,
Islington and Isle of Wight,
Housewife, verdict and indict.
Finally, which rhymes with enough —
Though, through, plough, or dough, or cough?
Hiccough has the sound of cup.
My advice is to give up!
You can submit your videos to any of our social media platforms below! Good luck!
Everyone loves a little something extra, and that goes double for puzzle fans.
Whether it’s a hidden quote or a secret theme lurking in plain sight, a bonus answer revealed after a tough solve or a final twist that wows you with a constructor’s cleverness and skill, these little surprises are gifts every solver can appreciate.
In Sunday’s New York Times Crossword, what appears at first blush to be a simple themed puzzle — with poet WILLIAM CARLOS WILLIAMS paired with his poem THE LOCUST TREE IN FLOWER — turns out to be much more, as the entire poem is concealed within the grid!
While this is a particularly ambitious example, this is not an uncommon challenge for a constructor to tackle.
Sometimes, the bonus is announced upfront, as it was in Merl Reagle’s puzzle for the 100th anniversary of the crossword a few years ago. His puzzle was converted into a solvable Google Doodle, and Merl added a crafty word search element by hiding the word FUN multiple times in the grid.
Why “fun,” you ask? Because that was the set word in Arthur Wynne’s original “word-cross” puzzle over one hundred years ago!
[Click here if you haven’t tackled Merl’s marvelous puzzle.]
Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles have a recurring crossword variant, Revelation, which conceals a quotation in a standard crossword grid, using the same letters-in-circles technique as Jacob Stulberg did in his poem puzzle.
And, of course, I would be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the secret message reading out in both a New York Times crossword and a puzzle featured on The Simpsons, wherein Homer conceals an apology to Lisa inside a crossword with the help of Will Shortz.
Puzzles are all around us. They’re in our newspapers and on our phones, they’re lurking in math problems and board games and children’s toys.
But as it turns out, according to an article forwarded to me by puzzler and friend of the blog Cathy Quinn, they’re also on our stamps.
At least in Macau, that is.
Late last year, Macau Post released the latest stamps in their Science and Technology series. Previous editions have featured the Golden Ratio, Fractals, and Cosmology, but this time around, they selected a topic near and dear to the hearts of many puzzlers:
For the uninitiated, a magic square is a grid where the numbers within add up to the same total in every row, column, and diagonal.
Our friends at Penny/Dell Puzzles utilize patterns like this in their Anagram Magic Square puzzle, where a word to anagram accompanies each number in the diagram, eventually spelling out a bonus phrase or quotation.
But at its core, a magic square is about cleverly balancing every element until you reach a harmonious arrangement. It’s a curiously meditative sort of puzzle solving, and I can see how it would appeal to the meticulous nature of stamp collectors worldwide.
Here are the six stamps currently available through Macau Post.
There’s a classic 4×4 magic square grid in the upper left and an ancient Latin palindrome in the upper right, as well as part of a 4th-century Chinese palindromic poem in the lower left and a geometric puzzle in the lower right where the pieces in the inner squares can make all of the designs in the outer squares.
Not only that, but three additional stamps will be released this year, making a total of nine themed stamps, and wouldn’t you know it? The stamps themselves can be arranged to form a magic square when assembled, based on the values printed in the corner of each stamp.
Just another sign that puzzle magic is alive and thriving all across the world.