10 Common Crossword Puzzle Words You Should Know

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Cracking a crossword isn’t just about wits—you get better the more you do them and the more you become accustomed to common tricks and familiar beats. In The Crossword of the Century, author Alan Connor devotes a section in his 100-year chronicle of the medium to "words found more often in crosswords than real life." It should be noted: There are much more common words in crosswords and life (era, area, and one for example), but these are the head scratchers that feel like they live exclusively to be penned (or penciled! no judgment here) onto the surface of a newspaper or magazine.

1. ALEE

Ship on the ocean.
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The side of a ship that’s sheltered from the wind, this word can also be an adverb meaning “away from the wind” or an order to steer toward the lee.

2. ARGO

Drawing of Jason and the Argonauts.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You’re not a crossword master if you only know the 2012 film or the cornstarch brand. Argo is also the name of the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed in search of the Golden Fleece.

3. ASEA

View of the sea.
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This one is both easier and harder than you think. Intuitively, it means "on the sea" or "to the sea," but is often used in intentionally misleading clues like "puzzled."

4. EMU

Portrait of an emu.
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As you might have noticed by now, vowel-heavy words are popular in the crossword world. Connor notes that while the flightless bird often gets the attention, eau (as in the French word for water) and ECU (or European Currency Unit, the precursor to the euro) are similar and oft-used alternatives.

5. ERATO

The nine Muses.
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One of the Greek muses, she is a favorite both because of the number of vowels in her name and for the convenient double meaning of "muse" depending on whether it’s a verb or a noun.

6. IAMBI

Circa 597 BC, An engraving of the Greek poetess Sappho (650 - c.590 BC) by Charles Oliver Murray.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Shakespeare is the reason we all know about iambic pentameter, but the Greeks came up with it (and after multiple mentions, we can safely say there’s a pattern here suggesting that a working knowledge of the ancient civilization will serve you well in the crossword game).

7. PSST

A man's hand next to his ear.
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Psst: this one can be tricky because it doesn’t have any vowels. All-consonant words are increasingly hard to come by when you get beyond a few letters, though abbreviations can often pop up in their place.

8. SMEE

Two ducks walking on a beach.
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Mostly commonly associated with on Mr. Smee, Captain Hook’s right-hand man in Peter Pan, the term can also refer to a duck, which means the common threads there are water and a general sense of being underappreciated.

9. SOHO

Neon Soho sign.
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Londoners and New Yorkers both have a neighborhood bearing this name (for the Brits it’s "Soho" and for the Yankees it’s "SoHo"), but Connor notes it can also be used as an exclamation.

10. STYE

Close-up of an eye stye.
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Okay, this one might run amok in the world of black and white boxes and inside the walls of doctors' offices. The red, painful lump that can pop up on or near your eyelid, is also known to be a pain when completing the crossword, as it's sometimes spelled without the "e." The complications don't stop there though, because "sty" can also be a place where pigs reside.

This piece originally ran in 2016.

Save Up to 93 Percent on 8 Gaming Accessories and Enter to Win a Free Nintendo Switch Bundle

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Stackcommerce

The Nintendo Switch is one of the hottest video game consoles of the past few decades, with worldwide sales topping 55 million (that's more than the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64, and it's only a few million behind the original NES). The problem with a console being so popular is that it's not always easy to spot one on store shelves. If you haven't had luck finding one in recent months, you can enter this contest to win your very own Nintendo Switch, along with a copy of Animal Crossing: New Horizons, a pair of Switch-compatible Logitech wireless headphones, and a $300 Nintendo gift card. Head here for more details.

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8 British Expressions, Explained

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The British have many delightful and colorful expressions that often make no sense to the rest of the world. Luckily, Christopher J. Moore has decoded a number of them in How to Speak Brit: The Quintessential Guide to the King's English, Cockney Slang, and Other Flummoxing British Phrases. Here are a few of our favorites.

1. Load of Cobblers

This phrase, which means "a lot of rubbish or nonsense," has its origin in rhyming slang. The full phrase, Moore writes, is "a load of cobbler's awls," and awls rhymes with ... well, you can probably figure that out. So, don't use this one around anybody respectable.

2. How’s your father?

Brits are all about keeping things proper, so they’ve come up with many fantastic slang terms for referring to stuff that would be considered untoward in polite company. "How’s your father?" is one of these phrases. According to Moore, this turn of the century phrase was probably coined by comedian Harry Tate, who used it to change the subject when something he didn’t want to talk about came up. Eventually, it became slang for sexual activity.

3. All Mouth And No Trousers

Hailing from the north of England, this phrase is “used to describe a man whose sense of self-importance is in inverse proportion to his actual relevance,” Moore writes. The mouth refers to brash talk; trousers, of course, are pants.

4. Bob’s Your Uncle

It means “and there you are!” or “it’s that simple!” According to Moore, it’s thought to have originated in the late 1880s, when Arthur Balfour—nephew of the Victorian Prime Minister Robert Cecil—was appointed to be the Chief Secretary in Ireland though he had no qualifications. “So he got the job purely because Bob was his uncle,” Moore writes. “A nice theory, and no one has come up with anything convincingly better.”

5. By Hook or By Crook

“A very old phrase meaning to use any means possible and bearing no relation to criminals,” Moore writes. First used in the 14th century, it refers to peasants pulling down branches for firewood using either a bill-hook or a shepherd’s crook.

6. On the Pull

Another British slang term for something considered rude to talk about in plain terms. If you’re out at the pub and someone tells you they’re “on the pull,” it means they’re looking for someone to hook up with. Saucy!

7. Spend a Penny

This slang phrase for a visit to the bathroom “comes from the old practice, literally, of having to put a penny in the door of a public bathroom to use it,” Moore writes. It's only appropriate for informal settings, so don’t use it to ask where the restrooms are in a restaurant!

8. Sweet Fanny Adams

It means, essentially, f*** all, and though it sounds delightful, it has a dark historical origin: Fanny Adams was a real person, a child who was murdered and dismembered in 1867; she was nicknamed "Sweet Fanny Adams" during her murderer's trial and execution because of her youth and innocence. Not long after, the Royal Navy introduced tinned meat rations, which the sailors referred to as Sweet Fanny Adams, a reference to the crime. Eventually, Moore writes, “the expression spread into wider use as meaning something of little or no value, and was commonly shortened to Sweet FA. In modern usage the phrase has become crossed with another, more impolite FA, which also means ‘absolutely nothing.’”