10 Common Crossword Puzzle Words You Should Know

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iStock

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.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.

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Why Did Noon Used to Mean 3 p.m.?

3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
3 p.m. is basically noon for people who wake up at 12 p.m.
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If you’re a late sleeper, you might find yourself thinking 12 p.m. seems way too early to be considered midday, and the word noon would much better describe, say, 3 p.m. It turns out that ancient Romans would have agreed with you, if only for etymological reasons.

As Reader’s Digest explains, the days in ancient Rome were split into four periods of three hours each. The first hour was at sunrise around 6 a.m.—called prime, for first—followed by 9 a.m. (terce, denoting the third hour), 12 p.m. (sext, for sixth), and 3 p.m. (none, for ninth).

According to Merriam-Webster, Middle and Old English borrowed the time-keeping tradition, along with the Latin word for ninth, which was changed to nōn and eventually noon. Though we’re not sure exactly when or why noon started referring to 12 p.m. instead of 3 p.m., it could have something to do with Christian prayer traditions. In the Bible, Jesus’s crucifixion is said to have taken place at the ninth hour, and that’s when worshippers partook in their second of three daily prayers; the others were in the morning and evening. It’s possible that hungry monks were behind noon’s gradual shift from 3 p.m. to 12 p.m.—since their daily fast didn’t end until after the midday prayer, they had a built-in motive for moving it earlier.

While we didn’t exactly stay true to the original Latin meaning of noon, there’s another important remnant of ancient Rome hiding in the way we tell time today. Romans referred to 12 p.m. as meridiem, for midday, and so do we. A.M. is an abbreviation for ante meridiem, or before midday, and P.M. means post meridiem, or after midday.

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