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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.