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10 Common Crossword Puzzle Words You Should Know

Caitlin Schneider
BrianAJackson // iStock via Getty Images Plus
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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

A 14th-century word that refers to the side of a vessel that’s out of the wind.

2. ARGO

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

The name of a 2012 film as well as a cornstarch brand, Argo is also the name of the ship on which Jason and the Argonauts sailed in search of the Golden Fleece, as well as a constellation in the southern hemisphere.

3. ASEA

A 19th-century word meaning “at sea.”

4. EMU

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.
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.
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

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

Mostly commonly associated with 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

Londoners and New Yorkers both have a neighborhood bearing this name, but in the 19th century, it was also used as an exclamation (sometimes specifically when a person spotted a hare).

10. STYE

OK, 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, because it's sometimes spelled without the "e." The complications don't stop there, though, because "sty" can also be a place where pigs reside.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016; it has been updated for 2022.

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