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How to Dominate the New York Times Crossword Puzzle

First off, don't be frustrated. YOU CAN DO IT!

Contrary to the message in the image above, it's NOT over. It's just beginning. And when it comes to solving the New York Times crossword puzzle, the old cliche does apply: practice makes perfect.

I've read quite a few books and articles on solving crosswords. Many of them have useful information, some of it obvious, some of it not. This article is my own guide to what I personally find most useful. Writing this has helped me digest the information I've gathered and memorize those few remaining odd words or facts that turn up again and again. I'm a beginner to intermediate solver, master of Monday-Wednesday, working on my Thursday-Sunday game.

Warning

This guide is for beginner solvers; advanced solvers will not find it useful.

Intro: What Makes an Expert Solver?

What does it mean to be a master cruciverbalist ? I have often pondered the many factors: logic, pattern, repetition, areas of expertise, vocabulary, facts, worldliness, educational background, spelling, reading retention, memory, age, I.Q.

With a B.F.A. in textile design, I generally catch the art history clues, the repeated use of the answer ELL (a former measure of length used mainly for textiles), and a decent number of the literature, film & pop culture references. As a kid, I loved reading, excelled in spelling bees and enjoyed diagramming sentences. I have often wished that I had more world history under my belt, any inkling at all of American sports trivia, a better understanding of philosophy, and whatever else might potentially boost my solving abilities.

Is a deeper educational background essential to becoming an advanced solver? Is solving strength predominately a matter of one's individual breadth of knowledge? For the amateur, at least, I'm not sure a ready database of facts is all that matters. Sure, it helps if you are a living encyclopedia, heavily laden with a wide range of trivia. If you fit that description, you might be a promising contender for NYT Crossword Editor Will Shortz' American Crossword Puzzle Tournament . On the other hand, if you're like me, you probably have a few areas of expertise, a decent foundation in a variety of subjects, and above all, a love for words and logic.

I felt a glimmer of hope watching the crossword documentary, Wordplay, particularly when the young five-time-winner of the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, Tyler Hinman, stated:

"I guess it's kind of a gift, but it's one I've worked for. I got good predominately because I practiced. I cared about it, and I had the drive."

However, the film also interviews former NYT Public Editor, Daniel Okrent, who has insight into which minds make the greatest solvers. Okrent found that musicians and mathematicians tend to be the most adept. Okrent explains what makes these professions most befitting:

"Their ability to assimilate a lot of coded information instantly. In other words, a piano player like John Delfin, the greatest crossword player of our time, he sits down and he sees three staffs of music and he can instantly play it. He's taken all those notes and absorbs what they mean, instantaneously. If you have that kind of mind, and you add it to it a wide range of information, and you can spell, you'd be a really great crossword puzzler."

Unfortunately, I'm neither mathematician nor musician. I most likely will not procure additional degrees in philosophy, history or science just to advance to a Saturday speedy solving status (contrary to popular belief, Saturday is the most difficult day, not Sunday). Outside of going back to school, there are less time consuming, not to mention more practical, methods that can help.

Recently, a 80-year-old master solver offered me some great advice. Seemingly obvious, she recommended simply keeping up on your daily editorial reading. Whether it be sites such as The Daily Beast or Huffington Post, your local paper or the wider reaching New York Times, or magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker or even People, those daily news bytes will inevitably add to your solving memory bank. Simply glancing at the Times sports section everyday could even boost my most glaring deficiency (I have yet to try it).

Another method is to brush up in a Cliff Notes fashion with books like The New York Times Guide to Essential Knowledge or An Incomplete Education: 3, 684 Things You Should Have Learned but Probably Didn't . These books are certainly a brief shortcut to increasing your knowledge bank, they may serve as a refresher of your high school or college foundations that you may have long since forgotten. You might also try podcasts such as Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day, Just Vocabulary, Podictionary, and NPR: Sunday Puzzle Podcast with none other than Will Shortz.

Based on personal experience, I have faith in Tyler Hinman's statement. Crosswords take practice, work, dedication. The only advice I can offer is as followed: check up on your daily news sources of choice, dedicate some recreational browsing time to a variety of reference books, and read the guide laid out for you below. Keep your mind open and flexible. Enjoy learning. Store the interesting facts you learn each day. Don't toss them out, absorb them. Above all, keep at it. All of these things will help you advance in terms of both logic and memorization.

Step 1: Use Grammatical Indicators

There are several recognizable grammatical signifiers that will help you piece together your answers. This section goes over abbreviations, comparatives and superlatives, plurals, slang, tenses, suffixes and prefixes, and word patterns. These tips are very simple, but important for a beginner solver to recognize and keep in mind.

Abbreviations

If the clue indicates an abbreviation, the answer will also be abbreviated. There are a few ways a clue prompts an abbreviated answer. Either the clue will literally state "abbr.", it will offer up a play on words (such as example below, "letters"), or the clue itself will be abbreviated.

Here are examples of abbreviated answers:

Clue, Memo-heading abbr. Answer, ATTN.

Clue, Telepathic letters. Answer, ESP.

Clue, Most of N.J.'s coast. Answer, ATL.

Clue, M.D. and Ph.D. Answer, DEGS

Comparatives and Superlatives

Comparatives express a highER or lowER quality. In contrast, superlatives express the highEST or lowEST quality. When your clue expresses a comparative, your answer will most likely end in "er". When your clue expresses a superlative, your answer will most likely end in "est".

Here are examples of comparative and superlative clues and answers:

Clue, More diminutive. Answer, Tinier.

Clue, Most adroit. Answer, Deftest.

Clue, More benevolent. Answer, Kinder.

Clue, Readiest for picking. Answer, Ripest.

Plurals

When your clue is plural, the answer will always be plural. It is often safe to fill in the last letter with an "s". However, be aware that plural words don't always end in "s".

Here are examples of plural clues and answers:

Clue, Loving touches. Answer, Caresses.

Clue, Desert flora. Answer, Cacti.

Clue, WWW addresses. Answer, URLS.

Clue, Bursting stars. Answer, Novae. (This one is tricky because "Novas" is also correct)

Slang

Be aware of slang words. If the clue has a slang word or informal quality to it, your answer will also be informal. Another common prompt for a slang answer is the specific use of the phrases "informally" or "briefly" or "for short".

Here are examples of slang clues and answers:

Clue, Green stuff. Answer, MOOLA.

Clue, Shot, for short. Answer, AMMO.

Clue, "Jurassic Park" giant, informally. Answer, TREX.

Clue, Chest muscles, briefly. Answer, PECS.

Tenses

The tense of your clue and tense of your answer will always match. This does not mean add an "ed" to the end of every past tense clue. There are all sorts of word endings (or a completely new construction of the word) that express tenses: smell, smelt, smelled; swear, swore, sworn, etc.

Here are examples expressing different tenses:

Clue, Warms up again. Answer, REHEATS.

Clue, Victimized. Answer, PREYEDON.

Clue, Idled. Answer, SAT.

Clue, Said "O-D-O-U-R", e.g. Answer, SPELT.

Prefixes and Suffixes

Often the clue asks for a prefix or suffix. Most of the time it prompts you with the actual word "prefix" or "suffix". Sometimes the prompt is a bit sneakier, such as the use of "follower" below.

Here are examples of suffixes and prefixes:

Clue, Methyl or ethyl follower. Answer, ENE.

Clue, Three: Prefix. Answer, TRI.

Clue, Suffix with green or bean. Answer, ERY.

Clue, Modern: Prefix. Answer, NEO.

Word Patterns

It is helpful if your mind can "fill in the blanks" based on structural and phonetic word patterning. This skill is especially helpful when trying to complete the quotations in Will Shortz' Sunday Acrostic puzzle (not your traditional Sunday puzzle). In your typical everyday puzzles, word patterns are something you should be aware of. An obvious example would be filling in a Q and assuming a U may follow. This may be correct most of the time, but isn't always a sure bet (e.g., QTIP).

Tips

Look out for more specific (but common nonetheless) word endings, such as ING, TIVE, IES, NCE, SION, TION, OUGH, OULD, etc.

Consider the pairing and flow of consonants and vowels. Usually a vowel will follow a consonant and vice versa. For example, if you have KP filled out, it is more than likely incorrect (although it may work in the case of abbreviations, acronyms, initials, etc.) Of course, there are instances when consonants are paired with consonants (common examples: TH, SH, CH, SM, ST, SK, SP, BR, PR, TR, NT, RT, ND, etc.). In the English language it is less common for vowels to be paired together than consonants, but of course it does occur (common examples: AI, EA, OU, IE, OO, UE, etc.)

Step 2: Break Down the Clue's Structure

Clues are structured in a number of different ways. There are very straightforward clues with no tricky indicators (e.g. Clue, Indoor arena feature. Answer, DOME ). There are straightforward "fill in the blank" prompts (e.g. Clue, ____ Ness monster. Answer, LOCH). Those don't require much explanation. Being familiar with the slightly less obvious devices constructors used may help you, though. This section goes over the use of parentheses and "with", connector words, question marks, examples, foreign language, analogies, and spelling of phonetic sounds.

Parentheses and the Use of "With"

Parentheses either indicate additional information to the clue or indicate that the word within the parentheses when combined with the answer completes a phrase. The use of "with" within a clue also indicates the completion of a phrase.

Here are examples using the word "with":

Clue, Pay (up). Answer, PONY.

Clue, Bungle with "up". Answer, MESS.

Clue, Depletes with "up". Answer, USES.

Clue, Apportioned, with "out". Answer, DOLED.

Here are examples using parentheses:

Clue, Tempura ____ (Japanese dish). Answer, UDON.

Clue, Out of ____ (away). Answer, TOWN.

Clue, "____ a Blue World" (1940 hit). Answer, ITS.

Clue, ____ pro nobis (pray for us): Lat. Answer: ORA.

Connector Words

Sometimes a dash and/or the use of the words "connection" or "connector" is used to communicate a word or grouping of words within a phrase. However, this happens on a rare occasion- I could only find one example:

Clue, Give-hand connection. Answer, MEA.

If any of you have more examples, message me on WonderHowTo.

Question Marks

The use of a question mark nearly always indicates a pun, or the unexpected. If it does not indicate a pun, it is used as part of a phrase that requires a question mark.

Here are examples of puns, or the unexpected:

Clue, Noted actor's sons? Answer, ALANLADDSLADS.

Clue, "The Hunt for Red October" and others? Answer, SUBSTORIES.

Clue, Line of clothing? Answer, CREASE.

Clue, Official flower of Phoenix? Answer, AROSEFROMTHEASHES.

Here are examples of phrases that require a question mark:

Clue, Doesn't this strike you _____? Answer, ASODD.

Clue, Reply to "Shall we?" Answer, LETS.

Clue, "How's tricks?" Answer, WHATSNEW.

Clue, "What's ____ you?" Answer, ITTO.

Examples

Often the answer to the clue is an "example" of the clue. This is either cued through the use of "e.g.", the use of the word "or", or the use of the expression "for one".

Here are examples of "examples":

Clue, Slurping at the dinner table, e.g. Answer, NONO

Clue, Neil Armstrong or John Glenn. Answer, OHIOAN.

Clue, Palmist, e.g. Answer, SEER.

Clue, M-1, for one. Answer, RIFLE.

Foreign Language

If the clue is in a different language, the answer will be as well. If the clue makes reference to a foreign culture, the answer will most likely be in the correlating foreign language.

Here are examples of foreign language clues and answers:

Clue, Friend in a sombrero. Answer, AMIGO.

Clue, Summer in La Havre. Answer, ETE.

Clue, Here, in Paris. Answer, ICI.

Clue, French topper. Answer, BERET.

Analogies

Often analogies are used as clues. They are usually expressed with the use of colons.

Here are examples of analogies:

Clue, U.S.C.: Pac 10 :: Duke :_____. Answer, ACC.

Clue, Hocks : horses :: _____ : humans. Answer, ANKLES.

Spelling of Phonetic Sounds

Here's a tricky clue that the beginner solver may not pick up on. The answer may be a phonetically spelled out word or sound. Usually there is no indicator within the clue, so be open to this concept.

Examples of phonetic answers:

Clue, Average student. Answer, CEE.

Clue, Hook shape. Answer, ESS.

Step 3: Work Out Crossword Themes

Checking your crossword for a title is a good first step in determining a crossword's theme. However, not all puzzles are titled. There are several different ways a theme is expressed in a puzzle. The more challenging the puzzle, the more challenging the theme. In Thursday through Sunday puzzles, the themes could include practically anything. Will Shortz is famous for revolutionizing the level of difficulty and cleverness of these themes. One of the most clever themes to hit the Times was constructed by Jeremiah Farrell, edited by Shortz. Check out Barely Bad's detailed explanation of this November 5, 1996 ground shaking conundrum.

There are endless ways a theme is presented. I've seen hidden diagonal words within the puzzle, word search style. One puzzle used the man or woman symbol at the end of several clues to indicate the sex of the people (e.g. Clue, Edna O'Brien or Sinead O'Connor. Answer, IRISH?).

Many puzzles will include entire words within one box, with no prompt to indicate this. The solver must determine that a word, instead of a single letter, is needed due to there not being enough boxes for the correct answers. In other cases, certain letters or groups of letters will be circled, and the combination of these groups determine a theme. Look for quips, quotations, repeated words, and repeated phrases.

Here are examples of some of the easier themes:

Clue, "Merry Christmas" to the French. Answer, JOYEUXNOEL.

Clue, "Merry Christmas" to Danes. Answer, GLAEDELIGJUL.

Clue, "Merry Christmas" to Spaniards. Answer, FELIZNAVIDAD.

Clue, "Merry Christmas" to Italians. Answer, BUONNATALE.

The instance above is very straightforward. The theme is clearly apparent through the clues themselves. However, sometimes the theme is pun based and the answers become a bit trickier, such as in this example below:

Clue, Scary sound from the ocean? Answer, HUMPBACKWAIL.

Clue, Scary sound from a war zone? Answer, BATTLECREAK.

Clue, Scary sound from a cornfield? Answer, FARMGROAN.

Clue, Scary sound from a steeple? Answer, BELLANDHOWL.

Clue, Misspells, say, as a ghost might at 20-, 28-, 37- and 50- Across? Answer, MAKESABOOBOO.

Step 4: Erase Your Answers

Always be willing to readily erase answers! I can't stress this enough. Sometimes the most obvious is unclear if you have just one errant letter written down. I am always erasing, or "clearing the playing field", to keep my mind flexible. In How To Conquer The New York Times Crossword Puzzle, Amy Reynaldo says, "Many crossword clues can lead to more than one answer, and solvers can easily choose an incorrect one. If something seems right but you can't get anything else to fit around it in that section of the grid, consider erasing it and working from the crossing entries instead."

Example:

I fill in AURA for the clue "atmosphere".

When I go to fill in the Across clue, I have S_U_S. The clue is "pumps and clogs". Because the other answer to "atmosphere" is incorrect, I approach "pumps and clogs" with a handicap. I'm really stumped... could it be something about drainage?

I take a step back and erase AURA. Aha, what about MOOD?

Now I have S_O_S.

Duh! SHOES.

Step 5: Take a Break

If you want to improve your game, avoid looking up the answer. Instead, take a break. Looking up answers won't help you. It's a bad habit. Instead, come back to the puzzle later. In the words of Will Shortz:

"If you get stuck on a puzzle, a time-honored technique is to put it aside and return later. Perhaps the brain works subconsciously on problems in the interim. Whatever the case, a fresh look at a tough puzzle almost always brings new answers."

I can't tell you how many times I put my puzzle down before bed, went to sleep, woke up the next morning and suddenly saw several answers clearly. Who knows why? Maybe the answers are buried in your brain, and you need to clear your mind in order for them to surface.

Barely Bad philosophizes about this in his guide to playing well:

"As I see it -- and I'm just philosophizing here because I have no research to back me up -- what happens is that after a while of concentrating on a particular subject, your brain will continue to work on it even after you think you've forgotten about it. It's as though a subroutine in your brain gets launched after you thought you'd quit the program. Acting below the conscious level but still trying to be helpful, this subroutine silently rummages around in your neurons till it finds what it's looking for and then waits patiently, sometimes for months, to register it next time you need it."

So before turning to your references, try resting those neurons for a bit.

Step 6: Think Outside the Box

Will Shortz says, "Mental flexibility is a great asset in solving crosswords. Let your mind wander." When solving crosswords, your mind must be open to thinking about words outside of their most common usage (a very basic example: Act, not just the verb to act, but also a part of a play).

You must be open to puns and themes.

You must be open to thinking beyond the obvious answers, such as the phonetic spelling of sounds or the tricky connector words, both mentioned above.

Here's an example in Shortz' Sunday Acrostic puzzle that seems rather obvious now, but really stumped me at the time:

Clue, Did a 1960's dance; grotesque. Answer, TWISTED.

I found this particular clue to be clever. The semicolon indicates that the two clues are separate, different topics but will result in the same answer. This requires you to flex your brain to come up with an answer that will fit both clues.

Here is another example that requires you to think outside the box:

Clue, Start of spring. Answer, MAR.

You must consider "start of" as the beginning of a word for spring, rather than the start of the actual season.

Step 7: Outside Solving Help

Will Weng, the second editor of the NYT Crossword Puzzle, is famously quoted for saying "It's your puzzle. Solve it any way you want." I agree. If you are fine with using references, by all means, use them. Personally, I think using a crossword dictionary or website like One Across takes the fun out of it. However, when I'm trying to improve my game and move up in the week to the more challenging puzzles, sometimes I use references.

My favorite reference, however, is doing a crossword with a friend. Using a friend always leaves me feeling guilt free and I find it to be the most enjoyable method of solving. I nerded out and bought the NYT Crosswords for Two book this past Thanksgiving. The puzzles are enlarged for easier sharing. I spent the week solving with my grandma, my sister, my college friend, basically whoever was willing. If you are looking for resources beyond a friendly crossword partner, here's a list of my favorites:

  • Amy Reynaldo's How To Conquer The New York Times Crossword Puzzle
  • Michelle Arnot's Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider
  • Barely Bad's extremely comprehensive guide to playing well, rules, etc.; check out his list of references in particular
  • Crosswordese Word of the Day
  • As mentioned above, One Across
  • Ray Hamel's amazing list of solving tools
  • X Word Info : very comprehensive list of commonly used words of all lengths, Clue and Answer Finder
  • Handy word matcher at Quinapalus (They even have a word matcher you can download to your cell phone!)
  • More crossword help at Find the word
  • And of course, off line, there are several helpful crossword dictionaries

Step 8: Memorize Commonly Used Words

I've saved the most tedious step for last. One way to advance your solving skills is to become familiar with the words that turn up again and again. Below is a selection of the most commonly used words in the NYT Crossword Puzzle. There are similar cheat sheets available in several different reference books and websites. I have been compiling my own list over time, and is subjective (based on my own strengths and weaknesses, e.g. what patterns I may or may not have picked up on). Many of the lists out there are organized differently; this is my preferred method of organization.

Most of the commonly used words don't require much definition. However, take a gander. Some of them are lesser known, and the more commonly known words sometimes offer up dual meanings. Being cognizant of dual meanings may help when the obvious is right in front of you, but you just can't see it. You will begin to recognize a repetition of particular people, places, acronyms, foreign words, foreign currencies, Shakespeare, Greek mythology, the opera, biblical names, literary characters, sports trivia, suffixes and prefixes, etc. In foreign language, for example, it would be wise to brush up on your basic French. NYT crossword creators and editors seem to have a bias toward the French language. Latin does show up fairly often as well, while Spanish rarely shows up on a regular basis, except for the ongoing use of "¡OLE!"

You will notice that most of these words consist of 3-5 letters, predominately four. When constructing a crossword, it is essential to use a plethora of 3-5 letter words, due to the limitations of the grid. According to crossword constructor Michelle Arnot, in her book Four-Letter Words: And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider, "Rather than verbs, nouns, and their modifiers, communication inside crosswords requires MEGA (puzzle clue: 'Large: pref.") doses of four-letter combinations. Without these little terms, the game could not exist... They are the bane of the puzzle constructors' profession because they are unoriginal and have turned into cliches...To the puzzle solver, however, they are good news. They serve as stepping-stones into the grid and appear so frequently as to be labeled 'repeaters' by people in the biz."

There you have it. Go ahead and use these repeaters as your stepping stones. If you want to advance in the game, load up on these definitions and facts. Some consider it cheating, I consider it essential game play.

Commonly Used 3-5 Letter Words

ABET: aid or encourage the act of a crime

ALAI: of referring to Jai Alai, a game like pelota played with large, curved wicker baskets

ALE: type of beer; usually used in reference to Great Britain; a pub order

ALEE: on the side of a ship that is sheltered from the wind

ALIT: touched down; landed on

ALOE: a succulent plant; used as a natural burn skin soother; a lotion additive, aloe vera

AMAH: Asian governess or maid

ANON: soon; shortly

ANTE: a stake put up by a player in poker and similar games before receiving cards

ANTI: against; opposed to; opposite to "pro"

APHID: a minute bug that feeds by sucking sap from plants

APSE: a recess, or large decorative indentation, in a church

ARC: a curved shape, curving trajectory, continuing storyline

AREA: neighborhood; region; square footage; subject or range of interest; geometry calculation

ARENA: an area of action surrounded by seats of spectators; most commonly used to refer to a Sports arena

ARID: dry climate; little or no rain

ASEA: out at sea; on the briny; out of port

ASH: most clues are referring to a type of wood used in making baseball bats; fire residue

ASP: a nasty viper; snake

ASS: foolish or stupid person; donkey

ATARI: pioneer in arcade games, home video games, home computer games

ATOM: the basic unit of a chemical element

ATONE: to make amends

ATRIA: upper cavities of the heart

AULD: Auld Lang Syne, Scottish poem; traditional New Year's song

AURA: particular atmosphere or surrounding quality

AVER: insist, state or assert strongly

AXE: tool for chopping wood

BETA: as in "Phi, Beta, Kappa"; second letter of the Greek alphabet; fraternity

BONER: a stupid mistake

DEN: a wild animal's lair; a room in a home; a place where people meet secretly; division of Cub Scout pack

DYED: to use a synthetic substance to add to or change the color of

EAR: the human organ used for hearing; OR common clue: a unit of corn

EBB: flow; movement of tide to sea; move away from land, recede

ECHO: sound caused by reflection of sound waves from a surface back to the listener

ECRU: light beige color

EERIE: weird; strange; frightening

EGO: a person's sense of self esteem or self importance; overly high opinion of oneself

ELAN: style, energy and enthusiasm

ELI: Yale student

ELL: former measure of length (six hand widths) used mainly for textiles; typically 45" or a yard

EMCEE: master of ceremonies; a host

EMIR: Middle Eastern high ranking sheik; high title of nobility or office

EMIT: produce, discharge, radiate; make a sound; issue formally

EON: indefinite or very long period of time

EPIC: a long poem; heroic or grand in scale or character

ERA: long or distinct period of history with a particular feature or characteristic

ERASE: rub out or remove

ERR: be mistaken or incorrect; sin or do wrong

ERSE: any Goidelic language, especially Irish; Gaelic

EWE: female sheep

GENIE: a spirit of Arabian folklore, imprisoned in an oil lamp; typically a reference to the story Aladdin

HUE: color or shade

ICE/ICER: frozen water; money; diamonds; variations icer and icing used to refer to cake decorating

IDLE: not active or in use; without purpose

IDOL: image or representation of a god; a person or thing greatly admired

INGOT: a bar of gold, silver, steel, or other metal

ION: atom or molecule with net charge due to the loss or gain of one or more electrons

IOTA: an extremely small amount

IRATE: great anger

IRE: anger

IRON: to smooth out wrinkles; hard metal; tool used to iron material; a golf club

ISLE: a small island or peninsula

LEA: meadow; open grassy area

LEI: Hawaiian garland of flowers

LITE: low calorie

MOLL: gangster's gal; prostitute

NEAP: astronomer's term

NEE: originally called; born

NEON: fluorescent lighting or sign; very bright color; chemical element of atomic number 10

OBOE: slender, woodwind instrument

ODE: lyric poem written in the form of an address to a particular subject

ODOR: distinctive scent

OGEE: concave arc, architectural term

OGLE: stare at in a lecherous manner

OGRE: monster, terrifying person

OLEO: relating to oil, margarine or butter

OMEN: event that predicts food or evil, prophetic

OMIT: leaves out or excludes

OPAL: semitransparent, milky gemstone

OPEL: a foreign car

ORAL: by word of mouth; of relating to the mouth

ORCA: killer whale

ORE: solid material from which metal or valuable mineral can be profitably

OREO: American cookie, chocolate with white cream in the center

RANI: Hindu princess

ROE: fish eggs, caviar

SAKE: Japanese alcohol made from rice

SMUT: dirt or smooth; obscene talk or literature

SPA: place or resort with a spring or commercial beauty and relaxation treatments

SPAM: unwanted mail; junk mail

STENO: a stenographer, one who writes in shorthand or takes dictation

STET: an editor's notation, let it stand, ignore correction or alteration; write an instruction against an alteration

STY: a pigs home; an inflammation on the edge of an eyelid

TINT: a shade or variety of color; color added to white

TOGA: loose, flowing garment worn by the citizens of Rome

TSAR: also spelled czar (be alert to variant spellings); person with great power or authority

UTE: American Indian tribe

People (Fictional Characters and Well Known Figures)

ABBA: Swedish rock group

ABE: Abe Vigoda, American actor

ADAM: Adam West, American actor; Adam Sandler, American actor

AGEE: James Agee, American writer

ALAN: Alan Arkin, American actor; Alan Alda, American actor (M*A*S*H)

ALI: Ali Baba, fictional character in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves; Muhammad Ali, American boxer; Ali McGraw, American actress

ALEC: Alec Waugh, Evelyn's son, novelist; Alec Baldwin, American actor; Alec Guinness, British actor

ANAIS: Anais Nin, French author

ANNA: character in The King and I; Anna Karenina, fictional Tolstoy character; Anna Kournikova, tennis player

ANNE: Queen of England; wives of Henry VIII

ARA: Ara Parseghian, famous American collegiate football coach

ARES: Greek war god, son of Zeus and Hera

ARI: Ari Onassis, shipping magnate and second husband to Jackie Kennedy

ARLO: Arlo Guthrie, American '60s folk singer

ASTA: Name of dog in The Thin Man, starring William Powell and Myrna Loy

BASIE: Count Basie, American jazz musician

DAHL: Roald Dahl, British author (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory)

EARL: Earl Scruggs, American banjo musician; Earl Hines, American jazz pianist

ECO: Umberto Eco, Italian writer (Foucault's Pendulum)

EDNA: Edna S. Vincent Millay, American poet, first woman to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

EERO: Eero Saarinen, Finnish architect

ELI: Eli Whitney, inventor of the cotton gin; a Yale student, Eli Wallach, actor (The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly)

ELIA : Elia Kazan, director (On the Waterfront, Splendor in the Grass, A Streetcar Named Desire); essayist Charles Lamb's alias

ELLA: Ella Fitzgerald, jazz singer

ENID: Enid Bagnold, author and playwright; Welsh folklore character Geraint's wife; also an Oklahoma city

ENO: Brian Eno, former member of Roxy music; music producer; known as the father of ambient music

ERIC: Eric Clapton, English musician

EROS: Greek god of love, son of Aphrodite

ERTE: Romain de Tirtoff, known by the pseudonym Erte, Art Deco artist and designer

ESAI: Esai Morales, American actor (NYPD Blue)

ETTA: Etta James, American blues, soul, jazz, R&B singer

GRETA: Greta Garbo, Swedish American actress (Mata Hari, Camille)

IAN: Ian Fleming, English author (James Bond, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang); Ian Thorpe, Australian Olympic swimmer

IGOR: Igor Stravinsky, Russian composer; Young Frankenstein character; also refers to a Russian opera by Borodin, titled Prince Igor

IRA: Ira Gershwin, songwriter; Ira Levin, American author; also an acronym for Individual Retirement Account, a nest egg private retirement fund

ITO: Ito Midori, Japanese Olympic figure skater

LEA: Lea Thompson, American actress

LEE: Harper Lee, American writer (To Kill A Mockingbird); Spike Lee, American film director; Lee Majors, American actor; Lee Grant, American actress; Robert E. Lee, American Civil War Confederate general

LORRE: Peter Lorre, Hungarian Austrian American actor (M, Casablanca, The Maltese Falcon)

MIES: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German American architect

NAT: Nat King Cole, American jazz pianist; Nat Adderley, American jazz cornet and trumpet player

NED: Ned Beatty, American actor; Ned Flanders, Simpsons character

NEO: Matrix character portrayed by Keanu Reeves

NESS: Eliot Ness, '20s American Prohibition agent; Eliot Ness, Untouchables character portrayed by Kevin Costner

OMAR: Omar Sharif, Egyptian actor; Omar Epps, American actor; Omar Bradley, military figure

OLAV: patron saint of Norway; Viking king

ONO: Yoko Ono, Japanese artist and musician, widow of John Lennon

OONA: Oona Chaplin, wife of Charlie Chaplin

OTIS: Otis Redding, American soul singer; Otis Campbell, Andy Griffith Show character portrayed by Hal Smith

OTTO: Otto Preminger, film director (The Man With the Golden Arm); the dog in comic strip Beetle Bailey; Otto von Bismarck, Germany's historical political figure

PETER: Peter O'Toole, Irish actor (Lawrence of Arabia)

RAE: Norma Rae, a character portrayed by Sally Field

RENE: Rene Magritte, surreal artist; Rene Russo, American actress

RENO: Janet Reno, first female attorney general of the United States

SHAMU: stage name of whale performing in Sea World's famous killer whale show

TED: Ted Kennedy, senator; Ted Danson, American actor (Cheers); Ted Koppel, American broadcast journalist, Ted of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure

TESS: Tess of the D'Urbervilles, Thomas Hardy heroine

URI: Uri Geller, Israeli British psychic

Acronyms

ASAP: As Soon As Possible

ATM: Automated Teller Machine

AWOL: Absent Without Leave

CBS: Columbia Broadcasting System

DNA: Deoxyribonucleic acid

ELO: Electric Light Orchestra

EMT: Emergency Medical Technician

ENE: East North East

EPA: Environmental Protection Agency

ERA: Earned Run Average

ERS: Emergency Rooms

ESE: East South East

ESP: Extrasensory perception

EST: Eastern Standard Time; established; Estonia; estimate

ETA: Estimated Time of Arrival, e.g. LAX posting; also a Greek Vowel

ETAL: Latin, abbreviation for "and others"; et alii or et alia

HMO: Health Maintenance Organization

IRA: Individual Retirement Account, a nest egg private retirement fund; also, songwriter Ira Gershwin; author Ira Levin

MIT : Massachusetts Institute of Technology

MLLE: French, abbreviated Mademoiselle, title for a young lady, "Miss", infers unwed

MME: French, abbreviated Madame, title for a woman, "Mrs.", infers marriage

NNE: North North East

NYSE: New York Stock Exchange

OSHA: Occupational Safety and Health Administration, government worker safety group

PTA: Parent Teacher Organization

RTE: Route

SASE: Self Addressed Stamped Envelope

SNA: Spanish, abbreviated Senora, title for a woman, "Mrs.", infers marriage

SSE: South South East

STAT: Statistic

STE: French, abbreviated Sainte, "street"

TGIF: Thank God It's Friday

TNT: Trinitrotoluene

USSR: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

Foreign Words

ALA: French, "in a specified style or manner"

AMI: French, "friend"

AVEC: French, "with"

ECOLE: French, "school"

ELLE: French, feminine pronoun, "she"

ETATS: French, as in Les Etats-Unis, "The United States"

ETE: French, "summer"

ETRE: French, verb "to be"

ILE: French, "island"

LES: French, plural article

MIDI: French, "noon"

MLLE: French, abbreviated Mademoiselle, title for a young lady, "Miss", infers unwed

MME: French, abbreviated Madame, title for a woman, "Mrs.", infers marriage

NEE: French, "born"

STE: French, abbreviated Sainte, "street"

TETE: French, "head"

TRES: French, "very"

HERR: German, "mister"

HAUS: German, "house"

MEIN: German, "my"

AMAS: Latin, "You (singular) love"

AMAT: Latin, "He, she or it loves"

AMO: Latin, "I love"

ANNO: Latin, part of A.D.

AVE: Latin, "greeting"

ETAL: Latin, abbreviation for "and others"; et alii or et alia

EST: Latin, "is"

ESSE: Latin, "being"

INRE: Latin, "in the matter of"

RES: Latin, "thing"

CASA: Spanish, "house"

ESTE: Spanish, "east"

OLE: Spanish, "cheer"; also refers to country music theater venue the Grand Ole Opry

ORO: Spanish, "gold"

SNA: Spanish, abbreviated Senora, title for a woman, "Mrs.", infers marriage

Abbreviations

ANAT: anatomy

ECOL: ecology, ecological, etc.

ECON: economy, economic, etc.

SCI: science

TRIG: trigonometry

Foreign Currencies

FRANC: France (former)

EURO: European Union

KRONE: Denmark and Norway

KRONA: Sweden

PESO: Mexico

MARK: Germany (former)

Suffixes & Prefixes

AERO-: of or relating to air or aviation

-ANA: things associated with a person, place or area of interest, e.g. Americana

ANTI-: opposed to, against

-ADE: commonly paired with lemon or lime; a summer drink

ECO-: representing ecology

-EER: denoting a person engaged with a particular activity, e.g. a puppeteer

-ENE: Chemical or hydrocarbon suffix; denoting a habitant, e.g. Nazarene Chemical or hydrocarbon suffix; also a directional abbreviation, East North East

-ESE: Common suffix referring to language, Japanese, Chinese; also a directional abbreviation, East South East

-EST: Superlative suffix; also refers to a ballpark figure

-ESS: denotes female gender, adulteress

-ETTE: denoting small size, imitation or substitute, or feminine gender

NEO-: new or revived

Places

AGRA: Indian city of Taj Mahal

ALPS: Swiss Alps; high mountain or snowcapped one;

ANA: Santa Ana, California; also refers to the Santa Ana winds

ELBA: An island off of Tuscany, Italy; Napoleon's island of exileEIRE: Ireland

ERIE: One of the Great Lakes, Lake Erie in Toledo; a port city in Pennsylvania

ERIN: Ireland, poetically

ESTE: Villa D'Este, hotel in Lake Como, Italy

ESTES: As in Estes Park, Colorado

NAPA: California wine country

OSLO: Norwegian capital city

PASO: As in El Paso, Texas

RENO: Nevada city

STLO: Saint Lo, WWII Normandy invasion town

TERRE: As in Terre Haute, Indiana

UTAH: American state

Sayings & Expressions

ADO: As in "Much Ado About Nothing", hubbub, to make a do of something

AHA: As in Aha!, an exclamation to express satisfaction, triumph, or surprise

ALA: As in pie ala mode; in a specified style or manner; also a shortening for the state of Alabama

ALAS: An exclamation to express grief, pity, or concern

AMEN: prayer's end; meaning "so be it"

ASIF: As in "yeah right!" or "you wish!"

EGAD: An exclamation to express surprise, anger or affirmation

IDO: An expression referring to wedding vows or a bachelor's last words

ISEE: An expression communicating understanding, "Gotcha", I get it

Opera

ALTO: singing voice below the highest range and above tenor; lowest female adult range

ARIA: long, accompanied song for a solo voice for the opera

OPERA: Opera itself is a common answer to clues; a dramatic work set to music for singers and instrumentalists

TENOR: singing voice between baritone and alto or countertenor; the highest of the adult male range

IGOR: Russian opera by Borodin, titled Prince Igor, also refers to composer Stravinsky

Biblical

ADAM: first man created by God

EDEN: paradise described in the book of Genesis

ENOS: son of Seth, grandson of Adam

EVE: first woman created by God

ESAU: brother of Jacob; son of Isaac

ABEL: murdered by brother Cain; son of Adam and Eve

EZRA: Book of Ezra in the Bible, Old Testament and Hebrew Tanakh

Sports

ACE: tennis & golf, a tennis serve; hitting a golf ball in a hole in one shot

LOVE: tennis, score of zero

EPEE: fencing, sword

IRON: golf, golf club; also referred to as the action of smoothing out wrinkles; tool used to smooth out wrinkles; hard metal

LIE: golf, ball position

OAR: rowing, pole with a flat blade

TEE: golf, peg used to hold golf ball

SOURCES

  • Arnot, Michelle. Four-Letter Words And Other Secrets of a Crossword Insider. New York: Penguin Group, 2008.
  • Creadon, Patrick and O'Malley, Christine. (2006). Wordplay. USA: Grinder Productions.
  • Reynaldo, Amy. How to Conquer the New York Times Crossword Puzzle Tips, Tricks and Techniques to Master America's Favorite Puzzle. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2007.

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