Weekend Word Wrap: cryptic puzzle no. 1

As promised a couple weeks back, today we present Tom Toce's extremely clever and very challenging word puzzle composed mostly of cryptic clues and a few straight-up anagrams. If you're just joining the fun, check out my last two Word Wraps to get up to speed.

I'm going to turn the floor over to Tom Toce now, but before I do, let me just wish all of you luck in solving this. First person to figure out which three words fit in the diagram below and slap "˜em down in the comments, along with an explanation of how you arrived at the answer (including how you solved the cryptic clues!) gets a copy of the mental_floss book, Instant Knowledge. May the best Wordie win!

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Check out the clues after the jump...

Below are five groups of clues. Solving them produces a six-letter word, a five-letter word, a four-letter word, and a three-letter word for each group. Within a group, the six-letter word comprises all five letters of the five-letter word, which comprises all four letters of the four-letter word, which—guess what?—comprises all three letters of the three-letter word.

For example, one group's clues might lead to BUTANE, BEAUT, TUBE, and BUT. The extraneous letters (i.e. the N from BUTANE "“ BEAUT, the A from BEAUT "“ TUBE, and the E from TUBE "“ BUT) go into the diagram above.

An anagram of the extraneous letters from group one fill the top row and make a new five-letter word. An anagram of the extraneous letters from group two will have one repeated letter. Delete the repeated letter, scramble, and make a new four-letter word for row two. An anagram of the extraneous letters from group three will have two repeated letters; delete them, scramble, and get a new three-letter word for row three.

Along with the N from the example above, the other 6-5 letters might be E-R-E-V, allowing you to make NEVER (NERVE, too, but never mind NERVE for now, the actual five letters can produce only one word). If the 5-4 letters were K-P-I-S-P, you could make SKIP by omitting the second P. And if the 4-3 letters were I-I-E-P-E, you could similarly make PIE and enter NEVER SKIP PIE into the diagram, for example.

Hint: The actual completed diagram will be another useful (mental) health tip. Another hint: Ignore punctuation, which is intended to mislead. Yet another hint: Well, ignore punctuation except if a clue has a final exclamation point (!), which by cryptic clue convention signals an "&Lit" type of clue. If you don't know what an &Lit clue is, you can still do okay, but you might want to review David's intro and follow a link or two. An incredible hint: because this is the first time a cryptic puzzle has appeared here: The answer to the first clue is "Els." If you don't see why, you probably need to review the general cryptic clue rules again.

THE CLUES

Group A

U. S. Open champ trains (3)

A great offer to travel smoothly in the Sound (4)

Mosh alert! At its core is soft rock (5)

No good comes from halogens' eerie glows (6)

Group B

A tree grows in Belmar (3)

The doctor, full of himself, said in Spanish, "Show your cards" (4)

The top prize? Stick your nose in to the auditorium (5)

One often in distress led Sam astray (6)

Group C

Berkowitz's father? Or Uncle? (3)

Former giant department store! (4)

Typical teacher's comment sounds pretty lurid (5)

Contemptibly small and red (6)

Group D

Famous Norwegian golf position (3)

Yodeling in the middle of Zabar's (4)

Even characters in Neil's indies leave something out (5)

Fielder runs out foul to foul (6)

Group E

That woman is Zeus's main squeeze, for the most part (3)

Detect strains audibly at this position (4)

A second note, alas, to the Germans is the most that can be accomplished (5)

Guevara, man, said this might happen after a shot (6)

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps here.

6 Wordsmiths Who Couldn't Spell

This month marks my 6-year anniversary blogging for mental_floss. It also marks mentalfloss.com's 6-year anniversary in the blogosphere. To celebrate the more than 2,000 daily posts, I'll be republishing some of my favorite posts from these last half-dozen years, starting today, running to the end of the month. Hope you enjoy this stroll down memory lane...

(Originally published on Feb. 3, 2009)

1. Alfred Mosher Butts

Best known for: inventing Scrabble (first called Lexiko, and then later, Criss Cross Words)
But did you know: We owe our Scrabble addictions to the Depression? Butts was an architect who suddenly found himself unemployed. With nothing but time on his hands, he set about to invent a board game (he must have been, er, bored, without work).
So how bad was his spelling? By his own admission, Butts says he wasn't a good speller, and was delighted when his Scrabble score hit 300. Apparently his wife Nina, a former school teacher, usually outplayed him.

2. William Faulkner

Best known for: his stream of consciousness technique in such celebrated novels as his 1929 classic, The Sound and the Fury
But did you know: the title of the novel comes from a Macbeth soliloquy? "It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."
So how bad was his spelling? One of Faulkner's editors at Random House, Albert Erskine, said, "I know that he did not wish to have carried through from typescript to printed book his typing mistakes, misspellings (as opposed to coinages), faulty punctuation and accidental repetition. He depended on my predecessors, and later on me, to point out such errors and correct them; and though we never achieved anything like a perfect performance, we tried."

3. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Best known for: The Great Gatsby
But did you know: The novel didn't sell well during Fitzgerald's lifetime? (fewer than 25,000 copies)
So how bad was his spelling? Preeminent American literary critic Edmund Wilson described This Side of Paradise as "one of the most illiterate books of any merit ever published."

4. Ernest Hemingway

Best known for: those great stoic characters, like Robert Jordan in the 1940 novel For Whom the Bell Tolls
But did you know: Hemingway was decorated as a hero after being injured during WWI? And served as a war correspondent in both the Spanish Civil War and WWII? (in case you ever wondered how he got all those Spanish Civil War details down so well in For Whom the Bell Tolls)
So how bad was his spelling? Whenever his newspaper editors complained about it, he'd retort, "Well, that's what you're hired to correct!"

5. John Keats

Best known for: the 1820 poem, Ode on a Grecian Urn
But did you know: tuberculosis took the young Keats in 1821, at only 26 years of age? The same disease had already claimed his mother and younger brother.
So how bad was his spelling? In a letter to his great love Fanny Brawne, Keats spelled the color purple, purplue. This generated a longer conversation between the two, as Keats tried to save face by suggesting he'd meant to coin a new portmanteaux - a cross between purple and blue.

6. Jane Austen

Best known for: her elegant novels, like Pride and Prejudice, published in 1813
But did you know: she'd actually written the novel a good 15 years earlier, under the title First Impressions, but the publisher rejected it? (Let this be a lesson to all ye aspiring writers!) Then, after Sense and Sensibility was published in 1811, there was interest in the older story, which, after some editing, was eventually published with the title we know today.
So how bad was her spelling? She once misspelled one of her teenage works as "Love and Freindship" and is infamously known to have spelt scissors as scissars.

Check out all past Weekend Word Wraps>>

Phrase Origins: The Real McCoy and On The Wagon

We use these hackneyed expressions all the time (hence the hackneyed element), but where do they come from? I’m reviving the Weekend Word Wrap feature from years ago to take a look at a couple each week or so. First up, The Real McCoy.

The Real McCoy

Our version is actually a variation of the original Scottish phrase dating back to the mid 19th century, “A drappie o’ the real MacKay" What’s interesting here is that the ay in MacKay is actually pronounced like “eye.”
But what about the real meaning? Well, there are a few interesting theories. The first refers to a brand of fine whisky that was made in Scotland in the 1850s and then was marketed as 'the real MacKay' starting in 1870. Another theory involves Elijah McCoy, a Canadian inventor who was educated in Scotland, who invented a successful machine for lubricating engines that wound up spawning myriad copies, all inferior to the original. The design was patented in 1872.

On The Wagon

The term “On The Wagon” also has a few origin stories but my favorite derives from prisoners who were on their way to jail on the back of a wagon. They were allowed one last drink in the local pub before the enforced temperance inside their cells. The other popular one, and the one many say is more accurate (though one can never be sure) is about being "on the water wagon." Back in the day, water wagons would come through town hosing down the streets to keep the dust from getting out of hand. So if you were sitting atop this wagon, you were drinking water, not alcohol.

Have any phrases or expressions you want me to take a look at next week? Leave your suggestions in the comments below.

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