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10 Common Crossword Puzzle Words You Should Know

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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

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 towards the lee.

2. ARGO

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

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

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

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

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 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

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

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.

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Art
Look Closely at This Footstep Illusion
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The best optical illusions are the ones you can try at home. Take the footstep trick below: All you need to recreate it is a white sheet of paper with black stripes and a transparent film sheet marked with yellow and blue blocks. It may look simple, but move the film across the page and the colored shapes will appear to shuffle forward like tiny footsteps.

The illusion, recently shared by The Kid Should See This, is the creation of Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a professor with the psychology department at Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan University. He explained the mechanism at work in a paper he published with psychology professor Stuart Anstis in 2015 [PDF].

According to the report, the colored blocks need to be two times the width of the black stripe and either light (like the yellow ones) or dark (the blue ones) for the trick to pay off. The illusion is all about contrast, so the colors are essential. The authors explain:

“When the dark blue squares lie on white stripes, they have high contrast (dark vs. white) and they appear to speed up momentarily. When they lie on black stripes, they have low contrast (dark vs. black) and they appear to slow down. The opposite is true for the light yellow squares.

Consequently, the squares appear to go faster and slower in alternation, like a pair of walking feet.”

The brain takes all sorts of shortcuts when it comes to perceiving color, and most of the time this goes unnoticed. But when an artist knows how to exploit this it can lead to some mend-bending tricks, like this image from Akiyoshi Kitaoka in which three colors appear to be four. Check out more of Kitaoka's psychedelic illusions on his webpage.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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Lightning-Fast Teen Sets New Rubik’s Cube World Record
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In less time than it takes some people to open a pickle jar, 15-year-old Patrick Ponce can solve a Rubik’s Cube. His total time of 4.69 seconds makes him the new holder of the world record for fastest 3-by-3 Rubik’s Cube completion, as highlighted by Compete (and seen in the video below).

Ponce achieved the impressive feat of dexterity at a tournament in Middletown, Virginia, on September 2. He takes the title from the previous Rubik’s Cube speed record holder, Feliks Zemdegs, who solved the puzzle in 4.73 seconds at a competition in Australia in December 2016.

But the teenager may not hold his new position at the top for very long: Expert Rubik's Cubers have been steadily lowering the speed record beneath the 5-second mark since 2015. And human competitors still have a long way to go before solving a cube in 0.887 seconds—that’s the record that was set by a robot in March of 2017.

[h/t Compete]

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