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

Ship on the ocean.
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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.

2. ARGO

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

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

View of the sea.
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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

Portrait of an emu.
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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.
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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.
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

A man's hand next to his ear.
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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

Two ducks walking on a beach.
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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

Neon Soho sign.
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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

Close-up of an eye stye.
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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.

The Ohio State University Is Trying to Trademark the ‘The’ in Its Name

As any good Ohioan knows, there’s a big difference between an Ohio state university and The Ohio State University. But with countless other public colleges across the state, including the similarly named Ohio University, it’s not hard for out-of-towners or prospective students to get confused. To further distinguish themselves from other institutions (and to capitalize on merchandise opportunities, no doubt), The Ohio State University is pursuing a trademark for the The in its name.

According to Smithsonian.com, trademark lawyer Josh Gerben first broke the news on Twitter, where he shared a short video that included the trademark application itself, as well as examples of how the university plans to use the word on apparel. One is a white hat emblazoned with a red THE, and the other is a red scoop-necked T-shirt with a white THE and the Ohio State logo beneath it. Gerben predicts that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office will initially deny the trademark request on the basis that those examples aren’t sufficient trademark use, but the university would have an opportunity to try again.

The Columbus Dispatch reports that university spokesperson Chris Davey confirmed the trademark application, saying that “Ohio State works to vigorously protect the university’s brand and trademarks.” He’s not exaggerating; the university has secured trademarks for legendary coaches Urban Meyer and Woody Hayes, plus more than 150 trademarks and pending applications across an impressive 17 countries.

The school's 2017 request to trademark the initials "OSU" provoked an objection from Oklahoma State University, which is also known as OSU, but the two schools eventually decided that they could both use it, as long as each refrained from producing clothing or content that could cause confusion about which school was being referenced.

The Ohio State University, perhaps most famous for its marching band, public research endeavors, and legendary athletic teams, is not impervious to social media mockery, however.

Ohio University responded with this:

And the University of Michigan, OSU’s longtime sports rival, suggested that it should trademark of:

However bizarre this trademark may seem, it's far from the weirdest request th Patent and Trademark Office has ever received. Check out these colors and scents that are also trademarked.

[h/t Smithsonian.com]

Where Did the Term Brownie Points Come From?

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bhofack2/iStock via Getty Images

In a Los Angeles Times column published on March 15, 1951, writer Marvin Miles observed a peculiar phrase spreading throughout his circle of friends and the social scene at large. While standing in an elevator, he overheard the man next to him lamenting “lost brownie points.” Later, in a bar, a friend of Miles's who had stayed out too late said he would never “catch up” on his brownie points.

Miles was perplexed. “What esoteric cult was this that immersed men in pixie mathematics?” he wrote. It was, his colleagues explained, a way of keeping “score” with their spouses, of tallying the goodwill they had accrued with the “little woman.”

Over the decades, the phrase brownie points has become synonymous with currying favor, often with authority figures such as teachers or employers. So where exactly did the term come from, and what happens when you “earn” them?

The most pervasive explanation is that the phrase originated with the Brownies, a subsect of the Girl Scouts who were encouraged to perform good deeds in their communities. The Brownies were often too young to be official Girl Scouts and were sometimes the siblings of older members. Originally called Rosebuds in the UK, they were renamed Brownies when the first troops were being organized in 1916. Sir Robert Baden-Powell, who had formed the Boy Scouts and was asked to name this new Girl Scout division, dubbed them Brownies after the magical creatures of Scottish folklore that materialized to selflessly help with household chores.

But the Brownies are not the only potential source. In the 1930s, kids who signed up to deliver magazines like The Saturday Evening Post and Ladies' Home Journal from Curtis Publishing were eligible for vouchers labeled greenies and brownies that they could redeem for merchandise. They were not explicitly dubbed brownie points, but it’s not hard to imagine kids applying a points system to the brownies they earned.

The term could also have been the result of wartime rationing in the 1940s, where red and brown ration points could be redeemed for meats.

The phrase didn’t really seem to pick up steam until Miles's column was published. In this context, the married men speaking to Miles believed brownie points could be collected by husbands who remembered birthdays and anniversaries, stopped to pick up the dry cleaning, mailed letters, and didn’t spend long nights in pubs speaking to newspaper columnists. The goal, these husbands explained, was never to get ahead; they merely wanted to be considered somewhat respectable in the eyes of their wives.

Later, possibly as a result of its usage in print, grade school students took the phrase to mean an unnecessary devotion to teachers in order to win them over. At a family and faculty meeting at Leon High in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1956, earning brownie points was said to be a serious problem. Also called apple polishing, it prompted other students in class to shame their peers for being friendly to teachers. As a result, some were “reluctant to be civil” for fear they would be harassed for sucking up.

In the decades since that time, the idiom has become attached to any act where goodwill can be expected in return, particularly if it’s from someone in a position to reward the act with good grades or a promotion. As for Miles: the columnist declared his understanding of brownie points came only after a long night of investigation. Arriving home late, he said, rendered him “pointless.”

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