10 Common Crossword Puzzle Words You Should Know

iStock
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
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.
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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.
iStock

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.

11 Thoughtful Gifts For Word Lovers

iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic
iStock.com/Jelena Danilovic

It’s easy to spot the logophiles in your life: They’re the people who are addicted to word games, have full libraries at home, or who are always quick to provide you with the word that’s on the tip of your tongue. This holiday season, indulge your loved one’s passion for words with a gift they’ll appreciate.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. Penguin Minis

Box set of miniature books.
Amazon

If you can’t choose just one book to give to the avid reader in your life, this collection makes an excellent stocking stuffer. The miniature box set packs four titles from John Green into an ultra-portable package. Each book is the size of a cell phone, and with onion skin pages, they’re slimmer than your thumb. The books are meant to be held horizontally, and when it’s time to flip the page, just swipe up.

Find It at Amazon for $27.

2. Moleskine’s Book Journal

Cover of book journal.
Moleskine

The new year is a great opportunity to start a book journal. This one from Moleskine is specifically designed for documenting someone’s reading history, with sections for recording general information about the title as well as jotting down impressions and memorable quotes. Like other Moleskine products, this notebook comes with useful features like ribbon bookmarks and an expandable inner pocket.

Find It at Moleskine for $30 and also at these other retailers:

3. Shakespearean Insults Chart

Chart of Shakespearean insults.
Uncommon Goods

Give this chart to someone you know and instantly add color to their insult arsenal. The poster not only list dozens of scathing jabs from the works of Shakespeare, but it also breaks them down into categories like “body qualities” and “personal attributes” and subcategories like “knaves” and “dunghills.” The chart measures 24 by 18 inches and comes with a magnetic birch frame for an extra $30.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $25.

4. KenzaPad

Leather pads for taking notes.
Scott MacMillan, Kickstarter

Smartphones are convenient for taking notes on the go, but it’s hard to beat the tactile sensation of jotting down a thought with a pen and paper. The KenzaPad combines the best elements from both mediums into one handy tool. The pad looks and acts like a wallet on the outside, with pockets for holding keys, cards, and pens. Flip open the magnetic seal and it transforms into a notepad you can hold with one hand and write in with the other. And no thicker than a smartphone, the KenzaPad neatly slips into a purse or pocket.

Find It at Kickstarter or $20 and up.

5. Book Darts

Container of book tabs.
Amazon

Book darts give book lovers ultimate control over their reading experience. Instead of putting down a book mid-paragraph, or rushing to the next page before adding a bookmark, these tools let readers save their place down to the line. With 50 metal tabs per package, they’re also a great, reusable alternative to highlighters or sticky notes.

Find It at Amazon for $8.

6.Personalized Tumble Tower

Tumble tower with engraved blocks.
Uncommon Goods

Give this classic party game a personal touch by customizing the blocks. Before ordering the super-sized set, you can choose to have the names of you and a loved one engraved on one half of the blocks and a special date engraved on the other half. The result makes for a beautiful keepsake, but this set is also meant to be played with: It even comes with a durable carrying sack for lugging it to and from parties.

Find It: Uncommon Goods for $165.

7. Mini Crossword Set

New York Times crossword puzzle set.
The New York Times Store

This mini crossword set comes with everything word lovers need to complete The New York Times’s famous puzzles on the go. Each book comes with 150 condensed crossword puzzles, and the pencil set and carrying case make it easy to fill them out on the train, in the office, or anywhere else the mood strikes.

Find It at:

8. Leatherbound Reference Books

Leather bound reference books.
Food52

Even in today’s internet age, every household should have a few hard-copy reference books on the shelf. These books from Food52 double as elegant statement pieces. Each volume in the set—a dictionary, an atlas, and a thesaurus—is bound in the same tan vachetta leather used to make Italian handbags. The pages of the dictionary and thesaurus are edged in gold, and the atlas in oxblood red.

Find It at Food52 for $172 and up.

9. Due Date Card Necklace

Necklace with library due date card charm.
Jeannine’s Jewels, Etsy

A stamped due date card immediately brings to mind long days curled up with a good library book. At the Etsy shop Jeannine’s Jewels, the familiar item has been turned into a handmade charm pendant. The card is protected inside a filigree bezel and strung on a sterling silver-plated ball chain.

Find It at Etsy for $16.

10. Retro Series Scrabble

Box of retro Scrabble game.
Amazon

Scrabble has been updated several times since its debut, but the original edition remains a classic. This Retro Series-edition of Scrabble is the same version of the game that appeared on shelves in 1949, complete with vintage wood tiles and racks. Whether or not the players stick to words that were dictionary-official 70 years ago is up to them.

Find It at Amazon for $14.

11. Banned Books Socks

Socks with titles of banned books printed on them.
Uncommon Goods

Even the most widely beloved books in literature have received plenty of hate. This pair of banned books socks highlights classic books that have all been pulled from shelves at some point in their histories. One sock features famous banned book titles like The Great Gatsby, Lord of the Flies, and To Kill a Mockingbird, while the other is covered in blacked-out text.

Find It at Uncommon Goods for $10.

Thoughtful Human's Line of Plantable Greeting Cards Is Here for Life's Most Delicate Scenarios

Thoughtful Human
Thoughtful Human

Not sure how to make amends with that family member you had a fight with a couple years back? Perhaps you want to offer support to a friend going through a painful time—like with depression, cancer, or various kinds of grief—but don't know how. If you're having trouble finding the right words to say, Thoughtful Human wants to help. This unorthodox card company is challenging people to communicate in ways that show "radical compassion and empathy."

Thoughtful Human is essentially the Hallmark of strained relationships and awkward ice-breakers. The messages get straight to the point and say the words you might have trouble voicing aloud. "I was being really selfish and immature. I'm sorry," reads one. "Still mad, but life is short and tradition is tradition. Happy birthday," reads another.

But what truly makes these cards a literal alternative to extending an olive branch is that they're also plantable? All of the cards are made of seed paper, and they generally transform into wildflowers within 10-14 days of being planted. View it as a symbol of the restorative power of communication.

A variety of cards
Thoughtful Human

In a video posted to the company's website, Thoughtful Human's founder, Ali O'Grady, explains that the cards are designed for "dynamic relationships and challenging life circumstances." It's also a deeply personal project: She decided to start the company after losing her father to cancer.

There are cards dedicated to addiction and rehab, depression, grief, injury, long-distance relationships, and other delicate scenarios. Of course, you'll also find plenty of cards for happier times, including thank-you notes and congratulatory messages.

And if you haven't sent out your Christmas cards yet, consider this anti-holiday holiday card: "Shout out to that stranger's baby who locked in a lifetime of undeserved gifts, pie, and vacation time for everyone."

These cards and more can be found on Thoughtful Human's website, on Target.com, and at select Whole Foods stores in California's Bay Area.

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