Friday, June 16, 2006


Step Right Up

We've got prizes, prizes, prizes.

Let's get a little action happening around here. It's true I'm not the most assiduous blogger, so please forgive me my occasionalness as I now try to rope you back in. That's why I'm resorting to the

Lists, Lists and More Lists Contest

That's right. The Next Best Thing wants to hear from you. Over the next few weeks, this space will be devoted to informal polls of reader favorites and pet peeves. We begin with:

All I Really Need to Know I Learned From Crossword Puzzles

The idea here is that every solver possesses a body of knowledge gleaned exclusively from puzzles. It's fair to say I might never have heard of "baseball great" Mel OTT were it not for his tendency to frequent the New York Times crossword.

List as many examples as you can in the comments field. A prize goes to the person who has not only the most entertaining list of words but who can also tell an interesting story in connection with one or more of those words. Stories must be true. Editor permitting, you may end up in the book.

Deadline is Thursday, June 22 at 5pm EDT. The winner (chosen by me) receives Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon's superb Mensa Cryptic Crosswords.

Next Friday: Words and Names That Would Otherwise Be Long Forgotten Were It Not for the Crossword Puzzle.


Blogger Orange said...

Well, you've got your biology lesson: fish (OPAH, HAKE), fowl (ERN[E], ANI), and assorted beasts (STOAT, the infamous ANOA) that seldom get a shout-out anywhere in the newspaper other than the crossword.

You learn plenty of geography: umpteen rivers (the NEVA, the SAONE, the AMU Darya), mountains (Mt. OSSA), and European towns (ST LO, CAEN, ENNA, BARI).

You pick up knowledge about people you might not read about elsewhere. There are the unforgettable forgettable people (OONA Chaplin, UTA Hagen) and the man apparently named after a constellation (ARA Parseghian). In Crossword Hollywood, the most famous director is ELIA Kazan; Spielberg and Scorsese are nobodies. The most popular singers ever must be ETTA James, ELLA Fitzgerald (well, she totally earns her place in the crossword sun), ENYA, and REBA McEntire. And who could be content if they didn't know ERTE grooved on Art Deco?

Then there's the quaint vocabulary. The SOT couldn't finish his dinner and left plenty of ORTS.

One's knowledge of architecture would be incomplete without OGEE and APSE.

11:57 PM  
Blogger Lance said...

Far and away my favorite clue/answer pair, when I was copyediting some Will Weng crosswords for Random House, was "Arikara" as a clue for REE. I figured, well, better check it, so I looked up REE in the Third Unabridged. And sure enough, there it was: "ree(3), noun, usually capitalized: Arikara".

I mean, at least Orange learned that opahs and hakes are fish and that the Neva was a river. All I learned from the crossword is that a Ree is an Arikara.

2:37 AM  
Anonymous ruby said...

I have no stories, but can add some words that were either introduced to me or simply kept alive in my brain solely via NYT puzzle.

eft <-- an immature newt!

EERO Saarinen, architect
There was also an athlete Arno Saarinen -- I wouldn't be surpised if he'd made it into a puzzle.

I've seen the river ODER.

INGE appeared again recently (as did Etta).

Thank you orange, you got my memory going.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous Doug Peterson said...

I first got into crosswords when I was a kid, and one clue that always seemed to pop up was "Lamb" or "Lamb's alias" or some other similar variation. It didn't take me long to learn that the answer was ELIA, but had I no idea why. For years, I just assumed that 'elia' was a type of sheep.

Also, virtually all of my opera knowledge has come from crosswords. It's amazing how much I've picked up about AIDA from crossword clues.

11:38 AM  
Anonymous kostia said...

Whenever I flip through the channels and pass golf on TV, I think of Ernie ELS, and how I'd never know he existed were it not for his crossword name.

My best friend named her daughter NEVA, after a river she'd been to see but which I only knew from answers one space too short to be VOLGA.

The word ORT, for table scraps, comes up in puzzles a lot but I have yet to successfully use it in life. Not even TextTwist, the computerized anagram game I'm addicted to, will accept it.

EERO Saarinen isn't the only architect who dominates crossword puzzles; I.M. PEI shows up all the time too.

I don't especially want to be famous, but if I get there in another life I hope to have a three- or four-letter name made mostly of vowels. It's clearly the fastest path to immortality.

12:17 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

Kostia, I used "orts" in a high-school paper. The teacher thought I must have meant something else—he must not be a crossword fan.

1:05 PM  
Anonymous ephram zimbalist said...

my name pops up all the time.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous ruby said...


Visionary Public Radio Martyr Olsher

2:15 PM  
Anonymous ruby said...


Prize Winning Author Olsher

2007 ??? Prize Winner Olsher

That's better.

2:32 PM  
Anonymous Will Nediger said...

It's amazing how much I know about Ren -- his last name is Hoek (there's a diaeresis on there somewhere), he was originally voiced by creator John Kricfalusi, etc. But I couldn't even tell you what species Stimpy is. In fact, I think I'm going to put Stimpy in a crossword right now, so he can have his place in the sun.

2:52 PM  
Blogger Orange said...

Stimpy's a cat (Stimpson J. Cat) with a bulbous nose and well-shaped buttocks. And when Ren had a mind-control device affixed to his head, he ironed Stimpy's underwear—though I don't think Stimpy generally wore underwear.

9:06 PM  
Blogger mellocat said...

All my knowledge of rap music comes from crosswords. I know there are rappers named DRDRE, ICET, LLCOOLJ, PDIDDY, TONELOC, DMX, COOLIO, SNOOPDOGG, VANILLAICE, EMINEM, SISQO, RUNDMC, LUDACRIS, JAYZ, LILKIM...that's more artists/bands than I could probably name for music I actually do like to listen to. And I get the sense they like to spell things funny in their titles (as well as their names).

The only other thing that occurs to me that I haven't seen someone else mention is that I feel like I've seen the movie ULEE's Gold, despite never having heard it mentioned outside of crossword puzzles.

12:35 AM  
Anonymous AJD said...

From crosswords I've learned of the existence of ESAI Morales and Jean ARP, as well as the difference between ASTI (a wine-growing region of Italy) and ASTA (Nick and Nora Charles's dog, apparently). One time I was doing some Games Magazine puzzles backstage during a play I was in, and three consecutive crosswords in the same magazine all used ORT.

9:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wanted to respond to Doug Peterson's comment. Lamb's alias answer in crosswords is Elia. It is the alias of Charles Lamb who was a writer in the early 1800s. : )

10:56 AM  

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