Ibis and emus and asps! Oh, my!
Crosswords are populated by unusual names and nouns such as these, as necessary to the grid as eggs to an omelet. These three- and four-letter staples hold together everything from five-star cruciverbalist concoctions to simple everyday fare. Without them, things fall apart. The center cannot hold.
And now, as we celebrate 100 years of the crossword puzzle (the first puzzle was published in the New York World on Dec. 21, 1913), we offer a little puzzling insight.
To regular puzzlers, there is no need to explain that the answer to the clue needle case is etui, that the definition of laic is non-clergy, and that an obi is the sash of a kimono.
Greats on the grid are not Picasso or Renoir but Erte and Arp (father of Dada, another puzzle word).
And Olivier is no Esai (Morales), (Theda) Bara or Emil (Jannings – the first person presented with an Oscar) – nor is he an Uma (Thurman) or Uta (Hagen).
Ono, as in Yoko, is bigger than both Jesus and the Beatles on the grid; but of those Beatles, Ringo is the star. (A five-letter exception to the rule above.)
Sorry, Sarah Vaughan. The divas are Ella and Etta and Yma (Fitzgerald, James and Sumac). But Gaga is gaining.
The REO and GTO are parked in far more spaces than any Toyota or Chrysler.
When it comes to foreign languages, French is the lingua franca, and Nice the city that launched a thousand clues.
Fish is a dish served short in crosswords; cod, eel and uni are your entrées. For dessert, try the baba (rum cake).
Common flora include the lily and iris; common fauna, the ibis, emu and asp.
Aces in sports are Ott (baseball’s Mel) or Orr (hockey’s Bobby); your architects, Eero (Saarinen) and (I.M.) Pei. The ogee, apse and nave are the design standouts.
What world leaders do appear on the grid tend to be Asian; Mao and Deng, of course, but on occasion, U Nu. (Former prime minister of Burma. Who knew?)
And no roundup of words would be complete without mentioning that top dog, the mascot of all crosswords, the leader of the pack, Asta.
Oh – and Toto, too.