How Puzzlers Sneak In a Helping Hand On Tough Clues

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Did you know ANCISTROID at 26-Across on Tuesday? I sure didn’t. It was one of the words that the recent winner of the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee, Zaila Avant-Garde, had to spell en route to victory.

When a crossword writer wants to use a very tough word like that in a grid, there’s a rule: all the words that cross it must be virtually unmissable, and clued easily. Not much worse when solving than two obscure entries crossing in a grid, forcing you to take a near-random guess at it.

So let’s see how I did with the crossings on ANCISTROID, which means “hook-shaped,” in case you’re interested. The ten words crossing it were SKATE, TONER, RACES, ELI, BEASTS, TOW, AREA, LOIN, OINK, and EDGY. I dare say I went 10-for-10 there, as practically every English-speaking, crossword-solving (or even non-crossword-solving) adult will know all of those words.

But it’s not just the words; the clues also have to be easy. Crossing a word like ANCISTROID is no place to get cute with your clues, unless you want to aggravate your fans! And none of these ten clues was particularly tricky; the toughest one was [“___ of the Southern Wild” (2012 drama nominated for Best Picture)] for BEASTS. Sure, maybe you didn’t see the movie, but with BEA?TS sitting there it could only be one thing.

Ready to start using ANCISTROID in real life now that you’ve learned it from a crossword? If you tweet it, include #beastxword so we can all see.

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