Dictionary.com’s Exclusive Interview with Will Shortz: Part II

Here is the final installment of our interview with Will Shortz, the editor of the New York Times’ Crossword Puzzle and NPR’s Puzzlemaster. Find out his favorite crossword word and why English is the best language to make crosswords in.

Dictionary.com: What are your general ideas about the relationship between language and crosswords?

Will Shortz: The English language may be the best language in the world to write puzzles in because, first of all, we have a huge vocabulary. Second, we often have many synonyms, many ways to express an idea. Another cool thing about English is the number of idioms. Then one of the great things is how spelling and pronunciation often don’t go together, so there are many ways to write clues that involve word play that are satisfying that you wouldn’t be able to do in other languages.

D: So what do the best clues do? How do they operate on a semantic level?

WS: Well, a clue and its answers must be in the same part of speech and mean roughly the same thing. Usually the test on that is that you should be able to interchange a clue and its answer in a sentence and have the same meaning. That’s the basic rule. There are rare exceptions, but that’s basically it.

D: You’ve said before that you try to avoid crosswordese. What exactly is that? And why exactly have you decided to avoid it?

WS: Crosswordese are the words that usually are from the depths of the unabridged dictionary that are very useful to crossword makers because they’re short and they’re full of vowels, but are rarely seen in everyday life. Classic examples are esne, which is an Anglo-Saxon slave, or anoa, it’s a Celebese ox from the Island of Celebes in Indonesia. Those two words, for example, used to appear in crosswords all the time. You could hardly go a week in the New York Times crossword without seeing one or both of those. Nowadays you almost never see them. Those are desperation-only answers because they’re not part of life. You know, crosswords should reflect life and the way people speak. It’s off-putting to encounter words that you don’t know and you don’t think have any purpose in your life. It’s not bad every once in a while to learn an unusual word; I like that. That’s part of crosswords. That’s part of their appeal. But it’s no fun to have words thrown at you that just feel stupid.

D: Qs are pretty rare in crosswords in general because then they have to relate to so many other letters around them.

Will Shortz, crosswords, New York Times, Puzzlemaster, NPR

Will Shortz (Photo by Anthony Loew)

WS: Well, every letter in an American crossword has to cross another word in the other direction. That’s one of the rules of our crossword, not true of English crosswords, but that’s the rule in the United States, every letter has to appear both in a cross word and a down word. So if you have q in one word, it has to appear twice. Every once in a while, let’s say, I have the answer ano. It’s usually clued as “Spanish year.” That’s the basic meaning, but in Spanish it has a tilde and sometimes Spanish-speakers complain that the word año in our crosswords doesn’t have a tilde as it’s supposed to. I just say, the convention in American crosswords is that we don’t worry with accents and other diacritical marks. If you think about it, it would be really hard—you’d never be able to use ano if you have to cross it with another ñ with a tilde.

D: I think that speaks to an interesting balance that you have to strike between the audience’s demand and the exigencies of a great puzzle, which can often butt heads.

WS: Yes, they do. There are at least four daily blogs about the New York Times crossword. I read three of them, and people are always criticizing the obscure words that appear in them and they’re really not that obscure, if you compare the words in the crosswords today to what they were thirty years ago. There’s much more obscurity in the old days. But, that said, there is still a little obscurity that comes in because it’s just really hard to avoid. It’s often impossible to avoid.

D: What are some of the all time best words you’ve ever seen or used in a crossword puzzle?

WS: Wow—ha. Okay, let me think about that. I particularly like phrases, rather than words, but I like words that have unusual letter combinations, like kumquat. Kumquat has appeared twice in the Times crossword, and there’s a reason that it’s appeared only twice even though everyone knows it. It’s because the letter combination is so bizarre that it’s difficult to incorporate in a construction. I like words that are familiar to everybody, but that have unusual letters of the alphabet and that haven’t appeared often in crosswords.

D: Other than table tennis, what are your hobbies? Are you an avid reader?

WS: I read a lot. Not so much books, but I’m online all the time. I read magazines, go to movies, travel a lot. Those are my big things besides table tennis.


Do you ever have trouble with crosswords? Try our crossword solver here!


Will Shortz picks his favorite puzzles here.


Read the first installment of our interview with Will Shortz here.

Nintendo Gears Up for Marketing Blitz

Wireless News March 17, 2005

Wireless News 03-17-2005 Nintendo Gears Up for Marketing Blitz

Nintendo is gearing up to push its products in the U.S. via an early spring marketing blitz that targets “everywhere teens and college students play.” “Thousands of teens and college students will have the opportunity to sample, play and enjoy the hottest new Nintendo systems and games,” said George Harrison, Nintendo of America’s senior vice president of marketing and corporate communications. “Nintendo is reaching out to teens and college students, and now they’re making us a part of their lifestyles.”

The company said each location will have members of the Nintendo Street Team on hand to demo the latest games for Nintendo DS and Nintendo GameCube, as well as a tricked-out Nintendo SUV. Among the details:

Through March 26, Nintendo said it will join tens of thousands of partiers as they invade Panama City Beach, Fla. Nintendo’s presence will be felt at the Boardwalk Beach Resort and at Hammerhead Fred’s, which will house Club DS, a showcase for Nintendo DS. Roving teams will take to the beaches to show off the latest Nintendo products, with the company also sponsoring main-stage contests twice a day. see here best nintendo ds games

Nintendo Street Team members also will be at other trendsetter locations and events like South Padre Island, Texas, through March 26, South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, from March 16 to March 19, Daytona Beach, Fla., from March 15 to March 31, and the Winter Music Conference in Miami from March 22 to March 26. bestnintendodsgamesnow.com best nintendo ds games

On the slopes, Nintendo is the official video game partner of the U.S. Open Snowboarding Championships from March 17 to March 20, and the Burton Demo Tour.

On the stage, Nintendo is sponsoring Taste of Chaos, a 39-city winter music tour featuring six well-known and up-and-coming screamo/ punk bands like My Chemical Romance, The Used, Senses Fail, Killswitch Engage, Saosin and Underoath. Attendees will be able to check out the latest Nintendo games on the tour concourse. The Taste of Chaos runs through April 2.

On the campus, Nintendo is a sponsor of the spring TKO Tour, a free traveling technology tour visiting more than 120,000 students on 15 college campuses through mid-May. The Nintendo Street Team will be on site demonstrating games, plus the Nintendo DS and Nintendo GameCube will be featured in the tour’s high-tech Ultimate Dorm Room display.

On the road, Nintendo will be a part of the SoBe Beverages Love Bus Tour, where six large SoBe vehicles outfitted with Nintendo video game kiosks will tour the country from March 17 through October to show off Nintendo games at some 500 sports, music and lifestyle events.

((Comments on this story may be sent to newsdesk@10meters.com))


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      If a figure is a cube, then it has eight vertices Converse: If a figure has eight vertices, then it is a cube. Inverse: If a figure is not a cube, then it does not have eight vertices. Contrapositive: If a figure does not have eight vertices, then it is not a cube.

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  13. bonie keem -  May 4, 2015 - 11:59 pm

    crosswords are fun

  14. Julie K -  April 13, 2015 - 1:34 am

    This site could stand to use less “crosswordese” such as etui and olla.

    • hanna -  July 31, 2015 - 1:03 am

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  16. Kate Ashley -  December 22, 2013 - 4:04 am

    You really need to change “anoe” to “anoa”. It seems odd that Dictionary.com doesn’t spell check!

  17. mary torres :)2gud4u:) -  May 22, 2012 - 5:37 pm

    heeyy what yall bin up 2 latly?

    • alireza -  April 20, 2015 - 6:21 pm


    • bob -  April 21, 2015 - 10:50 am

      you cant spell and your on dictionary.ccom

    • bob -  April 21, 2015 - 10:51 am

      you cant spell and your on dictionary.com

      • butterflies -  March 8, 2016 - 3:11 pm

        Don’t correct other people’s spelling when you spelled “you’re” wrong.

  18. buscar pareja -  March 16, 2012 - 4:21 am

    An impressive share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a co-worker who has been conducting a little homework on this. And he actually bought me lunch because I stumbled upon it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to discuss this issue here on your website.

  19. Marian Marius -  March 16, 2012 - 12:15 am

    Major thankies for the article.Much thanks again. Really Cool.

  20. Taylor Chadens -  March 5, 2012 - 4:27 pm

    What happens if I say a bad word? Will I be banded??? So confuesed…

  21. mary torres so loved -  February 23, 2012 - 1:26 pm

    @tomboat how did u do those chinees letters?

  22. tomsboat -  February 21, 2012 - 6:11 pm

    to Neil660, cool, 牛过独木桥=生 is a good brain teaser, I think English is more logical, and Chinese is more jumping, so English is better for crossword and Chinese is better for brain teaser.

  23. sherryyu -  February 8, 2012 - 1:02 pm

    this is acutuall werid yo

  24. Ole TBoy -  February 7, 2012 - 10:21 am

    Perhaps the greatest NY Times crossword appeared after the election in which Clinton defeated Dole. The clue was something like “winner of the last presidential election.” It could be answered with either candidate’s name (Clinton or BobDole–each with 7 letters) although it required using the correct, but different, surrounding words. Absolutely brilliant.

  25. Neil660 -  February 7, 2012 - 4:59 am

    “The English language may be the best language in the world to write puzzles in”
    I’ve heard so many people talk about the superiority of the English language over other languages, if not in terms of puzzles, then in some other, almost arbitrary way. But let me ask, how many of these people who lay claim to such assertions are actually able to enjoy puzzles in other languages? I’ve been studying Chinese for 5 years, and it would be impossible to fathom the richness and depth that the Chinese script brings to brain teasers, albeit in a completely different way to that of inflectional languages.
    Here’s for those who can: 牛过独木桥=生

    • Steven Huang -  January 16, 2016 - 7:41 am

      你好!Hi Neil660! I speak Chinese too!

  26. Paula -  February 7, 2012 - 3:57 am

    Avery, where is the mistake? Can’t figure it out.

  27. John -  February 6, 2012 - 7:49 pm

    Hi Will, I am an ex-Brit living in Australia. I never knew that every letter in American crosswords has to be used twice. Are cryptic crosswords common in America?

  28. Dan Heck -  February 6, 2012 - 7:42 pm

    Avery, you are a cheater face.

  29. J-Wu33 -  February 6, 2012 - 7:27 pm

    My grandmother always comes to me asking questions about words I can think of for a certain crossword… Still a great way to kill time! :)

  30. Cheryl -  February 6, 2012 - 7:18 pm

    eft – a newt found mostly in crossword puzzles

  31. bholland -  February 6, 2012 - 6:17 pm

    Long time fan of Will Shortz. Good to hear from him in a forum such as this.

  32. Vanessa -  February 6, 2012 - 5:32 pm

    In, Spanish, ano (without a tilde) means anus, so it might be preferable to leave that particular word alone.

  33. Vicaari -  February 6, 2012 - 4:40 pm

    Yes, interesting article. Enjoyed it

    Thanks Dictionary.com

  34. important_twaddle! -  February 6, 2012 - 2:31 pm


  35. Avery -  February 6, 2012 - 12:31 pm

    Will Shortz, you are truly an interesting guy. Thanks Hot Word for making this!

    Oh P.S. at one point, it says “what are you hobbies”… notice the mistake?:)

  36. Man-o-War -  February 6, 2012 - 11:58 am

    For future reference, if anyone wants to use ANO in a puzzle and want to keep the Spanish language purists off their back, just use the clue “Portuguese year”. In Portuguese the word “year” is just A-N-O — no tildes on N’s in Portuguese, just on some O’s and A’s.

  37. n b k 78 -  February 6, 2012 - 11:05 am

    i like pie

    • Larry -  September 19, 2016 - 11:06 am

      R u Gay?

  38. j.a.z -  February 6, 2012 - 10:17 am

    ilove refrigerators

  39. julanda -  February 6, 2012 - 10:13 am


  40. MOREWILLSHORTZ | BLOGCHI@mayopia.com -  February 6, 2012 - 9:07 am

    [...] ‘More Will Shortz’ without Crosswords from us, without envy: — We’re much too distracted to try. — Hold the Mayo where there is a Kinship for word Puzzles and the NY Times with a Pen — and little Caff with a Pow.  — For the Earl of Sandwich so Krafty, — Of this we anoe not Why. — With a Stroke only here then — and now. — The Puzzle is Reason for living — The Just Cause is to B’more or less occupy.  –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]

  41. Marc -  February 6, 2012 - 7:14 am

    I love anoa and esne. Sure they’re not used everyday (or ever) but I just love knowing a lot of words. Take myrmecology. I saw that in a crossword puzzle. Not your everyday word. But just by a wonderful coincidence, about two weeks after I saw it in the crossword, it came up in a spelling bee I was part of. So it was useful.
    I also find, as a Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast, that Gilbert used a lot of words that only crop up in puzzles nowadays. But it doesn’t hurt to know them.

  42. Dave -  February 6, 2012 - 4:48 am

    I enjoy the Crosswords I’ve downloaded on my Kindle and am addicted to them. A lot of times when I run across something unfamiliar, I start researching the term which of course leads me down to all sorts of avenues and interesting new places. A crossword can tie me up for half a day dithering on projects suggested by the clues.


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