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13 Words That Will Help You Solve Almost Any Crossword Puzzle

Brush up on your crosswordese—those three- to five-letter, vowel-heavy words that frequently fill your puzzle grid.

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Unless you’re a fencing aficionado, you might be unfamiliar with this word that frequently shows up in crossword puzzle answers. It’s the term for the practice sword used in competitive dueling that has a protective, blunted knob on the end. Look for clues that refer to blades, swords, or rapiers. You’ll also find references to fencing sports or Olympic events. En garde! Here are 14 more tricky crossword clues that will leave you stumped.

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This term refers to a Turkish chief or officer in the Ottoman empire. It can also indicate a religious leader, or any man with a title or authority. Look for clues that refer to a Turkish general or ruler, or trickier clues like “Turkish bigwig” or “Middle Eastern potentate.” Don’t forget to bookmark these free printable word searches that’ll give you hours of word hunting fun.

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What’s known as America’s favorite cookie? This popular cookie shows up a lot in crossword puzzle answers. You’ll also see it in longer answers like “Oreo thins.” Look for clues that refer to a diet version of the cookie, like “lo-cal” or “calorie-conscious.” Clues like “twistable treat” or any variation that refers to the cookie’s crème filling, black-and-white quality, or dip-ability in milk.

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This noun has several definitions, beyond the obvious. It’s a surface unit, but it’s also a field of study. In that sense, crossword puzzle clues can skew in different directions to stretch your mind. You’ll see area clued in straightforward ways such as “space,” “zone” or “land measure,” but prepare to think out of the box as well. It can be clued as “strength” (as in a specialty) or “realm” (a fancy way to specify an area).

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Erie is a Pennsylvania port town and also a Great Lake. You’ll find clues that reference its location or refer to a canal, river, lake, or area. Be on the lookout for wordplays about the Great Lakes like “One of a ‘Great’ quintet.” The capital G will let you know you’re looking for a proper noun. Try these other 15 tricky word puzzles that are tough to solve.

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This nautical term is the opposite of “aweather” or the windward position, usually on a ship. The lee side is sheltered and away from the storm. You’ll see clues for this word referencing all things nautical and weather-focused. Crossword puzzles clues for alee can also refer to shelter and protection like “on the safe side” and “away from the storm.”

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An eland is a type of African antelope known for its spiraled horns. You’ll see it clued in straightforward ways, but keep on the lookout for clues mentioning its African or Serengeti location, or occasionally to zoos. Pay attention to horn descriptions and related creatures like gazelles and impalas.

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Oleo is a somewhat old-fashioned word for butter or margarine that you’ll sometimes see in recipes. Look for clues that reference butter, margarine, or cooking oil. It can be clued in such ways to make you think outside the box, as in “it may be on a roll” or “sub in a tub.” You’ll also see it simply as “toast spread,” or “butter alternative.”

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Eider is great crossword puzzle fill because it has three vowels in addition to two common consonants. Usually, you’ll hear about down pillows and not comforters filled with eider, which is a type of duck that has soft feathers. You’ll see clues related to pillow stuffing, types of ducks, waterfowl and even clues like “pond denizen” or “where to get down.”

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Are you familiar with the French word for “shut up” or “keep,” as in encase? An étui is a small case, usually for cosmetics or sewing needles. The English version refers to any small case that’s ornamental. You’ll come across clues that refer to a “thread holder” or “sewing case.” Also, look for clues referring to a small bag, a toiletry case, or a small carrier for notions and such. Put your skills by seeing if you can solve the world’s first crossword puzzle.

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Brian Eno is a musician from Roxy Music, a band that collaborated with David Bowie and is known for ambient music that shows up in airports. He’s also a popular crossword puzzle clue because of the elegant three-letter combination of his last name. Look for related clues about music composing and producing. If you can’t get enough of word games, take the fun to go with these printable crossword puzzles.

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You must remember Captain Hook’s gentle sidekick, the pirate Smee. Look for clues that refer to Hook, Peter Pan, or J. M. Barrie, who wrote that play and novel. The word can also refer to a little-known kind of duck, so keep your eyes peeled for waterbird types of clues too.

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Mel Ott is a famous Baseball Hall of Famer who played for the New York Giants. You’ll see him clued in a variety of ways that play on those statuses. Look for mentions of Cooperstown, New York (the location of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum), and references to his team, such as “Giant among Giants.” The capital G should clue you in that you’re looking at a proper name. You’ll also find straightforward clues like “slugger Mel.” Next, see if you can solve 25 of the most challenging riddles ever.

Molly Pennington, PhD
Molly is a writer and collage artist with a PhD in film and cultural studies from the University of Pittsburgh. Her professional astrology services and artwork are available at Baroque Moon Astrology. She covers the zodiac, books, movies, TV and culture for Reader’s Digest, and loves to talk about all the ways we make meaning.