Crosswords for beginners: cryptozoology
Next in our series for those tempted or daunted by the cryptic crossword: the animals that solvers need to know
When British crosswords started to become cryptic, PG Wodehouse sent a despairing letter to the Times. “Sirs”, he said:
… may I commend your public spirit in putting the good old emu back into circulation again?
Wodehouse was appalled to have read that the ghost-story writer MR James used that paper’s crossword to time the boiling of his breakfast egg (“and he hates a hard-boiled egg”); he longed for puzzles he could solve as speedily, with the kind of words he alluded to in The Code of the Woosters:
… he looked at me like someone who has just solved the crossword puzzle with a shrewd ‘Emu’ in the top right-hand corner.
Whether you’re solving a quick, a cryptic, or something in between, the EMU is a bird-word you need to remember. Like other names from what we used to call the Spice Islands, EMU begins and ends with a vowel, which makes it very obliging for anyone sweating to fit words into a grid. It might be the answer itself, or to Wodehouse’s dismay, it might form part of the wordplay, as in this clue by Shed:
24ac Attempt to match bird no longer with us (7)
[ wordplay: name of a bird + synonym for ‘no longer with us’ ]
[ EMU + LATE ]
[ definition: ‘attempt to match’ ]
Good news, you’ve nabbed your EMU. Here are other animals that solvers need to know.
Lots of animals are named after the sound they make. Take the insect named cucuracha by Spanish speakers in imitation of its chirp. Our word, cockroach, is an approximation of this, making it an Englishman impersonating a Spanish-speaker impersonating a bug.
Then there’s the wildebeest, which makes a “noo”-ish sound. In some African languages, this kind of antelope gets a name that imitates that sound, perhaps with some clicks around it. From there, we got the English “gnu”, pronounced “noo” until …
… Flanders and Swann so enchanted the public with their “guh-NOO” pronunciation that this joke became the way we now, as often as not, hear the word. However you say it, its letters are incredibly useful in a grid, and so we get clues like this down one, from Nutmeg …
… for FUNGI.
Some animals are sighted far more frequently in crosswords than they are in real life, or even in everyday language. The Mvuba language has lent us its word for that gorgeous cousin of the giraffe that looks like a zebra …
… the OKAPI, which we rarely encounter outside clues such as this eminently fair challenge from Pan:
Here, the sneakiest but most straightforward crosswording trick literally gives you the OKAPI, concealed in the letters of TOOKAPICTURE.
In 1941, Ogden Nash wrote ruefully of dogs:
Dogs display reluctance and wrath
If you try to give them a bath.
They bury bones in hideaways
And half the time they trot sideaways.
His Introduction to Dogs, though, began with the line: “The dog is man’s best friend,” reacquainting the world with a centuries-old phrase. So it is that when, say, Hectence says this in the quiptic …
18ac Hangover cure is one of many carried by man’s best friend (4,2,3,3)
[ cryptic: what dogs have many of ]
[ definition: hangover cure ]
… we replace “man’s best friend” (the “man” is happily often missing in such clues) with “dog” en route to HAIR OF THE DOG.
We end on an unpleasant insect.
Whether you pronounce it “tsEH-tsi” or more simply “TET-si”: as a sleeper, you need to stop it drinking your blood and as a solver, you need to be aware that when you see the word “fly” in a clue, such as this one from Araucaria …
26ac Repeatedly set out to fly (6)
[ wordplay: anagram (‘out’) of SET, twice (‘repeatedly’) ]
[ definition: fly ]
… the answer may well be TSETSE.
Beginners: any questions? And seasoned solvers: any other creatures you see far more often in puzzles than in normal English?