Early violin (REBEC)
February 25, 2017 11:38 AM   Subscribe

Help me understand some of the clues in a 75-year-old crossword puzzle.

The New York Times recently republished their first-ever crossword puzzle, which originally ran on February 15, 1942. I managed to finish it with a lot of help from Google, but there are a few clues that are still mystifying. In particular:

-100-across is "Good neighbor" (answer: SENOR) What?

-103-across is "Spanish watchword" (answer: ALERTA). Probably just terrible clue-writing, but maybe a reference to something?

-110-across is "Turmeric" (answer: REA). Not the genus name, so I'm out of ideas.

-48-down is "Noise of distant musketry" (answer: SPATTER). Again, is this a reference? Seems weirdly specific.

-111-down is "Surveying telescopes" (answer: ALINERS). I'm not even sure if it's supposed to be 'aliner' or 'a-liner.'

Also, there are a couple of really obscure Egyptian words ("Name of 3 successive pharaohs" = USERTESEN, "Egyptian goddess of motherhood" = APET). Were people in the 1940s a lot more knowledgeable about ancient Egypt (residual from 1920s King Tut mania?) or are these just terrible clues?
posted by theodolite to Grab Bag (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
ALERTA is Spanish for "look out!" (Approximately)

I would read SENOR as SEÑOR but that's still a bad clue, maybe it's something else.
posted by range at 11:45 AM on February 25, 2017

About the Egypt clues, crosswords used to be a lot more about trivia and not about wordplay in the clues -- so you'd have crossword dictionaries that had standard clues and the trivia item they corresponded to.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:51 AM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

-100-across is "Good neighbor" (answer: SENOR) What?
The Good Neighbor policy was the foreign policy of the administration of United States President Franklin Roosevelt towards Latin America. Although the policy was implemented by the Roosevelt administration, President Woodrow Wilson had previously used the term—but subsequently went on to invade Mexico.
posted by jamjam at 11:55 AM on February 25, 2017 [8 favorites]

Good neighbor is probably a reference to the good neighbor policy (1930s), thus señor. Rea is, apparently, the Tahitian word for turmeric. No idea why people would know that so easily back then!
posted by correcaminos at 11:57 AM on February 25, 2017

"Spatter of musketry" appears to have been a cliche at some point. Google has lots of examples, although it can't believe that's what you're actually searching for.

Spatter of musketry does seem familiar to me, but I don't remember reading anything on the first page of Google results.
posted by Bruce H. at 12:24 PM on February 25, 2017

There are some words that one pretty much never sees outside of crossword puzzles, but they are small and use the more common letters or are vowel-heavy, giving the puzzle writer some leeway with their longer words. Examples here would be REA and APTET. Over time, these small words have changed a bit, and/or the clues for them have taken on a modern spin. Puzzlers just memorize these words and clues. Your average person wouldn't have these words as part of their general vocabulary then or now, is my understanding. I read a great book on crossword history that clued (ha!) me in on this, but unfortunately, I cannot remember the name of it.
posted by thebrokedown at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll buy REA and APET as obsolete "Celebes ox" style crosswordese (there's a lot more of that in this puzzle I didn't mention). USERTESEN is too long to be standard fill, though.
posted by theodolite at 12:59 PM on February 25, 2017

I'm not even sure if it's supposed to be 'aliner' or 'a-liner.'

I think "aliner" was an American variant of "aligner" that showed up in the first half of the 20th, especially in mechanical contexts, but didn't catch.
posted by holgate at 2:09 PM on February 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you search google books the most famous story to use "spatter of musketry" is The Red Badge of Courage.
posted by interplanetjanet at 6:47 PM on February 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

Is there not a thing called spatter shot? I think I it's when the gun shoots a bunch of small pellets?
posted by chapps at 8:52 PM on February 25, 2017

That's "scatter-shot".
posted by jferg at 7:20 AM on February 26, 2017

The Spanish Civil War had recently ended, and ALERTA seems to have been an anti-fascist watchword. See, for example, this POUM publication. Googling suggests that antifa groups and punk bands are still using it.
posted by Jasper Fnorde at 1:21 PM on February 27, 2017

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