You’re plodding along, filling in the squares in your crossword puzzle like a champ, when you see something a bit foreign … literally. It could be a clue containing a non-English phrase or, perhaps, the answer requires knowledge about a far and distant land. In any case, it doesn’t seem to be in your vocabulary.
Unless you’re a polyglot or frequent globetrotter, such clues that take cues from foreign languages and lands can be intimidating. They don’t have to be though. You just need a little insight into how they work. Here are some frequent foreign language clues and tips on how to solve them.
Foreign words and phrases
If a clue contains a foreign word, it’s a pretty safe bet the answer will be in that same language. For example, if the clue reads: A magnifique form of dairy, the answer will be fromage rather than cheese.
The most common languages used in puzzles tend to be Latin, Spanish, German, and French. You don’t have to be fluent in these languages, though. Most crossword puzzles won’t include obscure foreign words, but rather those that are more commonly known. Think ete (“summer” in France), tia (“aunt” in Spanish), and E pluribus unum (“out of many, one” in Latin) and the like. Three, four, and five-letter words plus those that are vowel-heavy are popular, as they’re the easiest to fit in crossword puzzles.
Fun fact: The word taco was first mentioned in the New York Times crossword puzzle in 1963. The clue: Mexican sandwich.
If you paid attention in geography class, that will pay off when it comes to solving crossword puzzles. Foreign cities, countries, and bodies of water are frequently used as answers.
Again, those that are short in length and vowel-heavy lend themselves well to crossword puzzles. Think Asti, (a city in Italy), Ural (mountains in Russia), or Ouse (a river in England).
Clues you might see for foreign cities or landmarks include things they’re known for (e.g., Asti is a city in Italy known for sparkling wine) or events that happened there (e.g., Saint Helena is the island on which Napoleon died).
Well-known people and events
The names of well-known people and events from around the world are frequently used as answers in crossword puzzles as well. These can include those living and dead such as world leaders, authors, artists, and even fictional characters.
Solving clues with such answers requires knowledge of world history, literature, and current events. If only you’d paid more attention in some of those classes …
You may know pesos and euros, but what about a colon (Costa Rica) or ringgit (used in Malaysia)? Beyond dollars and cents, boning up on basic currency terms from foreign countries could pay off when it comes to solving crossword puzzles. Besides, who knows when you may have to cough up a couple of colons?
If you’re still stumped when it comes to foreign clues, you can check out our Crossword Solver. It allows you to enter a given clue and any known letters, then we help you find the answers. Don’t think of it as surrendering, but rather a way educate yourself so that you can slay future crossword puzzles singlehandedly.