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Baseball player Mark McGwire, 1998
HOMER, one of the lesser-sung words of 2022 (and Mark McGwire, who hit 70 of them, in 1998). Photograph: Vincent Laforet/Allsport
HOMER, one of the lesser-sung words of 2022 (and Mark McGwire, who hit 70 of them, in 1998). Photograph: Vincent Laforet/Allsport

Crossword roundup: Words of the Year 2022

The dictionary compilers have spoken – but have their chosen words made it as far as the puzzle pages?

In the sample clues below, the links take you to explainers from our beginners series. The setter’s name often links to an interview with him or her, in case you feel like getting to know these people better.

The year’s news in clues

Having released a challenging US-style puzzle, it’s time for our other end-of-year tradition. It’s the one where we see whether various dictionaries’ words of the year are actually used enough to have appeared in crosswords.

First, Oxford’s GOBLIN MODE is not one I’ve encountered, but runner-up METAVERSE is there in this Times clue …

9a Virtual world with a dislike of the police? (9)
[ wordplay: cryptic definition ]
[ definition: virtual world ]

… and in this one from Paul:

13a Where virtual reality exper­ienced, not liking New York art museum? (9)
[ wordplay: cryptic definition ]
[ definition: where virtual reality exper­ienced ]

Likewise, it’s a no for Collins’ PERMACRISIS and a yes for one of their runners-up …

16a Scandal: Tories for example shown exit? (9)
[ wordplay: what the Tories are an example of + synonym for “exit” ]
[ definition: scandal ]

… namely, Tees’s PARTYGATE, a clue noted here at the time. There is much to be said for Cambridge’s approach of announcing words that have attracted more searches than usual. When HOMER appeared in Wordle (as a baseball term), some UK solvers wanted to check whether proper nouns had started appearing. HOMER is of course an old friend in crosswords, and it seems like more than 10 months since our guide to cryptic crosswords for Wordle lovers.

Around the world

I’m delighted that the New Yorker has repeated last year’s explosion of puzzles across a December issue. The print edition is out today with a startling cover; there are some online versions. I’ve had a quick chat with the magazine’s puzzles and games editor, Liz Maynes-Aminzade:

Hello Liz. Last year, the puzzles spilled out into the non-puzzle parts of the magazine, including an acrostic hidden in a theatre review. This year, they’ve incorporated the cover as well. Is any part of the publication off limits for puzzles?
We wouldn’t do anything that might truly confuse or mislead readers about the line between games and reporting. But, as far as toying with the magazine’s format and puzzle-ifying some of its hallmark features, I think anything’s on the table!

Last time we spoke, we discussed words that don’t originate in the English language. Are constructors tempted to justify an entry as ‘fresh fill’, when really it’s a vowel-heavy name of a Baltic dessert that’s helped them out of a tricky corner?
Everyone has their own ideas about what constitutes “fresh fill”, of course, but I think most constructors would admit that some entries are more intentional than others. You can usually tell if something is a seed entry – an exciting word or phrase that the constructor built the grid around – as opposed to a bit of glue that’s keeping the grid from falling apart.

Finally, my favourite is the puzzle with answers going around and across 28 bagels. Will we see more of these, or indeed puzzles based on other New York culinary staples?
I love that one, too. Elisabeth McNair has done some great bagel cartoons for the magazine, and Emma, our cartoon editor, suggested basing a puzzle on one. Patrick Berry is a master at constructing Rows Gardens, which are a type of variety puzzle, and Bagel Shop is a take on one of those. NYC. cuisine is definitely good fodder (no pun intended) for game themes. I bet we could fill a whole issue with pizza puzzles.

Pizza, of course. It was staring me in the face. Thanks to Liz.

On the subject of non-UK English, I see that Merriam-Webster went with the very plausible GASLIGHTING as its word of the year, and I usually come away enlightened from a look at what the Australians at Macquarie Dictionary have in mind. This year, it’s one that suits itself to our next challenge. They define it in a local political sense; reader, how would you clue TEAL?

Puzzling elsewhere

Another year-end tradition is checking which Guardian setters are in the next year’s 3D Crossword Calendar. They are …

… and doubtless some I’ve missed; the charities are again Children in Need and the RNIB and there is an explanation of the concept of crosswording’s third dimension in our interview with its creator. And, if you’re tempted to start the inventive Listener puzzle in the new year, the one published on New Year’s Eve is likely to be a gentle entry point. Puzzles that I’ve found most visually pleasing this year include:

  • the one where the grid became Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

  • the one where we had to reassemble jam and cream to please the Devonians and the Cornish

  • the one depicting the tale of The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • the one that turned out to be a sudoku in heavy disguise

  • the one where the grid became the chessboard for the Fischer-Spassky showdown

  • and the one depicting the rabbits seeking Watership Down

There are other “no black squares” puzzle series awaiting you in 2023: here’s a guide.

Cluing competition

Thanks for your clues for GOOP. I especially enjoyed Lizard’s “Virtuous President ousting d______ fool?” on various levels, the least of which is a reminder that we haven’t yet looked at the “apparently redacted word” as part of our For Beginners series. I was of course inordinately tickled by GappyTooth’s “Gunge, oleaginous or putrescent, primarily?” – and my thanks to anyone who managed to keep their Paltrow references palatable.

The runners-up are Porcia’s intruiging “Turn over page to see something icky” and Ruderiguanas’s festive “What kind of fool makes gifts of one partridge – and that’s just to start with!”; the winner is “Pooh endlessly reflecting on a little bit of golden sticky stuff”.

Kludos to Phitonelly; please leave entries for the current competition – as well as your non-print finds and picks from the broadsheet cryptics – in the comments, below.

Clue of the fortnight

It’s fair but it takes you a moment and the surface reading is eminently plausible. You can’t ask for more from a quiptic clue; here’s Chandler’s …

26a From the East some man, a titled figure of great importance (5)
[ wordplay: letters hidden inside (“some”) a reversal of (“from the East”) MANATITLED ]
[ letters hidden inside DELTITANAM ]
[ definition: figure of great importance ]

… for TITAN. Festive, too. There are always too many special puzzles to keep up with at the end of the year, so please share any favourites below. Merry Christmas.

Crossword blog will return on 16 January.

Find a collection of explainers, interviews and other helpful bits and bobs at alanconnor.com.

The Shipping Forecast Puzzle Book by Alan Connor, which is partly but not predominantly cryptic, can be ordered from the Guardian Bookshop.

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