Filling in those boxes

The New York Times crossword puzzles are celebrating their 75th birthday. Here’s an article about why these puzzles are so popular and relaxing: “Crossword-Solving: A Search for Connections and Answers” (NYT)

“Human brains are hard-wired to fill in blanks when they see them. In difficult times, when life begins to feel out of control or when faced with an emotional dilemma, working on something that has finite answers can provide a sense of security.”

On the NYT website you can play the Daily Mini puzzle. It’s pretty easy. And there are plenty of other online puzzle sites you can play for free.

I remember spending a weekend once in graduate school making a bilingual crossword puzzle.

crossword-1 crossword-2

It was fun to make, but it took a lot of time. If I had known about this website then, I may have used it:

Crossword Labs

create puzzle

Here’s their example:


Type in the clues and answers, hit “generate” and you’ve got a crossword puzzle. The password you use to create it will give you access to the answer key.

There are lots of ways to use crosswords for language study. Use it to introduce key vocabulary to your discussion partners. Make a bilingual puzzle in English and another language you’re studying to help you remember your new major language and review your English. Create a puzzle around a theme or a person you’re interested in, like this one, about Lady Gaga:


Using the Find a Crossword menu, you can only browse the latest 10 puzzles, but you can search for puzzles using key words.

Other ideas? You could try creating your own game app or software. This crossword puzzle maker was created by a university student at Washington State University.

Writing prompt: Do you play games on your phone when you commute? Do you prefer games like Candy Crush or whatever is popular right now, or games that make you think a little more, like crosswords or sudoku? Do you think that both the more mindless (to my thinking) games are actually just as good for you as more challenging games? (see this quote from the NYT article above)

“When you do a puzzle, the mind becomes completely absorbed in the task at hand. There is total focus on what is happening in the moment, which is the definition of mindfulness. And we know that mindfulness results in all sorts of positive changes in the brain.”

ghoti = fish

“We went in search of the hardest language” (from The Economist on Medium)

It’s not English, where you can argue that “ghoti” can be pronounced “fish”.

(Think about the pronunciation of “enough” + “women” + “action”. You can read about the origins of this idea here.)

It’s not Japanese, Chinese, or Arabic.

Of the languages this article says are the hardest to learn/speak, one (Tuyuca, a language spoken in the eastern Amazon) has a single word that means “I don’t know how to write.”

And one of the languages spoken in New Guinea has verb endings so specific that you can say “(he) drank in the evening” and “(he) gives three large objects to a man in the sunlight” with just one conjugated verb each.

Some languages have no words for left or right. Instead, they use north, south, east and west. It would be hard to get used to saying things like, “You have a curry stain on the south-southwest corner of your tie.”

This was a little surprising to me:

I’d have thought China would be higher and Canada lower on the list. I wonder if students are aware that there are actually 15 indigenous languages spoken in Japan. Do you know what they might be? According to (the same source that was used in the visual above) this is what they are.

Anyway, it’s interesting to think about which aspects of your first language — and your second or third languages — you think are the hardest to learn or teach