How Geography on the Crossword Grid Can Teach You A Thing or Two

Matt Gaffney
·2 min read
Rebecca Tulis
Rebecca Tulis

Geography is a subject well-represented in crosswords. The worldwide diversity of geographical place names gives puzzle writers a huge and handy set of entries to choose from. Just in the category of "four-letter countries" we've got PERU, OMAN, LAOS, IRAN, and MALI, among others, which have proven helpful to crossword writers time and again.

Place names are also a good way to learn about the wider world. For example, we had JAPAN clued this week with reference to its prime minister, Shinzo Abe, who just resigned after a historic eight years in power. If you didn't already know that, then solving the Sunday puzzle clued you in. Similarly you may have already known that DUBAI is home to the world's tallest building (1-Down, Thursday), or that HAITI is the setting for a new book about Haitian national hero Toussaint Louverture (20-Down, also Thursday) – but if not, I'm here for you!

The all-time geography champ in crosswords is of course Lake ERIE, which has appeared 419 times in the New York Times Crossword since Will Shortz took over its editorship in 1993, making it the 11th-most common entry overall. The next highest in geography is ASIA, with 283 entries, and then Mount ETNA with 265.

And spare a final geographical thought for the poor ARAL Sea, which used to appear all the time in crosswords, but nowadays not so much. Until the 1960s it was the fourth-largest lake in the world, just a bit bigger than Lake Michigan. But poor resource management in the Soviet Era led to its degradation and severe diminishment, in both real life and then in crosswords. Its Wikipedia page describes the lake in the past tense, and its echo grows fainter in crosswords each year as it's used less and less. Alas, Aral Sea.

Been somewhere fun lately? Tweet it to #beastxword and let everyone know (especially if it's 3, 4, or 5 letters long).

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