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Author Topic: Drawing the line on obscure words  (Read 719 times)

JohanRonnblom

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Drawing the line on obscure words
« on: December 23, 2013, 06:25:55 AM »
When judging whether a fill is acceptable, I guess there are two concerns. One is the overall difficulty, which I don't find that hard to judge. While even the most erudite polyglot has lacunae, it evens out.

But then there are those weakest links. Let us say your fill is beautiful, just the right mix of everyday words and interesting oddities - but one word stands out as possibly unacceptable. Where do you draw the line and reject the entire fill because of this one word? How do you know what is simply too obscure?

One area that I find difficult to judge is botany and biology. There are a million and one genuses that are of interest to only the most focused expert. But then there are those that are in everyday use. I think that 'amanita' is reasonably well known as a class of poisonous mushrooms. And I would think 'sirenia' (sea cows) rings a bell for at least some solvers. But then I wanted to use 'weigela', a bush that gets plenty of google hits on gardening sites. I have never heard of it personally, but then I'm not into gardening. How do I know if this is something that enough solvers will recognize, or something which will just make them mad? Mind you, we're not talking about overall difficulty level here, but is it obscure enough that I should throw away an otherwise excellent fill? How do I know?

Another area is variant spellings. As a rule, I just don't accept them unless I can find they are actually in common use. It seems many dictionaries list variants that have not been used for centuries, if ever. I know as a solver, it makes me mad when a word is used that must reasonably be called a misspelling. I'm using a Scrabble word list for preliminary judgement, because it contains a ton of words with definitions. But it is terrible in this regard. A 'tercel' is apparently the British variant of 'tiercel', a male falcon. My instinct tells me 'tiercel' is correct, but then again this too is obscure enough that I can't be entirely sure. And then there is 'tarcel', apparently a male hawk. But I just can't justify using a word where every top Google hit is a Scrabble or crossword site. It will have to go, at any cost.

loiner

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Re: Drawing the line on obscure words
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2014, 09:24:37 AM »
Hi. On the subject of a solver not knowing a particular solution word may, to my mind, be of added interest. Crosswords and word puzzles in general should certainly entertain and maybe even educate people as well?
So when I have problems in finishing crosswords (of which happens a lot to me, especially with cryptic crosswords!) I always check the solutions.
Also the harder I have had to work to find the answer the more I remember it.     
   

worldofcrosswords

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Re: Drawing the line on obscure words
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2014, 09:41:10 AM »
I don't want to hijack your post, but "Tercal" has a more readily recognizable clue - the Toyota car model. It has been used quite a bit: http://crosswordtracker.com/answer/tercel/
I would have no problem using it and cluing it in that sense.

Marya
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worldofcrosswords

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Re: Drawing the line on obscure words
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2014, 10:06:36 AM »
I think that 'amanita' is reasonably well known as a class of poisonous mushrooms. And I would think 'sirenia' (sea cows) rings a bell for at least some solvers. But then I wanted to use 'weigela', a bush that gets plenty of google hits on gardening sites. I have never heard of it personally, but then I'm not into gardening. How do I know if this is something that enough solvers will recognize, or something which will just make them mad? Mind you, we're not talking about overall difficulty level here, but is it obscure enough that I should throw away an otherwise excellent fill? How do I know?

Usually if something is not familiar to me, personally, I would be very hesitant to use it. I probably would not use WEIGELA. It's too obscure and brings me no joy to learn about it.

If I'm unfamiliar with a word, and I look it up online and discover that it's interesting (to me!), I will give it stronger consideration. The problem that you have for biology/botany is one that I have for geography/geology. Does anyone care to know about the island of NIUE? Is anyone happy to learn about such a thing as a TOMBOLO?

SIRENIA is interesting to me because it's "guessable" once you get a few letters. One can imagine that the person who taxonomized these creatures saw them as Greek "sirens" (humorously or not). I would find it amusing to discover this through a puzzle.

Finally, some terms may be obscure to most, but well-known to a specialist. I think those cases can be particularly difficult. SQL and DBM are commonplace terms for anyone in IT. Should we expect the general public to know about such terms, or care? Hard to say, but looking them up in crossword tracker, I find no entries. Yet, there are many many entries for UNIX. For cases like this, I usually err on the side of caution, and try to be biased against terms that may be considered technical jargon.

Marya

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