The grids I used on four of last week's five puzzles all had something in common: they contained eight six-letter entries, which is a lot for a small crossword grid.
This was on purpose. Why? Because six letters is what I call "breakout length" in crosswords. Entries of three, four, and five letters are extremely common, of course, and there are relatively few of these words in the language due to their short length. This means the same ones get repeated all the time in puzzles – ERA and ERE, ERIE and ARIA, EERIE and ARENA – you know the ones I mean. There are lots of fun four-and-five letter words out there, sure – but they tend to get used and then overused quickly due to their high volume in puzzles.
But six letters? That's the promised land. There are exponentially more usable six-letter patterns than three-letter, so you get much more lively stuff – and much more rarely seen entries to boot.
To illustrate the point, let's run an experiment: we'll take the ten best three-letter entries from last week's puzzles, and match them up against the ten best six-letter entries. Our threes were BLM, CNN, BFF, KEG, SNL, MOM, MEH, NPR, LIU, and YEP. Not bad at all; several of those are in fact outstanding and very fresh entries.
And now let's look at the six-letter entries: ON FIRE, YO-YO MA, CHAKRA, BOTANY, TIP JAR, IVANKA, EMPIRE, RIGHTS, ODESSA, and MILANO. Pretty much all of those really pop, and you probably haven't seen them in crossword puzzles nearly as much as the threes. For example, CNN has appeared over 100 times in the New York Times in the Shortz Era (that is, since 1993), but BOTANY just seven times in that same stretch. There are just so many more six-letter words to choose from, and fewer of them in most puzzles than there are three-letter words.
So keep an eye on those sixes – they've got a good chance of being fresher-than-your-average-puzzle-entry.
Got some good six-letter entries you want to see in a crossword? Tweet them to #beastxword and I'll see what I can do.
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