If you are a fan of crossword puzzles, you might have encountered a clue that asked you to fill in the blanks for “preceders of pis”. The answer, of course, is omicrons, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet that comes before pis (or pis) in the alphabetical order. But why is this clue so popular among crossword constructors and solvers? And what is the history behind this seemingly simple word?
The origin of omicrons
The word omicron comes from the Greek word ὂ μικρόν, which means “small o”. It is derived from the Phoenician letter ayin, which represented a consonant sound similar to the English “ng”. The Greeks adopted the Phoenician alphabet and modified it to suit their own language, adding vowels and changing some consonant sounds. The letter omicron was used to represent the short vowel sound /o/, as opposed to the letter omega, which represented the long vowel sound /ɔː/.
The letter omicron was also used as a numeral in the ancient Greek system of numeration, where it had the value of 70. It was also used as a symbol for various mathematical and scientific concepts, such as the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter, known as pi.
The popularity of omicrons in crosswords
The letter omicron is not very common in English words, except for those that are derived from Greek or Latin roots. However, it is very useful for crossword constructors, who often need to fill in the corners and edges of their grids with short words that cross with other words. Omicron is one of the few four-letter words that end with a vowel, which makes it easy to connect with other words that start with a vowel. It is also one of the few words that contain two consecutive vowels, which can create interesting patterns in the grid.
According to the New York Times Crossword Database, the clue “preceders of pis” has appeared 18 times in the NYT crossword puzzles since 1993, making it one of the most frequent clues for the word omicrons. Other common clues for omicrons include “Greek letters”, “Some fraternity letters”, and “Small Greek letters”. The word omicrons has also appeared in other crossword publications, such as the Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times, and the USA Today.
The history of crosswords
The first modern crossword puzzle was published on December 21, 1913, in the New York World’s Sunday supplement, Fun. It was created by Arthur Wynne, an editor at the newspaper, who needed a new game for the readers. He printed a blank word-search grid, with clues for the words that had to be entered horizontally and vertically. He called it “Fun’s Word-Cross Puzzle”, but a typographical error later changed the name to “Cross-Word”.
The puzzle was an instant hit, and soon other newspapers and magazines started to publish their own crosswords. The crossword craze reached its peak in the 1920s, when people of all ages and backgrounds became obsessed with solving the puzzles. Crosswords were also seen as a way to improve one’s vocabulary, spelling, and general knowledge. Some crossword enthusiasts even formed clubs and societies to share their passion and compete with each other.
The crossword puzzle also spread to other countries, such as Britain, Australia, India, and South Africa, where different styles and conventions were developed. For example, British crosswords tend to have more shaded squares and less checked letters than American ones, and often feature cryptic clues that require lateral thinking and wordplay. Australian crosswords are similar to British ones, but with more slang and humor. Indian crosswords are influenced by the local languages and culture, and often include clues in Hindi, Urdu, or other regional languages. South African crosswords are known for their diversity and inclusivity, reflecting the country’s multilingual and multicultural society.
The future of crosswords
Crossword puzzles have survived and thrived for over a century, and show no signs of losing their appeal. They have adapted to the changing times and technologies, and have become more accessible and interactive. Today, crossword solvers can enjoy a variety of puzzles online, on mobile devices, or in print, and can choose from different levels of difficulty, themes, and formats. They can also share their solutions and feedback with other solvers, and even create their own puzzles using online tools and software.
Crossword puzzles are not only a fun and challenging hobby, but also a valuable source of mental stimulation, education, and entertainment. They can help improve one’s vocabulary, memory, logic, and general knowledge, as well as reduce stress and boredom. They can also foster a sense of community and connection among solvers, who share a common interest and passion. Crossword puzzles are more than just a game, they are a way of life.
So, the next time you encounter the clue “preceders of pis” in a crossword puzzle, remember that you are not only filling in a word, but also participating in a rich and fascinating history of crosswords. And who knows, you might even learn something new along the way. Happy solving!