What’s that smell?

This week, fermented protein and other crossword comestibles

Published March 3, 2024

Welcome back to a new edition of Chriswords, already in progress. Hope you’ve enjoyed some puzzles recently–but in case you had other Leap Day plans, we’ve got you covered here!

Clues you can use

Tuesday, Feb. 27 (New York Times, constructed by Nate Cardin)

Vegetarian street food known for its distinct smell = STINKY TOFU

I’m forgoing meat this spring, so things like stinky tofu resonate with me a little more. While tofu is made by coagulating soy milk, stinky tofu is bean curd that’s fermented for at least six months. Popular in the night markets of China, stinky tofu is often flavored with cilantro, chili powder, scallions, and Sichuan pepper. Many preparations of stinky tofu exist across China and Taiwan, including steamed, stewed, and barbecued. Granted, I haven’t delved into the world of stinky tofu, but the non-stinky kind isn’t that bad! Feel free to send me your favorite tofu recipes.

Sunday, Feb. 25 (Jeff’s Puzzles, constructed by Jeff Linder)

Early Iranians (they were nomads rather than harvesters, despite their name) = SCYTHIANS

The Scythians are one world-history group I’ve heard of, but couldn’t tell you a fact about. So, here’s a little cheat sheet for you just in case your next quiz night or crossword features some Western civilization:

  • The Scythians were steppe nomads who lived from Europe to Siberia, but are usually listed as Iranian.
  • The name “Scythia” seems to be much discussed amongst classicists and linguists, but it seems to come from “archer,” as the Scythians were known for their mounted military strength.
  • They buried their dead, along with ornate gold jewelry, in elaborate mounds called kurgans.
  • Women soldiers of the Scythians and their relatives the Sarmatians may have been the inspiration for the Amazons of Greek mythology.
  • The poet Ovid died in 17 C.E. in Scythia Minor after his exile. This time was depicted by Eugène Delacroix in two paintings (1859 and 1862), both called “Ovid among the Scythians.”

Wednesday, Feb. 28 (The Atlantic, constructed by Paolo Pasco)

Source of the words ocelot and chipotle = NAHUATL

Nahuatl was the lingua franca of the Aztec people, and as the Mexican people descended from the Aztecs, some of its vocabulary made its way into Spanish and then English. Not in this clue: axolotl, chocolate, coyote, mesquite… and, well, Mexico.

Some savory solving

One of the biggest sources of Nahuatl words in English today is cuisine, so I’ve prepared a feast for you! I’ll give you a former crossword clue to a Nahuatl-derived word, you name the food. As a hint, all the answers are in alphabetical order.

Seeds that may be sold as beans, nibs, or powder (5) CACAO

Super Bowl party staple (9)  = GUACAMOLE

Kidney bean (7)  = HARICOT

Liquor made from agave (6) = MESCAL

Hominy stew (6) = POZOLE

Green salsa ingredient (9) = TOMATILLO

Pros and Cons

We’ve got a number of puzzle-related links for you:

Before the 2024 American Crossword Puzzle Tournament in Stamford, New York gets a puzzle event with Crossword Con! Before you take Metro-North to CT, be sure to visit this discussion event of noted constructors and solvers as they talk about many topics in puzzles.

In a long interview with Eurogamer, New York Times puzzle editor Joel Fagliano discusses the Mini along with other puzzle questions.

After last Sunday’s NYT puzzle by Scott Hogan and Katie Hale featured the clue [Partner of Hoda on “Today”], correct answer JENNA Bush Hager got to see the puzzle on Today.

Charles Barkley is a fan of crosswords, and during a golf tournament, suggested to golfer Max Homa that he do some puzzles out on the course. Hey, legendary constructor Matt Gaffney even wrote the book on Golf Crosswords!

And finally, in case you need to unwind from crosswords by doing video games about puzzles, I discovered this article by Game Rant about fun, philosophical puzzle games. I have heard many great things about the games on this list, so fire up your Switch and get to gaming!

Happy March! If you’re on spring break, you’re living life right; if not, I hope you can find some easy times anyway.

Chris King is a longtime crossword commentator, and the author of five published puzzle books. His column appears on Questionist every Sunday.