Trivia Teaser

How was Margaretha Zelle best remembered?

Mata Hari
Mary Quant
Marie Curie
Margaret Court

The Clues of the World Awhirl


By Christine Lovatt

“Those faraway places with strange-sounding names…”’

These song lyrics came to mind recently when I unearthed an old atlas.

Names such as Ceylon, Persia and Siam conjure up images of halcyon days of whispering trade winds and exotic eastern lands. In those days, a journey to these places meant a true adventure and not just part of a packaged holiday.

These places are now known by other names - Sri Lanka, Iran and Thailand. The Gold Coast is no longer in West Africa but a holiday area in Australia. In fact, perusing a 50-year-old atlas is evocative of a former era, before Tanganyika and Zanzibar joined together to become Tanzania (Tan and Zan). 

Peking is now Beijing, Bombay is Mumbai and Madras has become Chennai. Cambodia was known briefly as Khmer Republic and then Kampuchea. The military junta of Burma changed its name to Myanmar but it is still known widely as Burma.

Hundreds of place names have changed, countries have been split into two or more and borders have shifted. It’s a wonder we can still find our way around. Eastern Europe must be a cartographer’s nightmare! Every time a country gains its independence and takes a new name, thousands of atlases around the world become out of date.

Which brings me to the particular problem we sometimes have in giving you the most accurate puzzle clues and trivia. Not only place names change but also people. Every time a celebrity or a royal gets married or divorced, we rush to our database to change the details. Tom Cruise changes from 'Nicole Kidman’s husband' to 'Nicole Kidman’s ex'. Mikhail Gorbachev used to be clued as 'USSR leader'. Now that the USSR no longer exists, do we clue him as 'former leader of USSR' or 'former leader of the former USSR'? I’m sure you’ll agree this latter option is unwieldy.

One week while preparing a crossword back in 1991, Gorby started as ‘USSR leader’, was changed to ‘kidnapped USSR leader’, then for a day ‘deposed USSR leader’ and finally back where he started. Seven days that changed the world, and more importantly, our clue source files.

When a famous person dies, for instance, we clue them as ‘late …’ for at least a year after their death, as a mark of respect often used in writing.

Our files have to be constantly updated, as the world doesn’t stand still for a second. We have to keep a constant eye on all these developments — at least, that’s my excuse if I’m caught reading the newspaper during working hours. “Just catching up on the latest clue changes… “


Happy Puzzling!




1 Response to

The Clues of the World Awhirl

PaddyH said:
June 11, 2008 at 12:53 AM

Yes, now we have Iran Thailand & Myanmar but we still have Persian, Siamese & Burmese cats.