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A Guide to Creating Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are fun and help keep the mind agile. Used as educational tools, these aid learners connect concepts to vocabulary. There are also people who find creating “crosswords” just as rewarding as solving one. Puzzles can be simple or very involved depending on the maker’s interest level.

Puzzle making can have three major considerations: laying the basics; creating clues; and conforming to norms.

Laying the basics is about the following:

Figuring Out Puzzles

Puzzle grid size must comply with specific dimensions. For casual puzzles, though, the maker can adopt whatever size he wants. Grid size may be restricted to a specified range by an online crossword puzzle maker, but the creator can opt to create the size he fancies.

The Art of Mastering Crosswords

2. Word lists are usually prepared based on an underlying theme. The theme (or clue referring to the theme) is usually the puzzle’s title.

The words are laid on the grid, then unused squares are blacked-off. “Hanging words” are not allowed as per US practice; UK crosswords, however, allow it. Phrase answers must not contain spaces between words. Small or capital case letters have no consequence since most puzzle answers are written in capitals. Punctuation marks are also not part of crossword puzzles. Automatic word lay-out is usually done by online puzzle making software. All the user has to do is to specify puzzle size and input the list of words and clues.

Puzzle numbering is done starting from the upper left corner, identifying horizontal words with an “A” post-fix and “D” for vertical words. The effort is simplified by an online software.

Duplicate the puzzle, but one only the grid with numbers (for use of the solver later. The copy with numbers and letters serves as the “answer key” and will be the reference for creating the clues.

Creating clues relates to the following:The following relates to creating clues:

Straight-forward clues (easiest to write and solve) are noted down. Educational or simple puzzles usually have quick clues exclusively while challenging “professional” puzzles adopt the reverse.

2. Increase the challenge a notch more with indirect clues that use metaphors or lateral thinking.

Word play or cryptic puzzles usually involve multiple levels of puzzling out.

4. Number clues in accordance to their placement in the puzzle. Clues are grouped for horizontal words separately from vertical words, both groups sorted in ascending numerical order.

Conforming to norms (making the crossword official) is as follows:

Standards published by Simon and Schuster provide the official guide to professional crossword size.

A mirror image is produced relative to the arrangement of the blacked-out spaces on the grid when the diagram is flipped 180 degrees.

3. Two-letter words are not acceptable; three-letter ones used sparingly.

Though there are exceptions which must be avoided if possible, the rule is, puzzle words must be referenced (found in a dictionary, atlas, literary work, textbook, almanac, etc.).

Observation of one-time use of words is a must (though certain themes give some flexibility).

6. Great puzzles make the longest words the most closely tied words (or phrases) to the theme of a themed puzzle.