Tips for Solving Crossword Puzzles
You don’t have to be a crossword puzzle expert to enjoy solving easy puzzles or even more challenging ones. But when you sit down to work on any crossword grid, you’ll likely enjoy yourself more if you keep these simple tips in mind:
Work in pencil. By working in pencil, you give yourself permission to guess and make mistakes. And mistakes make you a better puzzler in the end.
Be loyal to a puzzle editor. When you’re first starting to work crosswords, stick with puzzles you find in a single source (one book or one newspaper, for example). Doing so allows you to become familiar with what to expect from the puzzle editor (the person who compiles and styles each puzzle). This familiarity can simplify puzzles for you.
Think about theme. If a puzzle has a title, it indicates the theme of that puzzle. Usually the theme relates only to some of the clues — usually those that require longer answers — not all of them.
Fill in the blanks first. The fill-in-the-blank clues often are the easiest type to solve, so you can get a good start on your grid by cracking these first.
Focus on small (three-to-five-letter) word entries. Puzzle constructors just don’t have as many of these short words to choose from in the English language. So, as you work more puzzles, you’ll get familiar with the short words that constructors and editors use over and over. By filling these in early on, you may break open your grid and be able to solve a few of your more difficult clues.
Visit Crosswordese.com. At this site, you’ll be introduced to short, often unusual English words that puzzle constructors love.
Get trivial. Because they’re usually fairly straightforward and don’t involve wordplay, trivia clues also may be fairly easy to answer. Plus, you can locate trivia answers in outside resources when you’re stuck.
Eye abbreviations and acronyms. If an answer needs to be an abbreviation or acronym, the clue tells you so. If you see Abbr. in the clue, or if the clue itself is abbreviated or an acronym, that’s your tip. Again, these smaller clues can help you answer the more complex surrounding clues you may be stumped by.
Go global. If an answer is in a foreign language, the clue informs you by specifying the language or using words from that language.
Pick out plurals. When you’re stuck, look for clues written in a plural form. Using a pencil, write an S at the end of each grid entry that you know must be a plural word or phrase. Often (though not always), the S will be correct.
Tap outside resources. Most people can’t work a crossword puzzle without a little outside help. But don’t just type a clue into an online search engine; be picky about the resources you use. Keep a quality dictionary, thesaurus, quotation resource, atlas, and almanac on hand. You can use hard copies of these sources, or you can choose their electronic forms.
Ask for help. Make a crossword a social experience by asking help from friends or family members when you’re stuck.
Check off each clue that you solve. Marking your progress gives you a sense of accomplishment and helps you focus on those clues that remain.
Don’t stress. If a puzzle stops being fun and starts feeling like work, simply walk away and come back to it a little later. The answers may come more easily after you take a breather.