What You Need to Know About Crossword Puzzles

Are you new to the world of crossword puzzles and wish to learn everything in a single read? Well, you are in the right place, as this article will give you a comprehensive insight into all you need to know about crossword puzzles. 

This article will work as your guide to introduce you to the game of crossword puzzles. The game has general rules everywhere, but some countries such as the U.S., Great Britain, and many others have developed their own playing styles and conventions to construct a puzzle. 

So, whether you are a native English speaker or hail from a non-English speaking country, we have rounded up all the information you will ever need to learn about the game known as a crossword puzzle. Apart from learning about the basic construct of the game, you will also learn tips on how to play any crossword puzzle with ease. 

So, without further ado, let us dive right in and get you started on a journey to learning what a crossword puzzle is and how to play it. 

Table of contents


What is Crossword Puzzle 

A crossword refers to a word puzzle that mostly comes in a rectangular or square shape with grids of black and white shaded squares. The goal of the player is to fill in all the white squares using English alphabets, trying to form phrases and words by solving given clues.

Each clue leads to an answer, so the crossword player will have to use their thinking, memory, logic, and knowledge to solve a crossword puzzle. 

Many native English speakers have some knowledge about the basic procedures and rules to play and solve a crossword. How? Because crossword is a ubiquitous household activity in the English-speaking world. 

However, most of us have either come across a crossword or seen it on our television screens and have some clue how to play it. Maybe you played it as a child and recently re-developed an interest in the game. If you do not remember all the rules, today is the day you refresh it all. 

However, you must remember that while you learn about the basics of how to play a crossword, it will take some time for you to understand the subtleties of crossword solving. 

The Experience

Are you a complete novice and wonder what it is like to solve a crossword? Well, playing crossword is like playing a game of solitaire, where you have to be somewhere private and alone to concentrate and think clearly. 

There are several reasons why you may take on crossword as a hobby, such as mental amusement, intellectual stimulation, or simply as time pass. The best part is that you can play it anywhere at home, in the kitchen, on a commute, in a park, at the breakfast table, at work, etc. 

You play the game in silence while concentrating, and there is no audience looking over your shoulder to interrupt. However, there are crossword tournaments held worldwide to test players' skills and see who is the best and quickest at solving crossword puzzles. 

A Crossword Puzzle Tournament

In a crossword tournament, opposing players meet each other at a scheduled place and time and play a number of crosswords solving contests. Typically, there is an audience present to witness the excitement with pin-drop silence. 

Although a tournament like any other sports, you will not see any physical action happening, two people sitting and staring a hole into their respective puzzles. Therefore, the procedures and rules for such tournaments are also quite different from any other sports. 

Components of Crossword Puzzle

From a physical or material point of view, there are three components of the crossword puzzle which are:

  • A grid in a square or rectangular formation
  • A list that contains down clues
  • A list that contains across clues

Typically, the designers of the crossword puzzle, also known as a constructor, supply you with a picture of the grid with all the correct answers. This is known as a solution, according to the clues provided in the list. 

The objective is plain and straightforward, solve on the clues, and win the game. You can only win by filling in all the empty grids across and downwards with the right answers befitting the clue.

The Layout

You will see two patterns in a grid at the first look, i.e., black squares and white squares. Some of these squares have numbers uniquely marked on them. As you progress further into the game, you fill in all the empty white squares with alphabets to make up an answer according to the clue provided. 

The numbers in each square are for you as a guide to place the answer for each clue. Each of the clues refers to a specific position in the grid where your answer must reside. That said, there are two types of clues in a crossword puzzle. 

  • Down Clues

These clues are for all the answers that will consist of all words whose alphabets will run vertically, i.e., top to bottom in the grid. Therefore, they are known as down, and each of these clues has a unique number assigned to them. This number refers to the same number of the answer in the grid. 

  • Across Clues

The across clues have all the answers consisting of words whose alphabets will run from left to right or horizontally. Therefore, they are known as across, and just like down clues, these also have a unique number that corresponds to exactly the same number as to where the answer must go in the grid.  

The Breakdown of the Answers

Your answer for each clue may contain one or more words. Each word will mostly consist of one or more letters, and each letter will go into a white square. However, there are two types of answers. 

  • Down Answers

Down answers refer to the solutions for the down clues in the list. The letters for each clue’s answer will run from the top to the bottom of each grid. You will place the first letter of the answer in the white square at the top boundary and fill in the rest of the letters in the squares below it, hence moving top to bottom. 

The topmost square or the first square in the grid will contain a number that will refer to the number of clues. For example, if the box says the number “ 1” marked on it, the first letter of the answer to clue number 1 in the list will go in there, and the rest will go in the squares beneath. 

  • Across Answer

These answers refer to solutions for clues in the list. You will put the first letter of your answer in the first white square of the horizontal grid. The first white square will have a unique number referring to the clue in the list. 

For example, if the white square has the number “5” marked on it, the answer to the 5th clue in the list will go into this particular grid. If your answer is correct, the number of letters will fit into the number of squares in that grid. 

How to Play and Solve Each Grid

As you attempt a crossword puzzle, you will have to take care of three steps. 

  • Select a clue
  • Come up with as many possible answers
  • Select the most appropriate answer fulfilling the clue’s criteria and the number of letters allowed in the answer grid. 
  • Entering Your Answers

Once you are certain that you have the correct answer, it is time to fill it in the assigned grid. You will place the first alphabet of your answer in the white square with a number marked inside it. For example, if the white square says the number “4,” then the answer to clue four goes in that particular grid, whether down or across. 

You will continue to place the remaining alphabets of your answer sequentially and the next white squares from top to bottom or left to right. Once you have addressed all the clues and written on the answers by filling all white squares, the game ends. 

You can then refer to the solution provided by the constructor of the crossword puzzle to find out how you did. 

The Verdict after Completing the Crossword

Most of the time, the crossword is a game you play against yourself. You sit down and try to solve each crossword, getting better while testing your knowledge, articulation, and riddle-solving skills. 

The primary objective here is to enter as many correct answers as you can in each puzzle’s grid as per the clue. The game ends once you have given all the answers. 

In terms of winning or losing, solving a crossword is a zero-sum game between you as a player and the constructor of the puzzle. If you answer all the clues correctly by filling white squares, you win. If you fail to answer any of the clues incorrectly, the constructor wins by preventing you from getting it right.  

There are no points for each grid answered. You have to solve the entire puzzle correctly in order to be a winner when it comes to playing by yourself. The play can only end if you solve the whole grid with all correct answers and wish to make no more changes. 

However, once you complete the puzzle, it is alright to consult the solution to check how many did you get right. 

If you are a novice, do not feel down or low for not getting them all correct right off the bat. Crossword puzzles come with clues to purposefully confuse you into getting the answer wrong. Plus, they can be complex in nature, and even the most seasoned crossword puzzle solvers struggle to get them all right all the time. 

Rules for Crossword Constructors

The constructor of each crossword puzzle must play fair. This means they have to give a clue that must have a valid answer.  Moreover, the clue must have a legitimate correlation to its answer. 

The constructor must state each clue in a well-informed and logical way so a solver with adequate knowledge and sense can understand and decipher it. No complex riddles; however, a fair playing constructor of the puzzle gets the last say about the correct answer. 

However, the constructor may state clues with some hints deliberately to confuse you and doubt your answer. Just imagine, if you get an obvious hint to the correct answer in the clue, you may think for a second that it cannot be that easy, right? 

This means playing fair does not obligate the constructor to hide the correct answers too hard. Sometimes, they might throw you a curveball by causing linguistic ambiguity while the correct answer is staring right in your face. 

Draw or a Tie

There is no such thing as a tie in a crossword; you either win or lose. In order for you to draw, you will have to leave a contest that has been undecided or finished while neither side won. However, if you are a solver and do not concede or give up, put the puzzle aside or never return to the game on hold, then the game is a draw. 

There is no such thing known as a tie just because you left the crossword puzzle undecided. 

How Can You Check Your Solution

A constructor usually provides a copy of a solution with completed grids with all the correct answers in their respective white squares. If you are playing a crossword in a newspaper, it will be right by the side, or if you are solving one from a puzzle book then, the solution might be available right at the end of the book. 

While you may believe that you have given the correct answers, the solution by the constructor decides the accuracy of the answers. 

Even when you may think that your answer is the best fitting for the clue, unfortunately, the rules are on the constructor’s side on this one. They get to have the last say on what the right answer is. 

That said, as a beginner, you can consult the solution by the crossword puzzle constructor at any time to ensure that you are on the right path. Otherwise, you may run into the risk of frustration by entering an answer that seemed appropriate but did not fit the constructor’s expectation. 

Sometimes, learning your mistake can enlighten and broaden your thinking spectrum. Therefore, crossword puzzles are one of the best games to sharpen your logical and reasoning skills.

While you can always consult the constructor’s solution if you find yourself stuck at a certain clue and cannot complete the puzzle, this will be known as cheating. If you took any help from the solution, do not count this one as a victory, even if it was to learn where to put the first letter of the first clue. 

If you enter the wrong answer and then check the solution, you again forfeit your chance to win. Even if your answer was valid in every sense befitting the clue, referring to the solution before finishing the puzzle is a no-no. 

You are most likely going to playing crossword puzzles at home like most of us do. Therefore, this game requires you typically to follow a code of honor and play with all honesty. However, if you have a local tournament going on, others will keep a tap on, ensuring that you are not cheating while playing. 

You can either play by yourself, thinking that you are testing your skills, or simply doing a time pass. On the other hand, you can think of it as a challenge by the constructor and imagine you are in competition with him to beat his mastermind puzzle. 

Once again, do not cheat because, first, that beats the entire purpose of honing your skills. Most importantly, cheaters fool nobody else but themselves. 

7 Tips for Beginners to Solve Crossword Puzzles

While solving crossword puzzles can be a great time pass, they stimulate our brains on a deeper level. The activity encourages your brain to keep using its memorization abilities, logical reasoning, and critical thinking. 

While some may think of crossword puzzles as a game to test their knowledge, others may find this exercise can be a great way to meditate. Solving crossword puzzles can help you relax, unwind and learn that every problem that you may face in life has a solution. You just need to look for the right clues and mindset to surmount it. 

While a crossword puzzle may look complex to a beginner like you, always remember that it is beatable. Each clue has to have an answer; there are no dead-end questions. You just have to find the right approach to get the answer that meets the clue. Additionally, it must also come in the correct number of letters to fit in the grid. 

If you are just starting in the world of crossword puzzles, it can be tough to know where to begin. Therefore, here are some tips & tricks and details to help you get starte

  1. Approach with an Open Mind

One thing you must learn as a crossword puzzle solver is to be open-minded. Crossword creators will go to extreme lengths to confuse you and second guess your answers. Deception is the most potent weapon in their arsenal, and they will even use ambiguous words in their clues to lead you in the wrong direction. 

For example, they may use a word with two different meanings: bark or bear. Bark can mean a dog’s bark or a tree’s bark. Similarly, a bear can be the animal or as in “bear with me.” So, you will have to guess the right one, or it can mess up your crossword puzzle. 

Try to approach each puzzle with a broad spectrum and keep your eyes out on these cleverly placed anomalies by the crossword puzzles creators. 

  1. You can Look up for Help

Remember, one of the primary purposes of solving crossword puzzles is to learn new things. So if you find yourself struggling with a particular clue and cannot even make a wild guess, it is ok to seek help on the internet or other resources

This is a great way to learn something brand new and expand your knowledge database. However, try to use this as the last resort because cheating all the time will beat the purpose of developing and testing your skills. 

As you learn to solve more and more crossword puzzles, it will help fill your brain’s memory bank with new information, strategies, and words. This will help you advance in levels and also learn to be more articulate in your daily life. 

You will find it amusing how frequently some of the information comes up in crossword puzzles. This can help you use your existing knowledge to learn something brand new – it is a weird world. 

By the way, a dictionary can be your partner in crime to debug these brain-teasing puzzles with efficiency, or you can also research the topic via Google too. 

  1. Easiest Clues First

One of the fundamental tips is always looking out for those easy clues and attempting them first. This can really help the novice to start with confidence. To find these clues, you must look through the entire list of clues in both across and down categories. 

Fill in the correct answer quickly as you come across an easy one. Typically, it is the fill-in-the-blank ones that are the easiest to solve. So start by searching out those by going through the entire list of clues. Solving the easy ones will give you some idea about the letters you may find helpful in completing the puzzle. Moreover, this is a great way to boost your confidence and gain momentum. 

  1. Attempt Small Word Answers First

Once you have attempted the easiest clues in the list, the next step to keep the momentum going is to look for answers with the smallest words or fewer letters. Typically, there are not many of these in crossword puzzles, but they are the easiest to guess if present. 

Scan through your crossword puzzles at a glance and see if you can find the grids with the smallest number of boxes to fill. These can be any number of letters between 3, 4, or 5. It will also help you memories some of the smaller words in English, as small words are not a common occurrence in the language. Moreover, you will come across these small words in crossword puzzles quite often. 

  1. Clues Have Rules

Remember that crossword puzzle constructors have rules to follow when creating these mind-teasers. For example, each grid's answer must follow a similar pattern as to the clue’s speech.  If you can understand the hint, you may find a clear-cut answer and solve that particular clue. 

You can also look for clues indicating that their answer will be in a plural form as it might end with a letter “S.” Another example will be an answer ending with an “ED,” which means the answer might be in the past tense. 

You may also have other comparative worded answers ending in “ING” or “EST.” Typically these words are easy to spot in the clue list. In case the answer is to be in a foreign language, the constructor will give you an obvious clue to think outside the box. 

In this case, the constructor may clearly state the English word for the answer and then asks you to guess the equivalent word in the required foreign language. The constructor may also include abbreviations that come with indications stated as (Abbr) in the clue list. 

  1. Guessing the Correct Answer

Sometimes you can glance through the crossword puzzle clue list and try to guess the easy answers without thinking about it much. However, once you have gone through all the clues, it is time to solve the easiest ones by working through each clue in chronological order. 

Look at each of the given clues one by one and try to solve it. In case you find yourself stuck on a clue, move and come back to it later. Sometimes, doing this can give you some other letters passing through the grid to guess the correct answer. 

Alternatively, you can try to guess the correct answer that may be befitting the clue. If you are not certain about your guess, still write it down lightly in the puzzle, so you can erase it later if you come up with a better one. 

In case you have some alphabets in there that may prove your guess right or wrong, this will help you look for a different answer. 

  1. Taking a Break is Fine

Staring at crossword puzzles for a longer period of time can be mind-numbing. So, if you are struggling with certain clues and feel frustrated, simply walk away from it for a while. Go and do something else as this will work a refresher for your brain, just like rebooting a computer to start fresh. 

You will be amazed to notice the difference in your efficiency after taking a break from the puzzle. At times, it may change your perception of these clues and guess the answer. It is a strange phenomenon how you come back to the puzzle after a break and realize that the answer was in front of you all along. 

Time away from the crossword puzzle can lead to an “aha’ moment because your mind is fresh and ready to think with what it has learned so far. 

Top 5 Crossword Puzzles Recommendations

Here are the top 5 crossword puzzles you can start with. 

  1. New York Magazine –Crossword Puzzles
  2. The Washington Post Crossword Puzzles
  3. The New York Times Crossword Puzzles
  4. 6 Cryptic Crosswords
  5. The Los Angeles Times Crossword

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