Since puzzles vary in difficulty, clues can range from straightforward to tricky to downright confusing. Even though the solver thinks they have a better answer, the only right answer is the one that will work with the other answers.
Tricky Puzzle Examples
On more difficult puzzles, the designer will often use phraseology that will lead the solver in the wrong direction. For instance, a clue often given is “Nice time of the year” and the answer is only three letters.
The answer for this is always “ete”. Why? Because Nice in the clue doesn’t mean pleasant, it refers to the city in France, and ete is summer in French.
Note that Nice is capitalized. In the puzzle all first words of the clues are capitalized. If Nice were anything but the first word and was capitalized, it would be obvious, so, on more difficult puzzles, inspect first words closely. .
So, as a general rule, in harder puzzles consider multiple meanings of the words in the clue. Pen can be a writing instrument or a cage. Many words, like book or roast, can be both nouns and verbs.
Often used Puzzle Clues
Certain clues and answers show up often in puzzles, mostly because the answers consist of vowels. “Architect Saarinen” is popular because first name is Eero: unusual, and easy to fit with other words. Chaplin’s wife Oona is also used frequently, thanks to the double “o”.
Abbreviations for fast airplanes (ssts) and first rate (aaa) can also help designers complete a puzzle. Using the answer “ess” for the letter S is bit like cheating, but allows plurals on multiple words.
Other Puzzle Hints
A well designed clue will match up tenses properly. A clue in the past should lead to an answer in the past. Likewise, if the clue is Fred’s partner, the correct answer should be Ginger, not Rogers, so that both refer to the first name.
If a clue has a word in parentheses, that word is added to the answer. For instance for the clue “trash (out)”, the correct answer is “throw”. Trash = throw out.
Experienced solvers will learn that rivers, mountain ranges and cities are often found in puzzles, along with figures from mythology and Greek letters. Pro ___ can be either bono or rata, or even possibly bowl.
Crosswords are only limited by the imagination of the designer. The trick of solving a puzzle is to think like the designer when working out the clues.
Understanding Crossword Puzzles
Facing a blank crossword puzzle can be a daunting challenge. Knowing where to begin is the first step. Many people will start in the upper left corner, fail to solve the first clues and quit in frustration.
The best way to start is to glance through the clues and look for a simple question. Often the puzzle will include something like ____ Poppins. Most people will know that the answer is Mary. If the answer is four boxes, load it in, it’s probably right. That’s a start.
Then review the clue that overlaps with each letter of Mary. Build on what is there until a section of the puzzle is complete, and proceed to the rest of the puzzle.
How Newspaper Puzzles Work
Many people get their crossword fix from the daily newspaper. The New York Times and Los Angeles Times crosswords are syndicated in many newspapers across the United States. These puzzles have similar characteristics.
The puzzles get harder each day until Saturday. Saturday’s puzzle is the most difficult. For those starting out, or who need an easier puzzle, Monday is the simplest and most straightforward. Sunday puzzles are larger than the weekday puzzles but not as difficult as Saturday.
Crossword Puzzle Themes
As the week progresses, the answers become more obscure. More importantly, the clues to solve are designed to be trickier. In the above example, the designer may still want the answer to be “Mary”, but a Saturday clue might be “one of a 60’s trio.” It will be necessary to find some letters to determine the answer is Mary of Peter, Paul and Mary fame.
Weekday puzzles are fifteen squares across and fifteen down. Some answers will span the entire length of the puzzle, up or down.
Puzzle answers can be one or more words, and rarely is the number of words identified in the clue.
The puzzle often has a theme, or answers that are similar or have something in common. The clues for these special answers are often followed by a question mark. In puzzles, a question mark signifies that answer will be unexpected, or offbeat.
For instance, a clue might say, “returning after the third time?” with a twelve letter answer. The designed answer might be “fourthcoming” which is an offbeat spelling of forthcoming.
The designer might then have a series of answers that include one through four, which make up the theme of the puzzle. Identifying the theme can make solving the other theme clues easier.
Educational and fun, crossword puzzles are great way to pass the time. So sit down, grab a pencil (or a pen if you dare) and give one a try.