How To Get Better at Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles can be addictive, relaxing, and entertaining, but they can also be frustrating! Agonizing over a seemingly impossible clue can lead even the most seasoned crossword lover to aggravation. If you're interested in crossword puzzles but not sure how to improve your odds at solving them, there are a few things to remember to keep your stress levels from skyrocketing.

  1. You don't have to start with "1 Across."  Start off by scanning the clues quickly and filling in the answers that you know right off the top of your head. Then start working on the sections where you've got one or two words filled in so you'll have some letters to work around.
  2. If the puzzle has a theme or catch phrase at the top, keep that in mind when reading the clues. The New York Times crosswords are famous for working their themes into the most unlikely places--even short little answers can be related somehow.
  3. Consider whether or not one-word clues can be used as different parts of speech. For example, the word "object" can be both a noun and a verb, and the crossword puzzle won't indicate which one they mean.
  4. Read the clues carefully to see if they want singular or plural answers. If the clue reads, "Spring Bloom," the answer could be "tulip."  But if the clue asks for "Spring Blooms," you want to put in "tulips."
  5. Similarly, the question may refer to past, present, or future tenses. Make sure your answer fits the tense that is called for. Don't automatically assume though that if a clue is asking for a verb in the past tense, that it will end in "-ed," or that if a clue ends in "-ing" that the answer will as well.
  6. Watch for the words "and" and "or."  "And" indicates that the answer is plural, while "or" is asking for a singular answer. This occurs sometimes with names as well. For example, "Nelson and Boxcar" could be "Willies," but "Nelson or Boxcar" would be "Willie."
  7. If the clue contains an abbreviation, the answer will as well. So if your clue reads "Amer. Med. Assn.," the answer is "AMA." Sometimes a clue will indicate that an abbreviation is needed, but this is getting more and more rare.
  8. In almost every puzzle you'll find a clue that's asking for a foreign word. For instance, "Trevi Fountain coins" refers to Italian money, so the answer would be "Lira." You'll need to figure out first where the landmark or city is, and then figure out the answer to the actual clue. Tricky!
  9. Themed crosswords sometimes feature exceptionally long answer spots. The answers to the cryptic-sounding clues that are provided for these are generally phrases with a twist to them to fit the theme. A recent New York Times Sunday crossword had the theme "Side by Side," and one of the clues was something like "Repair an overturned piano?" The answer was "Tune up upright" (without the spaces of course). The use of the word "up" was the way the answer fit into the theme of the puzzle.

Keep in mind that fitting the right letters into the boxes isn't the only puzzling aspect of a crossword puzzle. The clues themselves can turn into little brainteasers that will make you slap your forehead when the answers become obvious. And if all else fails, pick up a crossword puzzle dictionary and a thesaurus!


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