For other uses of crossword, see crossword (disambiguation)
An American-style crossword grid layout

A crossword is a word puzzle that normally takes the form of a square or rectangular grid of white and shaded squares. The goal is to fill the white squares with letters, forming words or phrases, by solving clues which lead to the answers. In languages that are written left-to-right, the answer words and phrases are placed in the grid from left to right and from top to bottom. The shaded squares are used to separate the words or phrases.

Squares in which answers begin are usually numbered. The clues are then referred to by these numbers and a direction, for example, "4-Across" or "20-Down". At the end of the clue the total number of letters is sometimes given, depending on the style of puzzle and country of publication. Some crosswords will also indicate the number of words in a given answer, should there be more than one.



The horizontal and vertical lines of white cells into which answers are written are commonly called entries or answers. The clues are usually called just that, or sometimes definitions. White cells are sometimes called lights, and the shaded cells are sometimes called darks, blanks, blocks, or just simply black squares or shaded squares.

A white cell that is part of two entries (both Across and Down) is called checked, keyed or crossed. A white cell that is part of only one entry is called unchecked, unkeyed or uncrossed.

The creating of crosswords is called cruciverbalism among its practitioners, who are referred to as cruciverbalists, from the Latin for cross and word. Although the terms have existed since the mid 1970s, non-cruciverbalists rarely use them, calling crossword creators constructors or (especially outside the United States) setters or compilers.

Types of grid

Crossword grids such as those appearing in most North American newspapers and magazines feature solid areas of white squares. Every letter is checked, and usually each answer is required to contain at least three letters. In such puzzles shaded squares are traditionally limited to about one-sixth of the design. Crossword grids elsewhere, such as in Britain and Australia, have a lattice-like structure, with a higher percentage of shaded squares, leaving up to half the letters in an answer unchecked. For example, if the top row has an answer running all the way across, there will be no across answers in the second row.

Another tradition in puzzle design (in North America and Britain particularly) is that the grid should have 180-degree rotational symmetry, so that its pattern appears the same if the paper is turned upside down. Most puzzle designs also require that all white cells be orthogonally contiguous (that is, connected in one mass through shared sides, to form a single polyomino).

The design of Japanese crossword grids often follows two additional rules: that shaded cells may not share a side and that the corner squares must be white.

The "Swedish-Style" grid uses no clue numbers - the clues are contained in the cells which would normally be shaded in other countries. Arrows indicate in which direction the clues have to be answered, vertical or horizontal. This style of grid is used in several countries other than Sweden, usually in magazines with pages of A4 or similar size, but also in the daily newspapers, covering entire pages. The grid often has one or more photos replacing a block of squares, as a clue to one answer, for example the name of a pop star, or some kind of rhyme or phrase that can be associated with the photo. These puzzles usually have no symmetry in the grid.

Substantial variants from the usual forms exist. Two of the common ones are barred crosswords, which use bold lines between squares (instead of shaded squares) to separate answers, and circular designs, with answers entered either radially or in concentric circles. Free form crosswords (criss-cross puzzles) have simple, asymmetric designs, and are often seen on school worksheets, kids' menus, and other entertainment for children. Grids forming shapes other than squares are also occasionally used.

Puzzles are often one of several standard sizes. For example, many weekday puzzles (such as the New York Times crossword) are 15×15 squares, while weekend puzzles may be 21×21, 23×23, or 25×25. The New York Times puzzles also set a common pattern for American crosswords by increasing in difficulty throughout the week: the Monday puzzles are the easiest and the puzzles get harder until Saturday. The larger Sunday puzzle is approximately the same level of difficulty as a weekday-size Thursday puzzle.[1] This has led U.S. solvers to use the day of the week as a shorthand when describing how hard a puzzle is: i.e., an easy puzzle may be referred to as a Monday or Tuesday, a medium-difficulty puzzle as a Wednesday and a truly difficult puzzle as a Saturday.

Typically clues appear outside the grid, divided into an Across list and a Down list; the first cell of each entry contains a number referenced by the clue lists. For example, the answer to a clue labeled "17-Down" is entered with the first letter in the cell numbered "17", proceeding down from there. Numbers are almost never repeated; numbered cells are labeled consecutively, usually from left to right across each row, starting with the top row and proceeding downward. Some Japanese crosswords are numbered from top to bottom down each column, starting with the leftmost column and proceeding right.


Capitalization of answer letters is conventionally ignored. This ensures a proper name can have its initial capital letter checked with a non-capitalizable letter in the intersecting clue. Diacritical markings in foreign loanwords are ignored for similar reasons. In languages other than English, the status of diacritics varies according to the orthography of the particular language, thus:

  • in French, in Spanish and in Italian, accent marks and most other diacritical markings are ignored: for instance, in French, the final E of answer ÊTRE can double as the final É of CONGÉ when written ETRE and CONGE;
  • in German language crosswords, the umlauts ä, ö, and ü are dissolved into ae, oe, and ue, and ß is dissolved into ss.
  • in Dutch crosswords, the ij digraph is considered one letter, filling one square, and the IJ and the Y (see Dutch alphabet) are considered distinct. Rules may vary in other word games.
  • in Spanish crosswords, the letters ch and ll fill two squares, although in some old crosswords (from prior to the 1996 spelling reform) you can find that they filled one square.
  • in Czech and Slovak, diacritics are respected and ch being considered one letter occupies one square.
  • in Irish crosswords, the accents on Á É Í Ó Ú are all respected, so (for example) the Í in SÍB cannot double as the I in SLIABH.
  • in Romanian, diacritics are ignored.
  • in Hungarian, diacritics are respected, with the exception of Ő and Ű - they are regarded similar to Ö and Ü, although the difference between the two pairs of letters is a distinctive feature in Hungarian.
  • in Russian, diacritics are ignored: Ё is considered the same as Е and Й is considered the same as И.

Types of clues

Straight or quick

In some crosswords, often called straight or quick, the clues are usually simple definitions for the answers. Some clues may feature anagrams, and these are usually explicitly described as such. Often, a straight clue is not in itself sufficient to distinguish between several possible answers (often synonyms), and the solver must make use of checks to establish the correct answer with certainty.

Crossword clues should be consistent with the solutions. For instance clues and their solutions should always agree in tense and number.[2] If a clue is in the past tense, so is the answer: thus "Traveled on horseback" would be a valid clue for the solution "RODE", but not for "RIDE". Similarly, "Family members" would be a valid clue for "AUNTS" but not "UNCLE". Some clue examples:

  • Fill-in-the-blank (FITB) clues are often the easiest in a puzzle, and a good place to start solving, e.g., "__ Boleyn" = ANNE
  • A question mark at the end of clue usually signals that the clue/answer combination involves some sort of pun or wordplay, e.g., "Grateful?" = ASHES (since a grate might be full of them).
  • Most widely distributed American crosswords today (e.g., The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, USA Today, etc.) also contain colloquial answers, i.e., entries in the puzzle grid that try to replicate everyday colloquial language. In such a puzzle, one might see phrases such as WHAT'S UP, AS IF, or WHADDYA WANT.

In the hands of any but the most skilled constructors, the constraints of the American-style grid (in which every letter is checked) usually require a fair number of answers not to be dictionary words. As a result the following ways to clue abbreviations and other non-words, although they can be found in "straight" British crosswords, are much more common in American ones:

  • Abbreviations, use of a foreign language, variant spellings, or other unusual word tricks are indicated in the clue. A crossword creator might choose to clue the answer SEN (as in the abbreviation for "Senator") as "Washington bigwig: Abbr." or "Member of Cong.", with the abbreviation in the clue indicating that the answer is to be similarly abbreviated. The use of "Var." indicates the answer is a variant spelling (e.g., EMEER instead of EMIR), while the use of foreign language or a foreign place name within the clue indicates that the answer is also in a foreign language. For example, ETE (été, French for "summer") might be clued as "Summer, in the Sorbonne". ROMA could be clued as "Italia's capital", whereas the clue "Italy's capital" would indicate the English spelling Rome.
  • The clue "PC key" for a three-letter answer could be ESC, ALT, TAB, or even DEL, but until a check is filled in, giving at least one of the letters, the correct answer cannot be determined.
  • A common clue is "Compass point", where the desired answer is one of eight possible abbreviations for a position on a compass, e.g. NNW (for north-northwest) or ESE (for east-southeast). The desired answer is determined by a combination of logic — since the third letter can be only E or W, and the second letter can be only N or S — and a process of elimination using checks. Alternatively, compass point answers are often clued as "XXX to YYY direction", where XXX and YYY are two place names. For example, SSW might be clued as "New York to Washington DC dir." Similarly, a clue such as "right (or left, etc.) on the map" means east. The clue can use objects that point a direction e.g. "vane dir." or "windsock dir.".
  • Roman numerals, and arithmetic involving them, frequently appear as well; the clue "V by CLIV" would yield "DCCLXX".
  • In addition, partial answers are allowed in American-style crosswords, where the answer represents part of a longer phrase. e.g., the clue Mind your __ Qs gives the answer PS AND
  • Non-dictionary phrases, such at those including auxiliary verbs are also allowed in answers. Thus, the clue Mocked could result in the grid entry LAUGHED AT.

Crossword themes

Many American crossword puzzles contain a "theme" consisting of a number of long entries (generally three to five in a standard 15×15-square "weekday"-size puzzle) that share some relationship, type of pun, or other element in common. As an example, the New York Times crossword of April 26, 2005 by Sarah Keller, edited by Will Shortz, featured five theme entries ending in the different parts of a tree:






The above is an example of a category theme, where the theme elements are all members of the same set. Other types of themes include quote themes, featuring a famous quote broken up into parts to fit in the grid (and usually clued as "Quote, part 1", "Quote, part 2", etc.); rebus themes, where multiple letters or even symbols occupy a single square in the puzzle (e.g., BERMUDAΔ); pun-based themes (perhaps the most common), where all the answers are similar puns; commemorative themes, based on a particular event or person (often published on an appropriate anniversary); and other less common types.

The Simon & Schuster Crossword Puzzle Series has published many unusual themed crosswords. "Rosetta Stone" by Sam Bellotto Jr., incorporated a Caesar Cipher cryptogram as the theme; the key to breaking the cipher was the answer to 1 Across. Another unusual theme required the solver to use the answer to a clue as another clue. The answer to that clue was the real solution.

The first entries

In the 'Quick' crossword in the Daily Telegraph newspaper (Sunday and Daily, UK), it has become a convention also to make the first few words (usually two or three, but can be more) into a phrase. For example, "Dimmer, Allies" would make "Demoralise" or "You, ill, never, walk, alone" would become "You'll never walk alone". This generally aids solvers in that if they have one of the words then they can attempt to guess the phrase. This has also become popular among other British newspapers.

Indirect clues

In many puzzles, some clues involve wordplay and are to be taken metaphorically or in some sense other than their literal meaning, or require some form of lateral thinking. Depending on the puzzle creator or the editor, this might be represented either with a question mark at the end of the clue or with a modifier such as "maybe" or "perhaps". In more difficult puzzles, the indicator may be omitted, increasing ambiguity between a literal meaning and a wordplay meaning. Examples:

  • "Half a dance" could clue CAN (half of CANCAN) or CHA (half of CHACHA).
  • "Start of spring" could literally clue MAR (for March) but could also clue ESS (the spelled-out form of the starting letter S)
  • "Nice summer" clues ETE, summer in Nice, France, not a nice (pleasant) summer.
  • "Pay addition" literally clues BONUS but could also clue OLA (the addition of OLA to PAY is the word PAYOLA).

Cryptic crosswords

In cryptic crosswords, often called cryptics, the clues are puzzles in themselves. A typical clue contains a definition at the beginning or end of the clue, and wordplay, which describes the word indicated by the definition, and which may not parse logically, but should be grammatical. Cryptics usually give the length of their answers in parentheses after the clue. Certain signs indicate different wordplay. Cryptics have a longer "learning curve" than standard crosswords as learning to interpret the different types of cryptic clues can take some practice. In Great Britain and throughout much of the Commonwealth, cryptics of varying degrees of difficulty are featured in many newspapers.

There are several types of wordplay used in cryptics. One is straightforward definition substitution using parts of a word. For example, in one puzzle by Mel Taub, the answer IMPORTANT is given the clue "To bring worker into the country may prove significant". The explanation is that to "import" means "to bring into the country"; the "worker" is a worker ant; and "significant" means "important." Note that in a cryptic clue, there is almost always only one answer that fits both the definition and the wordplay, so that when you see the answer, you know it is the right answer - although it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out why it is the right answer.

A good cryptic clue should provide a fair and exact definition of the answer, while at the same time being deliberately misleading. It is the setter's challenge to mean what he says without necessarily saying what he means - a quandary familiar to those who have enjoyed the writings of Lewis Carroll.

Another type of wordplay used in cryptics is homophones. For example, the clue "A few, we hear, add up (3)" is solved by SUM. The definition is "add up", meaning "totalize". The solver must guess that "we hear" indicates a homophone, and so a homophone of a synonym of "A few" ("SOME") is the answer.

Another wordplay commonly used is the double meaning. For example, "Cat's tongue (7)" is solved by PERSIAN, since this is a type of cat, as well as a tongue, or language.

Cryptics very often include anagrams. The clue "Ned T.'s seal cooked is rather bland (5,4)" is solved by NEEDS SALT. The meaning is "is rather bland", and the word "cooked" is a hint to the solver that this clue is an anagram (the letters have been "cooked", or jumbled up). "Nedtsseal" (ignoring all punctuation, of course) is an anagram for NEEDS SALT. Besides "cooked", other common hints that the clue contains an anagram are words such as "scrambled", "mixed up", "confused", "baked" or "twisted". In answer sheets, an anagram is commonly indicated by an asterisk.

Embedded words are another common trick in cryptics. The clue "Bigotry aside, I'd take him (9)" is solved by APARTHEID. The meaning is "bigotry", and the wordplay explains itself, indicated subtly by the word "take" (since one word "takes" another): "aside" means APART and I'd is simply ID, so APART and ID "take" HE (which is, in cryptic crossword usage, a perfectly good synonym for "him"). The answer could be elucidated as APART(HE)ID.

There is the oft-used hidden clue, where the answer is hidden in the text of the clue itself. For example, "Made a dug-out, buried, and passed away (4)" is solved by DEAD. The answer is written in the clue: "maDE A Dug-out". "Buried" indicates that the answer is embedded within the clue.

There is no end to the wordplay found in cryptic clues. Backwards words can be indicated by words like "climbing", "retreating", or "ascending" (depending on whether it is an across clue or a down clue); letters can be replaced or removed with indicators such as "nothing rather than excellence" (meaning replace E in a word with O); the letter I can be indicated by "me" or "one;" the letter O can be indicated by "nought" or "a ring" (since it visually resembles one); the letter X might be clued as "a cross", or "ten" (as in the Roman numeral), or "an illiterate's signature", or "sounds like your old flame" (homophone for "ex"). "Senselessness" is solved by "e", because "e" is what remains after removing (less) "ness" from "sense".

With the different types of wordplay and definition possibilities, the composer of a cryptic puzzle is presented with many different possible ways to clue a given answer. Most desirable are clues that are clean but deceptive, with a smooth surface reading (that is, the resulting clue looks as natural a phrase as possible). The Usenet newsgroup rec.puzzles.crosswords has a number of clueing competitions where contestants all submit clues for the same word and a judge picks the best one.

In principle, each cryptic clue is usually sufficient to define its answer uniquely, so it should be possible to answer each clue without use of the grid. In practice, the use of checks is an important aid to the solver. (Cryptic crosswords are not to be confused with cryptograms, a different form of puzzle based on a substitution cipher.)

Double clue lists

Sometimes newspapers publish one grid that can be filled by solving either of two lists of clues - usually a straight and a cryptic. The solutions given by the two lists may be different, in which case the solver must decide at the outset which list they are going to follow, or the solutions may be identical, in which case the straight clues offer additional help for a solver having difficulty with the cryptic clues. For example, the solution APARTHEID might be clued as "Bigotry aside, I'd take him (9)" in the cryptic list, and "Racial separation (9)" in the straight list. Usually the straight clue matches the straight part of the cryptic clue, but this is not necessarily the case.

Every issue of GAMES Magazine contains a large crossword with a double clue list, under the title The World's Most Ornery Crossword; both lists are straight and arrive at the same solution, but one list is significantly more challenging than the other. The solver is prompted to fold a page in half, showing the grid and the hard clues; the easy clues are tucked inside the fold, to be referenced if the solver gets stuck.

A variant of the double-clue list is commonly called Siamese Twins: two matching grids are provided, and the two clue lists are merged together such that the two clues for each entry are displayed together in random order. Determining which clue is to be applied to which grid is part of the puzzle.

Other clue variations

Any type of puzzle may contain cross-references, where the answer to one clue forms part of another clue, in which it is referred to by number.

When an answer is composed of multiple or hyphenated words, some crosswords (especially in Britain) indicate the structure of the answer. For example, "(3,5)" after a clue indicates that the answer is composed of a three-letter word followed by a five-letter word.


Here is a small example of a regular crossword, to illustrate the format:

1   2    
3       4


1. Sheep sound (3)
3. Neither liquid nor gas (5)
5. Humour (3)


1. Road passenger transport (3)
2. Permit (5)
4. Shortened form of Dorothy (3)

The solution to this crossword is:

1B 9A 2A . .
9U . 9L . .
3S 9O 9L 9I 4D
. . 9O . 9O
. . 5W 9I 9T

A set of cryptic clues that provide the same answers as above might be:


1. Start of announcement by British Airways sounds woolly? (3)
3. I sold out for real (5)
5. Wilde's intelligence (3)


1. Ferry sees submarine rising (3)
2. Now without its initial after every warrant (5)
4. Do time? There's a point (3)

How the clues work:


  • 1. start of announcement = A; by = next to; British Airways = BA. Result is BA+A = BAA (which 'sounds woolly', i.e. is the sound of a sheep).
  • 3. 'out' commonly implies an anagram (as in turned out). An anagram of I SOLD = SOLID, which means real.
  • 5. Double-definition: (Oscar) Wilde was a famous wit, and intelligence=wit. "Wilde's" in this case is a contraction of "Wilde is", and not a possessive.


  • 1. submarine = SUB; rising = backwards (in view of this being a Down clue). Result is BUS, as a verb, meaning to ferry.
  • 2. Now without its initial = OW; after = following; every = ALL. Result = ALL+OW = ALLOW, meaning to warrant.
  • 4. Do = DO; time = T. Result = DO+T = DOT, meaning a point.

Major crossword variants

These are common crossword variants that vary more from a regular crossword than just an unusual grid shape or unusual clues; these crossword variants may be based on different solving principles and require a different solving skill set.

Cipher crosswords

Published under various trade names (including Code Breakers, Code Crackers, and Kaidoku), and not to be confused with cryptic crosswords (ciphertext puzzles are commonly known as cryptograms), a cipher crossword replaces the clues for each entry with clues for each white cell of the grid - an integer from 1 to 26 inclusive is printed in the corner of each. The objective, as any other crossword, is to determine the proper letter for each cell; in a cipher crossword, the 26 numbers serve as a cipher for those letters: cells that share matching numbers are filled with matching letters, and no two numbers stand for the same letter. All resultant entries must be valid words. Usually, at least one number's letter is given at the outset. English-language cipher crosswords are nearly always pangrammatic (all letters of the alphabet appear in the solution). As these puzzles are closer to codes than quizzes, they require a different skillset; many basic cryptographic techniques, such as determining likely vowels, are key to solving these. Given their pangrammaticity, a frequent start point is locating where 'Q' and 'U' must appear.

Diagramless crosswords

In a diagramless crossword, often called a diagramless for short or, in the UK, a skeleton crossword or carte blanche, the grid offers overall dimensions, but the locations of most of the clue numbers and shaded squares are unspecified. A solver must deduce not only the answers to individual clues, but how to fit together partially built-up clumps of answers into larger clumps with properly-set shaded squares. Some of these puzzles follow the traditional symmetry rule, others have left-right mirror symmetry, and others have greater levels of symmetry or outlines suggesting other shapes. If the symmetry of the grid is given, the solver can use it to his/her advantage.

A variation is the Blankout puzzle in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine. The clues are not individually numbered, but given in terms of the rows and columns of the grid, which has rectangular symmetry. The list of clues gives hints of the locations of some of the shaded squares even before one starts solving them, e.g. there must be a shaded square where a row having no clues intersects a column having no clues.

Fill-in crosswords

A fill-in crossword (also known as crusadex or cruzadex) features a grid and the full list of words to be entered in that grid, but does not give explicit clues for where each word goes. The challenge is figuring out how to integrate the list of words together within the grid so that all intersections of words are valid. Fill-in crosswords may often have longer word length than regular crosswords to make the crossword easier to solve, and symmetry is often disregarded. Fitting together several long words is easier than fitting together several short words because there are fewer possibilities for how the long words intersect together.


A crossnumber (also known as a cross-figure) is the numerical analogy of a crossword, in which the solutions to the clues are numbers instead of words. Clues are usually arithmetical expressions, but can also be general knowledge clues to which the answer is a number or year. There are also numerical fill-in crosswords.

The Daily Mail Weekend magazine used to feature crossnumbers under the misnomer Number Word. This kind of puzzle should not be confused with a different puzzle that the Daily Mail refers to as Cross Number.

Acrostic puzzles

An acrostic is a type of word puzzle, in eponymous acrostic form, that typically consists of two parts. The first is a set of lettered clues, each of which has numbered blanks representing the letters of the answer. The second part is a long series of numbered blanks and spaces, representing a quotation or other text, into which the answers for the clues fit. In most forms of the puzzle, the first letters of each correct clue answer, read in order from clue A on down the list, will spell out the author of the quote and the title of the work it is taken from; this can be used as an additional solving aid.


The arroword is a variant of a crossword that does not have as many black squares as a true crossword, but has arrows inside the grid, with clues preceding the arrows. It has been called the most popular word puzzle in many European countries, and is often called the Scandinavian crossword, as it is believed to have originated in Sweden.[3]


The first example of a crossword puzzle appeared on September 14, 1890, in the Italian magazine Il Secolo Illustrato della Domenica. It was designed by Giuseppe Airoldi and titled "Per passare il tempo" ("To pass the time"). Airoldi's puzzle was a four-by-four grid with no shaded squares, but it included horizontal and vertical clues.[4]

On December 21, 1913, Arthur Wynne, a journalist from Liverpool, England, published a "word-cross" puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the genre as we know it. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. Later, the name of the puzzle was changed to "crossword".[5][6]

Arthur Wynne's original crossword puzzle from December 21, 1913.

Crossword puzzles became a regular weekly feature in the World, and spread to other newspapers; the Boston Globe, for example was publishing them at least as early as 1917.[7]

By the 1920s, the crossword phenomenon was starting to attract notice. In 1921, the New York Public Library reported that "The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle," and complained that when "the puzzle 'fans' swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library's duty to protect its legitimate readers?"[8] In October 1922, newspapers published a comic strip by Clare Briggs entitled "Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle," with an enthusiast muttering "87 across 'Northern Sea Bird'!!??!?!!? Hm-m-m starts with an 'M', second letter is 'U'... I'll look up all the words starting with an 'M-U...' mus-musi-mur-murd--Hot Dog! Here 'tis! Murre!"[9] In 1923 a humorous squib in The Boston Globe has a wife ordering her husband to run out and "rescue the papers... the part I want is blowing down the street." "What is it you're so keen about?" "The Cross-Word Puzzle. Hurry, please, that's a good boy."[10]

The first book of crossword puzzles appeared in 1924, published by Simon and Schuster. "This odd-looking book with a pencil attached to it"[11] was an instant hit and crossword puzzles became the craze of 1924.

Initially, some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (even hoped) that it would be a short-lived fad. In 1924, The New York Times complained of the "sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport... [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development."[12] A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles "the mark of a childish mentality" and said "There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.".[13] In 1925 Time Magazine noted that nine Manhattan dailies and fourteen other big newspapers were carrying crosswords, and quoted opposing views as to whether "This crossword craze will positively end by June!" or "The crossword puzzle is here to stay!"[14] In 1925 the New York Times noted, with approval, a scathing critique of crosswords by The New Republic; but concluded that "Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten."[15] and in 1929 declared "The cross-word puzzle, it seems, has gone the way of all fads...."[16] In 1930 a correspondent noted that "Together with The Times of London, yours is the only journal of prominence that has never succumbed to the lure of the cross-word puzzle" and said that "The craze—the fad—stage has passed, but there are still people numbering it to the millions who look for their daily cross-word puzzle as regularly as for the weather predictions."[17] The New York Times, however, was not to publish a crossword puzzle until 1942.

The term crossword first appeared in a dictionary in 1930.[citation needed]

Today, there are many popular crosswords distributed in American newspapers and online. The most prestigious (and among the most difficult to solve) are the New York Times puzzles. The first editor of the New York Times crossword was Margaret Farrar, who was editor from 1942 to 1969. She was succeeded by Will Weng, who was succeeded by Eugene T. Maleska. Since 1993, they have been edited by Will Shortz, the fourth crossword editor in Times. In 1978 Shortz founded and still directs the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.

Simon and Schuster continues to publish the Crossword Puzzle Book Series books that it began in 1924, currently under the editorship of John M. Samson. The original series ended in 2007 after 258 volumes. Since 2008, these books are now in the Mega series, appearing three times per year and each featuring 300 puzzles.

The British cryptic crossword was imported to the US in 1968 by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in New York magazine. Until 2006, the Atlantic Monthly regularly featured a cryptic crossword "puzzler" by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, which combines cryptic clues with diabolically ingenious variations on the construction of the puzzle itself. In both cases, no two puzzles are alike in construction, and the intent of the puzzle authors is to entertain with novelty, not to establish new variations of the crossword genre.

In the United Kingdom, the Sunday Express was the first newspaper to publish a crossword on November 2, 1924, a Wynne puzzle adapted for the UK. The first crossword in Britain, according to Tony Augarde in his "Oxford Guide to Word Games" (1984), was in "Pearson's Magazine" for February 1922.

Crossword puzzles in World War II

In 1944 Allied security officers were disturbed by the appearance, in a series of crosswords in The Daily Telegraph, of words that were secret code names for military operations planned as part of Operation Overlord. "Utah" (the code name for one of the landing sites) appeared in a puzzle on May 2, 1944. Subsequent puzzles included the landing site "Omaha" and "Mulberry"; the secret artificial harbours.

On June 2, four days before the invasion, the puzzle included both "Neptune" (the naval operations plan) and "Overlord". The author of the puzzles, a schoolteacher named Leonard Dawe, was interviewed. The investigators concluded that the appearance of the words was not an attempt to pass messages. According to a former crossword editor of The Daily Telegraph, in 1984 a former student of Dawe's claimed that he had picked up the words from soldiers' conversations around the army camps, and included them when helping Dawe to choose words to fill crossword grids.[18] Marc Romano, author of the book Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession, gives a number of reasons why he believes the story is implausible.

Some cryptologists for Bletchley Park were selected after doing well in a crossword-solving competition.[19]

Crossword records

According to Guinness Records, May 15, 2007, the most prolific crossword compiler is Roger Squires of Ironbridge, Shropshire, UK. On May 14, 2007 he published his 66,666th crossword,[20] equivalent to 2 million clues. He is one of only four setters to have provided cryptic puzzles to The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Financial Times and The Independent. He also holds the record for the longest word ever used in a published crossword - the 58-letter Welsh town Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch clued as an anagram.

Enthusiasts have compiled a number of record-setting achievements for the New York Times crossword, the most prestigious American-style crossword[21]:

  • The lowest word count in a published weekday-size 15x15 puzzle is the January 21, 2005 New York Times crossword by Frank Longo, with just 52 words, and was believed by Times crossword editor Will Shortz to be the world record for this type of puzzle.
  • The fewest shaded squares in a 15x15 American crossword are 18 (leaving 207 white spaces), first set by the August 22, 2008 Times crossword by Kevin G. Der,[22] and tied by the August 7, 2010 Times crossword by Joe Krozel.[23]
  • The record for most crosswords published in the New York Times is held by Manny Nosowsky, who has had 241 puzzles in that outlet.

Crosswords in non-English languages

Person solving a Finnish crossword puzzle.

Although the crossword is an English-language invention and most common in English-speaking countries, other countries have crosswords in their respective languages.

French-language crosswords are smaller than English-language ones, and not necessarily square: usually 8–13 rows and columns, totaling 81–130 squares. They need not be symmetric and two-letter words are allowed, unlike in most English-language puzzles. Compilers strive to minimize use of shaded squares. 10% is typical; Georges Perec compiled many 9×9 grids for Le Point with four or even three [3]. Rather than numbering the individual clues, the rows and columns are numbered as on a chessboard. All clues for a given row or column are listed, against its number, as separate sentences. This is similar to the notation used in the aforementioned Daily Mail Blankout puzzles.

In Italy, crosswords are usually oblong and larger than French ones, 13x21 being a common size. As in France, they usually are not symmetrical; two-letter words are allowed; and the number of shaded squares is minimized. Nouns (including surnames) and the infinitive or past participle of verbs are allowed, as are abbreviations; in larger crosswords, it is customary to put at the center of the grid phrases made of two to four words, or forenames and surnames. A variant of Italian crosswords does not use shaded squares: words are delimited by thickening the grid. Another variant starts with a blank grid: the solver must insert both the answers and the shaded squares, and Across and Down clues are either ordered by row and column or not ordered at all.

Particularly curious is the Japanese language crossword; due to the writing system, one syllable (typically katakana) is entered into each white cell of the grid rather than one letter, resulting in the typical solving grid seeming rather small in comparison to those of other languages. Any second Yōon character is treated as a full syllable and is rarely written with a smaller character. Even cipher crosswords have a Japanese equivalent, although pangrammaticity does not apply. The crossword with kanji to fill in are also produced, but in far smaller number as it takes far more effort to construct one. Despite having three writing forms, hiragana, katakana and kanji, they are rarely mixed in a crossword puzzle.

In Poland, crosswords typically use British-style grids, but some do not have shaded cells. Shaded cells are often replaced by boxes with clues - such crosswords are called Swedish puzzles or Swedish-style crosswords. In a vast majority of Polish crosswords, nouns are the only allowed words.

A Bengali crossword grid

Modern Hebrew is normally written with only the consonants; vowels are either understood, or entered as diacritical marks. This can lead to ambiguities in the entry of some words, and compilers generally specify that answers are to be entered in ktiv male (with some vowels) or ktiv haser (without vowels). Further, since Hebrew is written from right to left, but Roman numerals are used and written from left to right, there can be an ambiguity in the description of lengths of entries, particularly for multi-word phrases. Different compilers and publications use differing conventions for both of these issues.

In India a setter named A. N. Prahlada Rao from Bangalore has composed some 25,000 crossword puzzles in the language Kannada, including 6,500 crosswords based on films made in Kannada, with a total of 6,40,000 (six hundred forty thousand or six lakhs and forty thousand) clues.[4][citation needed] He has contributed crosswords to 24 periodicals including 3 dailies. He has created crosswords with themes ranging from Film to Mythology to Crime to Food to the works of famous Kannada novelists. A five volume set of his puzzles was released in February 2008 [5]. Bengali is also well known for its crossword puzzles. Crosswords are published regularly in almost all the Bengali dailies and periodicals. The grid system is quite similar to the British style and two-letter words are usually not allowed.


A notation has evolved to allow crosswords to be rendered compactly, and enjoyed by the blind or partially sighted.

It consists of giving the locations of the shaded squares in each row as letters (A=1,B=2, etc.), e.g. for the example crossword above:

  1. D E
  2. B D E
  4. A B D
  5. A B

Although the numbering scheme could be consistently applied from this information, it is customary to quote the starting square of each clue in (number-letter) format.

See also


  1. ^ (Shortz) "How to Solve the New York Times Crossword Puzzle"
  2. ^ D S MacNutt with A Robins, Ximenes on the art of the crossword , Methuen & Co Ltd, London (1966) p. 49
  3. ^ "Arroword". Retrieved May 17, 2011. 
  4. ^ "Storia delle parole crociate e del cruciverba" (in Italian). Crucienigmi. Retrieved August 28, 2009. 
  5. ^ "The Crossword Puzzle". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. August 1997. Retrieved 2010-12-18. 
  6. ^ Bellis, Mary. "The History of Crossword Puzzles". Retrieved 2010-12-18. 
  7. ^ The Boston Globe, April 8, 1917, p. 43 contains a puzzle and a solution to a previous week's puzzle.
  8. ^ Report of the New York Public Library for 1921; published by The Library, 1922
  9. ^ "Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle," by "Briggs," Morning Oregonian, October 3, 1922, p. 14; also published in several other newspapers
  10. ^ "There Goes My Crossword Puzzle, Get Up Please." The Boston Daily Globe, October 1, 1923, p. 7.
  11. ^ Frederick Lewis Allen (1931). Only Yesterday. Harper and Row. , p. 159 of 1964 Perennial Library paperback reprint
  12. ^ "Topics of the Times." The New York Times, November 17, 1924, p. 18
  13. ^ "Condemns Cross-Word Fad." The New York Times, December 23, 1924, p. 17
  14. ^ "Barometer". Time Magazine. January 5, 1925.,9171,719730,00.html. Retrieved 2008-08-05. 
  15. ^ Topics of the Times: Sees Harm, Not Education" The New York Times, March 10, 1925, p. 20,
  16. ^ "All About the Insidious Game of Anagrams" The New York Times, December 29, 1929, p. BR3
  17. ^ Richard H. (1930), "The Lure of the Puzzle." The New York Times, February 4, 1930, p. 20
  18. ^ Gilbert, Val (3 May 2004). "D-Day crosswords are still a few clues short of a solution". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 25 October 2009. 
  19. ^ The Daily Telegraph - 80 Years of Cryptic Crosswords - p. 44
  20. ^ (Pat-Ella)"Crossword setter hits puzzling landmark", Richard Savill, Daily Telegraph, May 15, 2007
  21. ^ "XWord Info"
  22. ^ [1]
  23. ^ [2]

The Crossword Obsession by Coral Amende ISBN 0-425-18157-X Crossworld by Marc Romano ISBN 0-7679-1757-X

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • crossword — UK [ˈkrɒsˌwɜː(r)d] / US [ˈkrɔsˌwɜrd] or crossword puzzle UK / US noun [countable] Word forms crossword : singular crossword plural crosswords Word forms crossword puzzle : singular crossword puzzle plural crossword puzzles * a word game on paper …   English dictionary

  • crossword — 1925, short for CROSSWORD PUZZLE (Cf. crossword puzzle) (q.v.) …   Etymology dictionary

  • crossword — ► NOUN ▪ a puzzle consisting of a grid of squares and blanks into which words crossing vertically and horizontally are written according to clues …   English terms dictionary

  • crossword — (also crossword puzzle) noun ADJECTIVE ▪ cryptic (BrE), quick VERB + CROSSWORD ▪ do, solve CROSSWORD + NOUN ▪ …   Collocations dictionary

  • crossword — (BE) see crossword puzzle * * * [ krɒs(ˌ)wɜːd] (BE) see crossword puzzle …   Combinatory dictionary

  • crossword — cross|word [ˈkrɔswə:d US ˈkro:swə:rd] n also crossword .puzzle a word game in which you write the answers to questions in a pattern of numbered boxes ▪ I like to sit down and do the crossword …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • crossword — [[t]krɒ̱swɜː(r)d, AM krɔ͟ːs [/t]] crosswords N COUNT A crossword or crossword puzzle is a word game in which you work out the answers and write them in the white squares of a pattern of small black and white squares …   English dictionary

  • crossword — /kraws werrd , kros /, n. a crossword puzzle. [1910 15] * * * …   Universalium

  • crossword — noun A word puzzle in which interlocking words are entered usually horizontally and vertically into a grid based on clues given for each word. Syn: crossword puzzle …   Wiktionary

  • crossword — cross|word [ krɔs,wɜrd ] or crossword ,puzzle noun count * a word game on paper, in which the answers to questions called clues are written in rows of squares that cross each other so that some letters are shared …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

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