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Tips for (Crossword) Success
By Dave Straube

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Tips for (Crossword) Success
By Dave Straube - Editor of

Can't ever seem to complete a crossword? Don't despair, you're not alone. Here are a few tips to help you improve your crossword solving skills.

Start Simple

Do easy clues like fill-in-the-blank ones first. For example, "Pie ___ mode" for a 3-letter word is almost guaranteed to be "ala". Then look for factual clues with obvious answers. For example, "Honest Abe" for a 7-letter word is most likely "Lincoln". Next, try to fill in some crossing words using the existing letters as hints to what might fit the clue. Note what part of speech the clue is - noun, adjective, verb, etc. The answer will be the same part of speech. Avoid hopping around the grid if possible. Try to fill a small area at a time and extend steadily outwards using the partials you already have.

Recognize Clues

Recognizing the type of clue can help you figure it out. Here is a list of the typical kinds of clues you will encounter. Use the Theme

Puzzles often have a theme, which when recognized, helps in solving. The theme is almost always hinted at by the title of the puzzle and specific words in the puzzle relate to the theme. Theme words are often the longer entries and are always placed in the grid symmetrically. Theme words can be identified by their clues which are often identical for all of them, or they are given all in capital letters.

Take a Break

Stumped? Take a break and let your subconscious work on things for a while. You'd be surprised how often you come back to a puzzle and the clue which stumped you earlier is now intuitively obvious. But set yourself a limit as to how many unfinished puzzles you'll leave lying around. Too many mean you're not being persistent enough.

Get Help

Collaboration is good. Crosswords are supposed to be fun, not an exercise in self-abasement. So get help wherever you can. Find a friend with more crossword expertise than you or at least a different way of looking at things. Sometimes a unique viewpoint is all you need to unravel a misleading clue.

Final Word

You've no doubt heard how to get to Carnegie Hall - practice, practice, practice. The same holds true for mastering crosswords. Stick with it and you are guaranteed to improve. You'll be looking forward to late-running doctors and delayed flights in no time!

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