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Word Lists for Crossword Constructors

Where to find and how to use word lists.

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First crossword puzzle

Arthur Wynne's Word Cross

One hundred years ago, when Arthur Wynne published his 'word cross', he could not have possibly imagined what an incredibly popular pastime crossword puzzles would turn out to be for the puzzling public. His simple, diamond-shaped grid (see image) containing thirty-one words would, no doubt, be rejected by any prominent puzzle publisher today but in December, 1913, it gave birth to a puzzling craze that, at its height, wrought publishing empires, ended promising careers and wrecked long-term marriages. People became so obsessed with crossword puzzles that employees were forbidden from bringing them to work.

Well, the fad has subsided but the crossword puzzle remains a daily pleasure for many people and an important element in practically every newspaper as well as many magazines and newsletters. With the advent of the Internet the venerable crossword has been adapted to the digital age and is more ubiquitous now than ever before. There are almost ten million results for "crossword puzzles" in an Internet search. Puzzles come in all shapes and sizes. The world's largest crossword puzzle has over 28,000 clues while the Zen crossword puzzle has two clues and one white square.

So, how are these puzzles produced in quantities sufficient to satisfy the puzzler's never-ending appetite for better crosswords with brighter fill and cleverer clues? Whereas the pioneers used pencil and grid paper and manually slogged through dictionaries, encyclopediae and atlases looking to avoid as much obscurity as possible, today there are computer programs which do much of the grunt work when filling a grid.

These programs rely on word lists to produce an acceptable fill. This is where a comprehensive word list is an invaluable tool for creating a quality puzzle. People don't want clues like "Hindu foot soldier" or "Deep-sea encephalopod". Modern crossword solvers demand lively fill that uses a mix of common, everyday words (with clever clues), trendy terms, edgy phrases, popular brand names and five-star celebrities.

A word list needs to be constantly updated (note to self: add "gangnam style" to word list) and, more importantly, word lists need to be screened for offensive or inappropriate words: No death, disease, sexual or scatalogical references. Then the remainder of the words will need to be manually scored so that the program uses the most desirable words first and the more obscure entries only as a last resort.

Many constructors have spent a lifetime building top-notch word lists. Fortunately for the newbie constructor, there are many good word lists on the Internet to get you started. That being said, start adding to and building your own custom word lists right away. Over time, they will grow to be an indispensable tool for the making of marketable puzzles.

Clck here for links to some online word lists for puzzle constructors.

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