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10 Tips for Solving Crossword Puzzles

Novice or Sophomore: Become A Better Solver

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A good crossword puzzle solver doesn't necessarily know all the answers but what she/he does know are the following tips and tricks. These ten tips will improve your crossword puzzle solving skills. Whether you're a novice or a puzzle solver wishing to improve, these tips and techniques will have you solving crosswords faster and more efficiently.

1. FITB

MAN STUDYING CROSSWORD AT TABLE
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FITB (fill-in-the-blank) clues are generally the simplest clues to solve. They are easily spotted in the clue list so go through these first. Getting one or two of these clues can help to get the ball rolling and will give you a good starting point on which to solve the puzzle.
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2. Check the 3-, 4- and 5-letter Words

Looking at the grid, go over the clues for any 3-, 4- & 5-letter words. There are relatively few acceptable words of this length in the English language and so the same words tend to occur in many puzzles. This is also where a lot of crosswordese crops up. It's helpful to commit to memory many of the repetitive words, especially the crosswordese, that appear in crossword puzzles.

3. Clues Obey Rules

A clue will always be written in the same part of speech as the answer. Check clues that call for answers ending in S, ED, EST or ING. Often these endings can be penciled in (but not always!). Checking the crossers of these answers can assist in verifying if the ending applies. For instance, if both the across and down clue is plural for two answers which cross on the last letter, chances are that letter is 'S'. Foreign words will be flagged directly, "Friend: Fr." = AMI or indirectly, "Friend, in France". Abbreviated answers are indicated directly, "Whistlestop (Abbr.)" = STA or indirectly with an abbreviated word as part of the clue, "RR stop" = STA. These cluing conventions are the accepted norm for American-style puzzles.

4. Guess!

Pencil in lightly any guessed answers. (If solving puzzles online, don't be afraid to enter any guessed answers. They're easily erased with the click of a mouse button.) Then check the crossing entries. If a guessed word contains an uncommon letter such as J or K, check the crossing entries for those letters first.

5. Don't Jump To Conclusions

Approach the clues with an open mind. For example, the word 'ENTRANCE' may bring to mind: DOOR, GATEWAY, OPENING. However, it could also mean "to fill with delight or wonder" ergo: ENRAPTURE, SPELLBIND, FASCINATE, etc. Don't forget that many words in English share the same spelling but have completely unrelated meanings. TIRE, BEAR, SPRING, etc.

6. Constructors Love Confusion

Crossword puzzle creators love to use misdirection as a way to confuse and challenge the solver. Watch out for FLOWER or SHOWER used to clue something that FLOWS or SHOWS. How about "Doctor's number?" = ANESTHETIC ('number' in this case is something that numbs). Think outside the box (and inside the grid).

7. Wordplay is Wonderful!

A question mark at the end of a clue usually indicates wordplay. I.e.: Bread box? = ATM or Eavesdropper? = ICICLE

8. Multi-word Answers

Remember that an answer could be made up of more than one word. Multiple word answers are now common in crossword puzzles and gone are the days when they were noted in the clue. Many puzzles contain common phrases or well-known titles of books, songs or movies. Even short answers can contain more than one word, such as "Mount" = GO UP. The first time I saw this entry I was asking myself, "What is goup? Never heard of it."

9. I Give Up!

Stumped? Put the puzzle away and come back to it later. I can't count the number of times I've been stuck on a puzzle and no matter how long I wrestle with it, I make no headway. Putting it aside and returning hours or days later something invariably jumps off the page and I have an 'Aha!" moment. Often, getting that one answer can lead to a complete solution.

10. Looking Up Answers Is Cheating, Right?

Wrong! Have references, will solve. If you are well and truly at an impasse and the solution is beyond grasp then, by all means, consult a dictionary, atlas, encyclopedia or the Internet. The best part of solving a good crossword puzzle is coming away with more than you started with. Don't be afraid to look it up. That's the way solvers become great solvers. They learn it and commit it to memory. Do trivia quiz puzzles and remember the facts. Memorize the crosswordese. Learn international, national and state capitals, major rivers, mountains, continents, seas, oceans and world currencies. And remember! All that memorizing and recalling is good for the brain. So do yourself a favor. Start solving some crossword puzzles now!

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