How to solve a crossword clue

A crossword puzzle is essentially a battle of wits – with the puzzle developer on one side and the solver on the other. However, unlike a traditional battle, both sides actually have the same goal. Crossword clue creators want to give players a challenge, and a well-thought-out crossword puzzle should always create plenty of taxing problems – even if it’s a quick-clue game designed to be played on a lunch break. But there should also be a level of satisfaction gained from solving each crossword clue, too.

Of course, no two people are alike, and what may seem like a puzzle full of simple solutions for one player could have another wracking their brains for hours on end. Newspaper crossword puzzles which offer attractive prizes for those who correctly solve all the clues will generally have at least one or two really difficult questions. These puzzles can often leave even the most eloquent of wordsmith’s drawing blanks.

You don’t have to be an English language expert to enjoy solving even the most challenging of puzzles, but before you sit down to tackle a crossword, you should bear the following tips in mind – many of them will help you to succeed, even when the clues seem borderline impossible.

Work in pencil

If you’re completing a crossword in a newspaper or puzzle book, remember to always write the answers to the clues in pencil. This allows you to easily rectify mistakes later on. Mistakes invariably happen, particularly during the beginning stages of a crossword puzzle – but ultimately, mistakes will improve your puzzle-solving abilities at the end of the day. Don’t be afraid to make them – just remember to have the means to fix them!

Of course, if you’re completing a crossword on an app or webpage, you won’t need to worry about a pencil – in fact, you should steer clear of one, lest you damage the screen of your device!

Get to know your favourite crossword puzzle compilers

If you enjoy completing a crossword in a particular publication on a regular basis, you’ll begin to spot trends in the way the author forms their clues. By familiarising yourself with how your favourite crossword compiler works, you’re gaining an insight into how their mind creates the problems you must solve. Use this to your advantage and allow it to help simplify their puzzles for you.

Fill in the blanks!

When you’ve got clues with letters already down on the grid, you should concentrate on these first. Some crossword puzzles feature two or three letters already filled in as standard, and these clues should be your main initial focus.

Consider the theme

If a crossword puzzle has a title, it generally indicates that all the answers are relevant to a particular theme. Just be aware that the theme might only apply to certain clues (usually the ones that require the longest answers). Always loosely have the theme in your mind, but don’t surrender yourself to it while thinking about answers.

Start with the smallest clues

It’s a fact that crossword compilers hate using short words. There aren’t quite as many to choose from when it comes to creating crosswords, and many puzzle creators will recycle the same short words over time (this is useful to know if you’re already implementing point 2, as mentioned above). Filling in the shorter clues helps you to open up the crossword grid, and will undoubtedly lead you towards solving those more difficult, lengthier clues.

Focus on trivial clues first

If your crossword contains different clue types, get the trivia questions out of the way first. You can use outside sources to locate the answers to these fairly easily, leaving you with the more difficult cryptic clues to tackle later on. The good news is that trivia clues will nicely break down the crossword grid, giving you hints as to what the more difficult answers are.

Understand acronyms and abbreviations

If a clue is a truncation of a word or an acronym, the clue will warn you (usually with the phrase “abbr”). Sometimes the clue itself might be abbreviated or an acronym, which further points you in the right direction.

Ask for help!

Crosswords can be an incredibly rewarding social experience – so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you’re surrounded by family while reading the Sunday supplements, sitting with colleagues on a lunch break or even commuting with complete strangers, remember that most people love a crossword, and most people love a challenge. With that in mind, don’t be afraid to involve others!

Tick-off solved clues

Remember to mark your progress with each clue solved. As you do so, you’ll begin to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment that will spur you on to solve the remainder of the crossword.

Don’t get stressed

Remember, crossword puzzles are supposed to be fun. If you’re feeling flustered or frustrated, don’t be afraid to take a breather and come back to your crossword later on. The brain is a strange instrument, and sometimes the answers become much clearer after taking some time away from the black-and-white grid.

Choose the right resources

Sometimes, you may be tempted to use a search engine to solve a clue – and that’s completely fine if it’s what you need to do. However, you might not want to ruin the challenge, which is where selectively choosing your sources of information can help. Use digital or hard-copy dictionaries, atlases, quotation resources and encyclopaedias to help you solve those clues, instead of relying on Google.