How to Master the Crossword

By Laura Lee

If your life is littered with half-finished crossword puzzles, your technique may need a little work.

How to Master the Crossword

Start Simple
Instead of going through all of the clues in order, for example, all of the acrosses and then all of the downs, work outwards from your first completed word. It will be easier to find right answers quickly if you have at least one letter to help you. Fill-in-the-blank clues are generally among the easiest to solve, so scan the list and start with those. Next concentrate on the short answers. Once you have taken up the crossword habit, you will start to notice familiar words that tend to creep in. Puzzle makers need words that begin and end with vowels, so you’re likely to come across epee, aloe, Arlo, anoa, esne and similar words in your crossword travels. The more puzzles you do, the more ‘freebies’ like this you will discover.

Don’t Be a Hero
Use a pencil. Everyone makes mistakes, and those boxes are too small to accommodate ballpoint pen cross-outs. The harder puzzles sometimes have multiple answers that fit, but only one that works with the other answers. You might feel certain now, but you need some wiggle room.

Top Tip
Fill-in-the-blank clues are generally among the easiest to solve, so scan the list and start with those. Next concentrate on the short answers. 

Keep an Open Mind
When it comes to interpreting a clue, the most obvious read isn’t necessarily the right one. Some words – such as golf and love – can be read as a noun, a verb or an adjective. Some are cryptic clues. For example, ‘She meets him halfway across the living room’ seems like nonsense at first, but if you look halfway across ‘living room’ you’ll see ‘groom’. Don’t get locked into one meaning, and if you’re stuck, go back and reconsider the answers you’ve already filled in. One of them might be wrong. When all else fails, consult your crossword puzzle dictionary. (By the way, if you are looking for a 14-letter word that means ‘crossword puzzle fan’ the answer is ‘cruciverbalist’.)

Clues Inside Clues
The wording of the clues will give you some idea as to the form of the answer. For example, if the clue contains a foreign word, the answer is likely to be in a foreign language. If the clue contains an abbreviation, the answer probably does, too. If the clue is in the past tense or ends in ‘ing’, the answer will also. Thus, if your clue is in the plural you can take an educated guess that the last letter of the answer will be ‘s’ – but remember to use your pencil in case it’s a tricky one like data or sheep.

The Meta-Clue
As you fill in the puzzle, try to get an idea of its overall theme. Not all crossword puzzles have them, but most do. Figuring out the theme will help you with the long words. The long answers are likely to be a multiple-word phrase involving some sort of word play and are the most likely to represent the puzzle’s theme.

From Don’t Screw It Up! © 2013. By Laura Lee. Published by Reader’s Digest

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