Puzzle in which words are filled into a pattern of numbered squares in answer to correspondingly numbered clues and in such a way that words can be read across and down. The first crosswords, intended primarily for children, appeared in England in the 19th century. In the U.S., the puzzle developed into a popular adult pastime. By 1923, crosswords were being published in most of the leading U.S. newspapers, and the craze soon reached England. Today crosswords in various forms are found in almost every country and language.
Learn more about crossword puzzle with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Squares in which answers begin are usually numbered. The clues are then referred to by these numbers and a direction, for example, "4-Across" or "20-Down". At the end of the clue the total number of letters is sometimes given, depending on the style of puzzle and country of publication.
The horizontal and vertical lines of white cells into which answers are written are commonly called entries or answers. The clues are usually called just that, or sometimes definitions. White cells are sometimes called lights, and the black cells are sometimes called darks, blanks, or blocks.
A white cell that is part of two entries (both Across and Down) is called checked, keyed or crossed. A white cell that is part of only one entry is called unchecked, unkeyed or uncrossed.
Crossword grids such as those appearing in most North American newspapers and magazines feature solid chunks of white squares. Every letter is checked, and usually each answer is required to contain at least three letters. In such puzzles black squares are traditionally limited to about one-sixth of the design. Crossword grids elsewhere, such as in Britain and Australia, have a lattice-like structure, with a higher percentage of black squares, leaving up to half the letters in an answer unchecked. For example, if the top row has an answer running all the way across, there will be no across answers in the second row.
Another tradition in puzzle design (in North America and Britain particularly) is that the grid should have 180-degree rotational symmetry, so that its pattern appears the same if the paper is turned upside down. Most puzzle designs also require that all white cells be orthogonally contiguous (that is, connected in one mass through shared sides, to form a single polyomino).
The design of Japanese crossword grids often follows two additional rules: that black cells may not share a side and that the corner squares must be white.
Substantial variants from the usual forms exist. Two of the common ones are barred crosswords, which use bold lines between squares (instead of black squares) to separate answers, and circular designs, with answers entered either radially or in concentric circles. Free form crosswords have simple designs and are not symmetric. Grids forming shapes other than squares are also occasionally used.
Puzzles are often one of several standard sizes. For example, many weekday puzzles (such as the New York Times crossword) are 15×15 squares, while weekend puzzles may be 21×21, 23×23 or 25×25.
Typically, clues appear outside the grid, divided into an Across list and a Down list; the first cell of each entry contains a number referenced by the clue lists. For example, the answer to a clue labeled "17-Down" is entered with the first letter in the cell numbered "17", proceeding down from there. Numbers are almost never repeated; numbered cells are labeled consecutively, usually from left to right across each row, starting with the top row and proceeding downward. Some Japanese crosswords are numbered from top to bottom down each column, starting with the leftmost column and proceeding right.
Some crosswords do not number the clues, but have their clues in small print inside grid cells which act as blanks, each clue with a little arrow indicating in which direction from its initial cell the answer is to be written. This kind of crossword originated in Scandinavia and has many different names: "Arrowwords", "Pointers" or "Tipwords" in English, Autodefinidos in Spanish, "Mots Fléchés" in French, etc, and are very popular, often being printed larger than conventional crosswords (to allow adequate space for printing the clues) and are much-used in competitions.
Crossword clues should not be inconsistent with the solutions. For instance clues and their solutions should always agree in tense and number. If a clue is in the past tense, so is the answer: thus "Traveled on horseback" would be a valid clue for the solution "rode", but not for "ride". Similarly, "Family members" would be a valid clue for "aunts" but not "uncle". Some clue examples:
In the hands of any but the most skilled compilers, the constraints of the American-style grid (in which every letter is checked) usually require a fair number of lights not to be dictionary words. As a result the following ways to clue abbreviations and other non-words, although they can be found in "straight" British crosswords, are much more common in American ones:
The above is an example of a category theme, where the theme elements are all members of the same set. Other types of themes include quote themes, featuring a famous quote broken up into parts to fit in the grid (and usually clued as "Quote, part 1", "Quote, part 2", etc.); rebus themes, where multiple letters or even symbols occupy a single square in the puzzle (e.g., BERMUDAΔ); pun-based themes (perhaps the most common), where all the answers are similar puns; commemorative themes, based on a particular event or person (often published on an appropriate anniversary); and other less common types.
The Simon & Schuster Crossword Puzzle Series has published many unusual themed crosswords. "Rosetta Stone" by Sam Bellotto Jr., incorporated a Caesar Cipher cryptogram as the theme; the key to breaking the cipher was the answer to 1 Across. Another unusual theme required the solver to use the answer to a clue as another clue. The answer to that clue was the real solution.
There are several types of wordplay used in cryptics. One is straightforward definition substitution using parts of a word. For example, in one puzzle by Mel Taub, the answer IMPORTANT is given the clue "To bring worker into the country may prove significant". The explanation is that to "import" means "to bring into the country"; the "worker" is a worker ant; and "significant" means "important." Note that in a cryptic clue, there is almost always only one answer that fits both the definition and the wordplay, so that when you see the answer, you know it is the right answer - although it can sometimes be a challenge to figure out why it is the right answer.
A good cryptic clue should provide a fair and exact definition of the answer, while at the same time being deliberately misleading. It is the setter's challenge to mean what he says without necessarily saying what he means - a quandary familiar to those who have enjoyed the writings of Lewis Carroll.
Another type of wordplay used in cryptics is homophones. For example, the clue "A few, we hear, add up (3)" is solved by SUM. The definition is "add up", meaning "totalize". The solver must guess that "we hear" indicates a homophone, and so a homophone of a synonym of "A few" ("SOME") is the answer.
Another wordplay commonly used is the double meaning. For example, "Cat's tongue (7)" is solved by PERSIAN, since this is a type of cat, as well as a tongue, or language.
Cryptics very often include anagrams. The clue "Ned T.'s seal cooked is rather bland (5,4)" is solved by NEEDS SALT. The meaning is "is rather bland", and the word "cooked" is a hint to the solver that this clue is an anagram (the letters have been "cooked", or jumbled up). "Nedtsseal" (ignoring all punctuation, of course) is an anagram for NEEDS SALT. Besides "cooked", other common hints that the clue contains an anagram are words such as "scrambled", "mixed up", "confused", "baked" or "twisted". In answer sheets, an anagram is commonly indicated by an asterisk.
Embedded words are another common trick in cryptics. The clue "Bigotry aside, I'd take him (9)" is solved by APARTHEID. The meaning is "bigotry", and the wordplay explains itself, indicated subtly by the word "take" (since one word "takes" another): "aside" means APART and I'd is simply ID, so APART and ID "take" HE (which is, in cryptic crossword usage, a perfectly good synonym for "him"). The answer could be elucidated as APART(HE)ID.
There is the oft-used hidden clue, where the answer is hidden in the text of the clue itself. For example, "Made a dug-out, buried, and passed away (4)" is solved by DEAD. The answer is written in the clue: "maDE A Dug-out". "Buried" indicates that the answer is embedded within the clue.
There is no end to the wordplay found in cryptic clues. Backwards words can be indicated by words like "climbing", "retreating", or "ascending" (depending on whether it is an across clue or a down clue); letters can be replaced or removed with indicators such as "nothing rather than excellence" (meaning replace E in a word with O); the letter I can be indicated by "me" or "one;" the letter O can be indicated by "nought" or "a ring" (since it visually resembles one); the letter X might be clued as "a cross", or "ten" (as in the Roman numeral), or "an illiterate's signature", or "sounds like your old flame" (homophone for "ex"). "Senselessness" is solved by "e", because "e" is what remains after removing (less) "ness" from "sense".
With the different types of wordplay and definition possibilities, the composer of a cryptic puzzle is presented with many different possible ways to clue a given answer. Most desirable are clues that are clean but deceptive, with a smooth surface reading (that is, the resulting clue looks as natural a phrase as possible). The Usenet newsgroup rec.puzzles.crosswords has a number of clueing competitions where contestants all submit clues for the same word and a judge picks the best one.
In principle, each cryptic clue is usually sufficient to define its answer uniquely, so it should be possible to answer each clue without use of the grid. In practice, the use of checks is an important aid to the solver. (Cryptic crosswords are not to be confused with cryptograms, a different form of puzzle based on a substitution cipher.)
Every issue of GAMES Magazine contains a large crossword with a double clue list, under the title The World's Most Ornery Crossword; both lists are straight and arrive at the same solution, but one list is significantly more challenging than the other. The solver is prompted to fold a page in half, showing the grid and the hard clues; the easy clues are tucked inside the fold, to be referenced if the solver gets stuck.
A variant of the double-clue list is commonly called Siamese Twins: two matching grids are provided, and the two clue lists are merged together such that the two clues for each entry are displayed together in random order. Determining which clue is to be applied to which grid is part of the puzzle.
When an answer is composed of multiple or hyphenated words, some crosswords (especially in Britain) indicate the structure of the answer. For example, "(3,5)" after a clue indicates that the answer is composed of a three-letter word followed by a five-letter word.
The solution to this crossword is:
A set of cryptic clues that provide the same answers as above might be:
How the clues work:
a) The clue 5-Across would be disallowed in U.S. cryptics, with the sole exception of Frank Lewis's puzzles in The Nation, which do allow occasional non-cryptic clues in order to throw the solver an occasional curveball. For a U.S. cryptic, the clue could be something like "In Brooklyn, having this can be funny". (Explanation: Having = definition of WITH; In Brooklyn = instruction to write WITH as it is said with a Brooklyn accent, = WIT; this can be funny = definition of WIT.
A variation is the Blankout puzzle in the Daily Mail Weekend magazine. The clues are not individually numbered, but given in terms of the rows and columns of the grid, which has rectangular symmetry. The list of clues gives hints of the locations of some of the black squares even before one starts solving them, e.g. there must be a black square where a row having no clues intersects a column having no clues.
The Daily Mail Weekend magazine used to feature crossnumbers under the misnomer Number Word. This kind of puzzle should not be confused with a different puzzle that the Daily Mail refers to as Cross Number.
On December 21 1913, Arthur Wynne, a Liverpool journalist, published a "word-cross" puzzle in the New York World that embodied most of the features of the genre as we know it. This puzzle is frequently cited as the first crossword puzzle, and Wynne as the inventor. Later, the name of the puzzle was changed to "crossword."
Crossword puzzles became a regular weekly feature in the World, and spread to other newspapers; the Boston Globe, for example was publishing them at least as early as 1917.
By the 1920s, the crossword phenomenon was starting to attract notice. In 1921, the New York Public Library reported that "The latest craze to strike libraries is the crossword puzzle," and complained that when "the puzzle 'fans' swarm to the dictionaries and encyclopedias so as to drive away readers and students who need these books in their daily work, can there be any doubt of the Library's duty to protect its legitimate readers? In October 1922, newspapers published a comic strip by Clare Briggs entitled "Movie of a Man Doing the Cross-Word Puzzle," with an enthusiast muttering "87 across 'Northern Sea Bird'!!??!?!!? Hm-m-m starts with an 'M', second letter is 'U'... I'll look up all the words starting with an 'M-U...' mus-musi-mur-murd--Hot Dog! Here 'tis! Murre! In 1923 a humorous squib in The Boston Globe has a wife ordering her husband to run out and "rescue the papers... the part I want is blowing down the street." "What is it you're so keen about?" "The Cross-Word Puzzle. Hurry, please, that's a good boy.
The first book of crossword puzzles appeared in 1924, published by Simon and Schuster. "This odd-looking book with a pencil attached to it was an instant hit and crossword puzzles became the craze of 1924.
Initially, some viewed the crossword puzzle with alarm, and some expected (even hoped) that it would be be a short-lived fad. In 1924, The New York Times complained of the "sinful waste in the utterly futile finding of words the letters of which will fit into a prearranged pattern, more or less complex. This is not a game at all, and it hardly can be called a sport... [solvers] get nothing out of it except a primitive form of mental exercise, and success or failure in any given attempt is equally irrelevant to mental development. A clergyman called the working of crossword puzzles "the mark of a childish mentality" and said "There is no use for persons to pretend that working one of the puzzles carries any intellectual value with it.. In 1925 Time Magazine noted that nine Manhattan dailies and fourteen other big newspapers were carrying crosswords, and quoted opposing views as to whether "This crossword craze will positively end by June!" or "The crossword puzzle is here to stay! In 1925 the Times noted, with approval, a scathing critique of crosswords by The New Republic; but concluded that "Fortunately, the question of whether the puzzles are beneficial or harmful is in no urgent need of an answer. The craze evidently is dying out fast and in a few months it will be forgotten. and in 1929 declared "The cross-word puzzle, it seems, has gone the way of all fads.... In 1930 a correspondent noted that "Together with The Times of London, yours is the only journal of prominence that has never succumbed to the lure of the cross-word puzzle" and said that "The craze—the fad—stage has passed, but there are still people numbering it to the millions who look for their daily cross-word puzzle as regularly as for the weather predictions. The Times, however, was not to publish a crossword puzzle until 1942.
The term crossword first appeared in a dictionary in 1930.
Today, there are many popular crosswords distributed in American newspapers and online. The most prestigious (and among the most difficult to solve) are the New York Times puzzles. The first editor of the New York Times crossword was Margaret Farrar, who was editor from 1942 to 1969. She was succeeded by Will Weng, who was succeeded by Eugene T. Maleska. Since 1993, they have been edited by Will Shortz, the fourth crossword editor in Times. In 1978 Shortz founded and still directs the annual American Crossword Puzzle Tournament.
Simon and Schuster continues to publish the Crossword Series books that it began in 1924, currently under the editorship of John M. Samson.
The British cryptic crossword was imported to the US in 1968 by composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim in New York magazine. Until 2006, the Atlantic Monthly regularly featured a cryptic crossword "puzzler" by Emily Cox and Henry Rathvon, which combines cryptic clues with diabolically ingenious variations on the construction of the puzzle itself. In both cases, no two puzzles are alike in construction, and the intent of the puzzle authors is to entertain with novelty, not to establish new variations of the crossword genre.
In the United Kingdom, the Sunday Express was the first newspaper to publish a crossword on November 2 1924, a Wynne puzzle adapted for the UK. The first crossword in Britain, according to Tony Augarde in his "Oxford Guide to Word Games" (1984), was in "Pearson's Magazine" for February 1922.
On June 2, four days before the invasion, the puzzle included both "Neptune" (the naval operations plan) and "Overlord". The author of the puzzles, a schoolteacher named Leonard Dawe, was interviewed and interrogated. The investigators concluded that the appearance of the words was a coincidence, as a result of stationed troops in the region mentioning the phrases in passing, which Dawe's schoolchildren repeated. The event has been described in histories, and has been used as an illustration of how seemingly meaningful events can arise out of pure coincidence.
According to National Geographic, in 1984 a former student of Dawe's claimed that he had picked up the words while eavesdropping on soldiers' conversations around the army camps and suggested them to Dawe to use in puzzles. This assertion has not been independently verified, and Marc Romano, author of the book Crossworld: One Man's Journey into America's Crossword Obsession, gives a number of reasons for why the story is implausible.
Cryptologists for Bletchley Park were selected, among other means, by timed cryptic crosswords.
According to Guinness Records, 15th May 2007, the most prolific crossword compiler is Roger Squires of Ironbridge, Shropshire, UK. On 14th May 2007 he published his 66,666th crossword, equivalent to 2 million clues. He is one of only four setters to have provided cryptic puzzles to The Times, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, the Financial Times and The Independent. He also holds the record for the longest word ever used in a published crossword - the 58-letter Welsh town Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch clued as an anagram.
French-language crosswords are smaller than English-language ones, and not necessarily square: usually 8–13 rows and columns, totaling 81–130 squares. They need not be symmetric and two-letter words are allowed, unlike in most English-language puzzles. Compilers strive to minimize use of black squares. 10% is typical; Georges Perec compiled many 9×9 grids for Le Point with four or even three Rather than numbering the individual clues, the rows and columns are numbered as on a chessboard. All clues for a given row or column are listed, against its number, as separate sentences. This is similar to the notation used in the aforementioned Daily Mail Blankout puzzles.
In Italy, crosswords are usually oblong and larger than French ones, 13x21 being a common size. As in France, they usually are not symmetrical; two-letter words are allowed; and the number of black squares is minimized. Nouns (including surnames) and the infinitive or past participle of verbs are allowed, as are abbreviations; in larger crosswords, it is customary to put at the center of the grid phrases made of two to four words, or forenames and surnames. A variant of Italian crosswords does not use black squares: words are delimited by thickening the grid. Another variant starts with a blank grid: the solver must insert both the answers and the black squares, and Across and Down clues are ordered by row and column.
Particularly curious is the Japanese language crossword; due to the writing system, one syllable (typically katakana) is entered into each white cell of the grid rather than one letter, resulting in the typical solving grid seeming rather small in comparison to those of other languages. Any second Yōon character is treated as a full syllable and is rarely written with a smaller character. Even cipher crosswords have a Japanese equivalent, although pangrammaticity does not apply. The crossword with kanji to fill in are also produced, but in far smaller number as it takes far more effort to construct one. Despite having three writing forms, hiragana, katakana and kanji, they are rarely mixed in a crossword puzzle.
In Poland, crosswords typically use British-style grids, but some do not have black cells. Black cells are often replaced by boxes with clues - such crosswords are called Swedish puzzles or Swedish-style crosswords. In a vast majority of Polish crosswords, nouns are the only allowed words.
Modern Hebrew is normally written with only the consonants; vowels are either understood, or entered as diacritical marks. This can lead to ambiguities in the entry of some words, and compilers generally specify that answers are to be entered in "ktav male" ("full spelling, ie with vowels) or "ktav haser" ("deficient spelling", without vowels). Further, since Hebrew is written from right to left, but Roman numerals are used and written from left to right, there can be an ambiguity in the description of lengths of entries, particularly for multi-word phrases. Different compilers and publications use differing conventions for both of these issues.
In India A.N.Prahlada Rao from Bangalore has composed 20,000 crossword puzzles in Kannada, including 5,000 crosswords based on Kannada films.The first-ever 5 volumes of Kannada crossword puzzles compiled by A.N. Prahlad Rao has been launched in February 2008.
It consists of giving the locations of the black squares in each row as letters (A=1,B=2, etc.), e.g. for the example crossword above:
Although the numbering scheme could be consistently applied from this information, it is customary to quote the starting square of each clue in (number-letter) format.
Puzzles commonly called the numerical equivalent of a crossword:
Board games based on the crossword concept:
Aids to solve crosswords include:
Online sources of free crosswords