How to Solve Crossword Puzzle

People love solving puzzles because it makes them feel smart and it improves their thinking abilities. If you’re a crossword puzzle fan, you’ve probably dabbled in different types of puzzles. Whether you’re a novice solver or an expert, each puzzle offers a unique challenge. Here are some tips to help you solve a range of different crossword puzzles.

Tips for Solving Different Types of Crossword Puzzle

There are several different types of crossword puzzles, as well as the most familiar standard puzzle. These include: 

Standard crossword puzzles

Regular puzzles vary in level of difficulty. For example, the New York Times daily crossword puzzle starts out relatively easy on Monday and gets progressively harder as the week progresses. If you’re struggling to fill in the blank spaces you might want to try these strategies:

  • Look for three and four-letter word clues. Once you solve these, you’ll have letters in the longer answers to help you out.
  • Spot foreign clues. If a clue is followed by Fr. Sp. or Ger., then the solution is a French, Spanish, or German word.
  • Clues follow grammatical rules, and their solutions will always be in the corresponding form of speech. Look for clues ending in E, EST, ING, or ED, and their solutions will do the same.
  • Recognize wordplay. If a clue ends in a question mark, it usually requires some creative thinking. For example, EAVESDROPPER? = ICICLE
  • Look for specific hints. Crumbs such as Init. or Abbr. are valuable indicators that your solution is shortened to initials or an abbreviation.

Cryptic crosswords 

Cryptic crosswords are often some of the most difficult puzzles to solve, even for experienced cruciverbalists. The best way to master them is to learn how to read the different types of standard cryptic clues.

  • Anagrams: This is the most common type of cryptic clue. It requires you to rearrange the letters of one or more words to create a new word defined by the clue. The first step is to recognize an anagram clue. There is usually a clear indicator. Though there are many, some are used more than others. For example, KEEPS DISSOLVING IN TEARS (7). Dissolving is the anagram indicator. IN TEARS is the anagram. KEEPS is the clue. The solution is RETAINS.
  • Homophone: When a cryptic clue uses a homophone, it’s telling you that the answer sounds the same as a word with another meaning. Like anagrams, homophones have an indicator. It’s usually a word relating to listening or sound. For example, EXPENSIVE ANIMAL, I HEAR (4) I HEAR is the homophone indicator. EXPENSIVE is the definition and ANIMAL is the homophone clue (deer). The solution is DEAR.
  • Hidden solutions: Sometimes the solution is hidden within the clue, right before your eyes. For example, CONFRONT THEM IN THE TOBACCO STORE (6). CONFRONT THEM is the clue. The solution is hidden here TOBACCO STORE – ACCOST.
  • Deletion: With deletion clues, you have to remove part of the clue to obtain the solution. These clues can be tricky. The wordplay will guide you to which words need to be removed. For example, CIRCUITS ALMOST FALLING (4). CIRCUITS is the definition. ALMOST FALLING gives you LAPSE. Deleting the final E gives you the solution: LAPS.
  • Charades: In this type of clue, the wordplay describes two parts that you need to string together to create the solution. Charades are often combined with parts or words or abbreviations. For example, VEHICLE SEEN BY PEOPLE AT THE OPERA (6). VEHICLE is the first part of the clue, PEOPLE is the second. OPERA defines the answer. The solution is CARMEN (an opera by Bizet).
  • Puns and twists: This type of clue is usually followed by a question mark or exclamation mark to indicate the twist. For example, POOR QUALITY CATTLE (3, 5). The solution is BUM STEER. POOR QUALITY gives BUM and Cattle gives STEER.
  • Reversals: Within this type of clue, the solution appears cunningly hidden in reverse. Sometimes the whole word is reversed, while at other times, only part is reversed. Usually, there is an indicator pointing to which part of the clue should be reversed. For example, AGREE WITH A BACKWARD ACADEMIC FELLOW (3). Here, the indicator is BACKWARD, and ACADEMIC FELLOW is don, which is reversed to give the solution to AGREE, which is NOD.

Other Crossword Types

Acrostic crosswords

The best way to start with an acrostic puzzle is the same way as any other crossword. Search for clues that you are confident of the answer to. Once you are able to transfer a few answers to the grid, this should help you figure out answers to the other clues. If you’re still struggling, look for uncommon letter patterns that may help you guess which letters will come next. Don’t forget that the first letters of each clue spell out a phrase or name. 


A good place to start with a cryptogram is to look for letter frequency. The letter E, for example, will appear much more frequently than any other letter. After that, T is the most commonly used letter, then A. This should help you fill in the two and three-letter words. Look for commonly paired letters such as SH, CH, TH, and CK. Often, words of 6 letters or longer will contain a prefix or suffix, such as DIS, UN, PRE, or ABLE, ION, or ING. 

Skeleton crosswords

The first thing to remember about skeleton crosswords is the symmetry of the grid. This will help you fill in some solid squares before you even start solving the clues. Next, try to work out the clues to the numbers that are already in the grid. It’s also worth reading through all the clues and noting down the answers you know, so you can fit them into the grid later.

Check out the variety of mini, midi, and large crosswords in the NY Times app, as well as Wordle, Spelling Bee, Letter Boxed, and Sudoku. Happy solving.

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