Tips for Making a Start on Crossword

So, you’ve got your brain, tools, reference books and websites to hand. What next? Here are my tips for making a start on any crossword, whether cryptic or quick:

  • Don’t try to do the clues in order. The order you solve the clues in doesn’t matter, and any answer you can put into the grid makes it easier for you to solve the words that cross over. Read through all the clues and see if any jump out at you as being something you think you can answer.
  • Draw a hyphen or bar on the grid when a clue’s letter count shows the answer is hyphenated or more than one word.
  • Check out the letter count, looking for shorter or very long words. Shorter words can be the easier words to guess, but so too can long words, because they have fewer possible solutions.
  • Look for clues where the answer looks like it may be a plural. Pencil in an S at the end of these clues. They may, of course, be an irregular plural (like MICE, FUNGI or DATA), but putting the S in is a pretty safe guess.
  • If you have some checked letters (especially less common letters like K, Y, J, Z, V and W), see if you can just guess the word that goes into the space. If you have K_A_ _, for instance, the only options are KHAKI, KNACK, KNAVE, KOALA, KRAAL (an enclosure for stock or an enclosed village), KRAIT (a snake) and KRAUT (Sauerkraut).
  • If you’re tackling a crossword online, use the ‘hint’ or ‘cheat’ function to reveal one or two of the longer words, which cross over the starting letters of other words. If solving a puzzle in a book, have a sneak peek at the answers, and pick out one or two long words to fill in. Having initial letters can really help.
  • If an answer you’re pencilling in to the grid results in an awkward letter pattern in the crossing-over word, your answer may be wrong, sad to say. For example, not that many words start with X, V doesn’t appear before S within words, and practically no words end with J. This sort of information can help you restrict the possible answers for a clue.
  • If you’re very stuck on a clue, leave it for a while, even overnight. You may be surprised at what your subconscious can do. Often the answer suddenly seems completely obvious, after a break. And remember — this is supposed to be fun!
  • Crosswords in newspapers often get harder as the week goes on, so make a start with Monday and Tuesday puzzles, and avoid the weekend ones until you’re more proficient.

After you have known the basics, you can start by trying “Crossword Daily: Word Puzzle” on your smart phone.

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