How to Solve Crossword Puzzles, with Tips from Kosher Crosswords Author Yoni Glatt
Is there a suggested way to go about solving puzzles?
Not really. A lot of people like to start from the top left corner and work their way down. My favorite crossword constructor, Maura Jacobson (1926–2017), would make that corner slightly easier for that purpose. I tend to start by scanning the clues, seeing what jumps out at me, and go from there.
What are some tricks to solving a puzzle faster?
One of the simplest ways to get a few squares filled in is by looking at the tense of a clue. The answer must always be the same tense as the clue. If it’s past tense, it will often end in -ED. If the clue is pluralized or in present tense it will often end in S—but not always, so be careful. For example, the clue “Elevates” might make you think the answer ends in S, but the solution could also be LIFTS UP. If the crossing clue is also pluralized or present tense, then the S will likely work.
Look for basic letter patterns, and work those with the crossing clues. For example, if you’re filling in the down clues in a corner and your answers create a letter sequence of A-U-U, you probably made a mistake.
It's also helpful to get familiar with crosswordese.
Huh? What’s Crosswordese?
“Crosswordese” is a collection of words often found in crossword puzzles but rarely used in everyday conversation. These words are generally used in a grid for one basic reason: they’re the only words that fit. The words are usually short (three to five letters), often start and end with vowels, or are abbreviations. Nearly every puzzle has a bit of crosswordese. As you get better at solving crosswords you won’t really notice it anymore; it’s like getting used to another language. Some common examples are as follows:
AGA: A Turkish honorific
APSE: A church recess
ASTA: The dog in the “Thin Man” movies
ERLE: Writer Stanley Gardner
ERNE: A sea eagle (also spelled ERN)
HRE: Holy Roman Empire
ODIE: The dog in “Garfield”
OLEO: Synonym for margarine
OLLA: An earthenware jug
SST or SSTS: Abbreviation for Supersonic Transport (the Concorde)
In addition, puzzles often use directional abbreviations (e.g., NNE = north by northeast) and sports team scoreboard abbreviations (e.g., NYG or NYM for the New York Giants or the New York Mets).
Constructors do try to keep the crosswordese to a minimum, so a puzzle that had all these words in the fill would be considered a terrible puzzle.
Are there any tricks to solving your puzzles faster?
Know your biblical characters and Jewish pop culture, and pay close attention to the language of the clues. In general, if part of the clue is in a foreign language, then the answer will be in that language. For example, if the clue is “Where to see il Colosseo,” the answer will be ROMA. If the clue says “Where to see the Colosseum,” then it would be ROME. In this book I’ll often do something similar with Hebrew, even if it might not be how a person is commonly referred to in all Jewish vernaculars. For example, if the clue is “Yosef’s brother with a temper,” the answer is SHIMON, but if the clue is “Joseph’s brother with a temper,” then the answer is SIMEON.
Get your copy of Kosher Crosswords here.
Click here for more tips on how to solve crossword puzzles, by Deb Amlen, the "Wordplay" columnist of The New York Times, who wrote the Foreword for Kosher Crosswords.