Alright, major nerd alert—I’m a total crossword puzzle geek! On a regular Saturday afternoon or during a break at work, you can probably find me working on a crossword puzzle. In pen. I like to hold it over Nate that I can finish one faster than he can 🙂 I wouldn’t say I’m a crossword master or anything (notice that my crossword puzzle book says “easy” puzzles haha), but I do get a lot of questions from people on how to do them! So, without further ado, here are my top 11 tips on how to beat the New York Times crossword.
The title is an extra clue.
…usually referring to the longest answers in the puzzle. Example: “The Three R’s” probably means that prominent clues have three R’s in the answers.
Understand crossword clue lingo:
- Abbr. – Abbreviation, obviously.
- Partner – The word given is often paired with the answer. Example: “trial partner” is “error” because people often say “trial and error”
- Perhaps (or maybe) – The clue is an example of the answer. Example: “doctor’s prescription, perhaps” is “shot” because sometimes doctors prescribe shots; “have leftovers, maybe” is “eat in”
- Familiarly – Refers to slang. Example: “electronic instrument, familiarly” is “synth”
- Letters – Refers to an abbreviation. Example: “debtor’s letters” is “IOU”
- Some – The clue gives you a category, and the answer is something that falls under that category. Example: “some Christmas trees” is “pines” because some Christmas trees are pines
Make the answer match the clue in number, verb tense, and verb person.
Example: “Desert plants” is “cacti.” “Shells out” is “spends.”
An abbreviation in the clue means there’s an abbreviation in the answer.
Example: “IRS form experts” is “CPAs” and “speedometer no.” Is “MPH”
Ask: what common word is the clue clearly avoiding using?
Example: “sleeve fillers” is simply “arms”; “denim pants” is simply “jeans”
Any clue that has a place or foreign name in it wants you to put a foreign word in.
Example: “Cannes contraction” uses the city Cannes to tell you the answer is French. “C’est” is a common French contraction, so that’s the answer. Or, “Juan’s river” refers to Spanish and wants you to put the Spanish word for river, “rio”
Look for promising letter combinations.
If you’re filling in an answer and you notice that it creates alternating consonants and vowels with the neighboring answer, that’s a good sign. The same goes for creating common letter combinations like “sh” and “ck.” Example: filling in “aloe” right below the word “band”
It’s okay to fill in only part of the answer.
Sometimes you find that you can fill in a couple of letters in without filling in the entire answer. Example: “daughter of Michelle and Barack” is either “Sasha” or “Malia,” so you can at least fill in the a’s. Just be careful with plural and past tense answers where you might be tempted to fill in that final -s or -ed; it’s not necessarily guaranteed that those letters will be there. Example: a clue may be “deceives” while the answer is “lies to”
If you’re stuck on a clue, it might be because you’re thinking of the wrong meaning for a word.
Example: “Checked out” is talking about eyeing somebody — not checking out of a hotel or mentally checking out. So the answer is “eyed.” “Lose support” refers to losing physical support, not losing support from people. So the answer is “sag.” Sometimes only context will clear this up for you.
Know that sometimes crossword puzzles invent new words for answers.
Example: “placed on a bulletin board again” is “retacked”
Keep track of words that you notice puzzles use often.
Certain words get used often simply because they have unique letter combinations and make filling out a puzzle easier. I often see:
That’s it! Happy crosswording! Share your tips below if you’ve got any 🙂