The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (2023)

The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (1)

Curious by nature? Then you probably can’t resist the mystery of a good puzzle. From jigsaw puzzles to mind-bending brain teasers, puzzles have challenged the brains and stubborn natures of humans for centuries. For many, crossword puzzles provide a daily mental workout with their breakfast, on their lunch break or when they’re winding down for bed. If you’re a bookworm or a wordsmith yourself, it’s hard to ignore the allure of correctly filling in all those little boxes. Even better, crosswords don’t just offer fun; they improve brain function and vocabulary skills as well.

In fact, science actually gives you several good reasons you should spend a little time solving crossword puzzles each day. From preventing or slowing Alzheimer’s to expanding your knowledge of new words, the health benefits of analyzing those cryptic clues simply add to the overall appeal of the puzzle-solving process — until you get stuck. Before your blood pressure starts rising over a puzzle you can’t solve, make sure you’re using every trick in the (crossword) book to ensure you never have to accept defeat.

Start with Puzzles in Your League

No one likes to accept defeat. When it comes to crossword puzzles, it only takes a couple of stubbornly elusive words to put a wrinkle in your entire game plan. If you’re fairly new to crossword puzzles or you tend to struggle with completely solving puzzles most of the time, then your first order of business is to start building your skills with the right puzzles and the right approach. Some basic tips can help you get started with some simple, logical steps that are easy to follow. Establishing the best habits in the beginning helps you lay the foundation for harder solves as you progress and expand your puzzle-solving skills.

The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (2)

One of the most important tips when you’re starting out is to choose easy crossword puzzles at first. Don’t rush out and look for a copy of The New York Times and try to tackle the newspaper’s famously challenging puzzle on your first attempt. It won’t end well for you. Those more challenging puzzles are your end game, but you should start much smaller until you’ve acquired some crossword skills and learned a lot of interesting facts along the way that will help you solve future puzzles. If you just can’t resist the temptation of the Times‘ puzzles, at least start with the Monday puzzle, which is the easiest, and work your way through the week. Contrary to popular belief, the Saturday — not Sunday — puzzle is the hardest.

Once you’ve found a puzzle that suits your current skill set, look for the fill-in-the-blank clues on the puzzle. These types of clues are usually the easiest to solve, although that might not be true if you aren’t familiar with the theme of the puzzle. Scan down the list of fill-in-the-blank clues and start filling in the answers before moving on to the other clues. Next, give all the remaining clues a quick skim to spot all the answers you definitely already know. Almost every puzzle has at least a few “gimmies,” a combination of deliberately easy clues and those you just happen to know immediately.


The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (3)

When you finish with those, go through the grid to find the three-, four- and five-letter words. These words will generally be the next easiest words to solve. Shorter words come to mind more quickly and with less effort than longer words. Many short words appear repeatedly in puzzles as well, so as you continue to solve puzzles, you will notice them popping up over and over again, making them even easier to remember with each progressive puzzle.

It’s also important to remember that clues obey the rules of the game — for the most part. For example, the clues are generally always written in the same part of speech — you know, noun, verb, adjective, etc. — as the answer. Check the clues for words that end in “-ed,” “-est,” “-ing” or “-s” — which represent past tense verbs, superlative adjectives, participles and plurals, respectively — to see if the crossers match the endings. If so, pencil in the endings before moving on to the next stage of solving the puzzle.

(Video) New York Times Crossword [Secret Formula for Success]

Watch out for word play that can interfere with this rule as you go through the puzzle. You may not notice it at first, but if you ponder some clues more closely, you may spot phrases that could mean different things. For example, “drops on the ground” could mean something falling to the ground (a verb), or it could mean the dew that clings to the leaves each morning as the sun rises (a noun).

Put Those Intersections to Good Use

Remember that you’re never just working with a single clue and a single answer at any given time. The intersections collide in the interlocking and interdependent word pairings in ways that are designed to be helpful, although not necessarily obvious. If you simply can’t figure out one clue, then look at the intersectional clues to see if any of those words and letters help you solve the other clue.



(Video) How To Solve Crossword Puzzles
The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (4)

Strive to Be a Know-It-All

If you really want to become a crossword puzzle guru, then it also helps to become a hardcore trivia junkie. You know that person who knows all kinds of details about absolutely everything? Even the weird, seemingly unimportant stuff no one should ever know? That’s a trivia junkie, and that should be you if you really want to make sure a crossword puzzle never gets the best of you.

The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (5)

Even if you don’t think you can pull off becoming a complete trivia junkie, you should at least make it a point to learn something new every day. Start with general topics like history, current events, pop culture, geography and literature, and then move on to niche topics like aviation history, political parties, music subgenres outside your listening experience, unfamiliar countries and authors you’ve never read. Simply reading a few articles a week on various topics can help you learn a lot of crossword-worthy information while expanding your mind and helping you build a better understanding of the world.

Never Just Throw in the Towel

As you continue to solve crossword puzzles, don’t give up when you end up out of your depth on a topic, person or even a single clue. (It will definitely happen.) You can consult Google, a thesaurus or even an app to help when you get stuck. Asking family and friends for input is an option as well. This is true at any stage of your crosswording career. If you don’t know a particular celebrity, athlete or Emmy award winner from the 1950s, it’s okay to get a little background on subjects for the puzzle. Don’t let anyone crossword shame you! You might be surprised at the cool information you learn when you look at it as all part of the fun.


(Video) The Secret History of Crossword Puzzles

The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (6)

Many hardcore crossword solvers consider it cheating to resort any outside sources, but most regular puzzle-solving folks recognize that getting some help is a legitimate way to become a great puzzle solver. The whole purpose behind these puzzles is to engage the mind, expand your knowledge and improve your vocabulary. Crosswords have been scientifically proven to reduce the risk of dementia and improve verbal and memory skills. Spending time researching answers contributes to these cognitive improvements.

Boost Your Brain Power with a Break

If you’re feeling really stumped, one of the best things you can do is take a break. Walk away from the puzzle for a while and come back to it after you’ve cleared your head. You can take a walk, go for a jog, take a shower or relax in your quiet “thinking place” — anything that triggers the release of dopamine offers a boost to your creativity and recharges your body and your brain.


The Secret Science of Solving Crossword Puzzles (7)


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What is the secret to doing crossword puzzles? ›

Fill-in-the-blank (FITB) clues are generally the simplest clues to solve. They are easily spotted in the clue list so go through these first. Getting one or two of these clues can help to get the ball rolling and will give you a good starting point on which to solve the puzzle.

Are crosswords for smart people? ›

A crossword puzzle is not a test of intelligence, and solving is not really about the size of your vocabulary. Becoming a good solver is about understanding what the clues are asking you to do. You can absolutely learn to do that.

How are people good at crosswords? ›

So-called "fluid intelligence", or the ability to "make the mind jump through hoops" while solving problems, is directly linked to the ability to untangle cryptic clues, researchers found.

Is there a strategy to crosswords? ›

Try to find the shortest answers

Crosswords generally have answers that range from three to 21 letters. Naturally, the shorter answers will be easier to find, as there are fewer logical combinations of letters that can go in those spaces.

Is crosswords good for your brain? ›

A lot of people do crossword puzzles each day with the belief that this activity will help keep the brain young and even keep Alzheimer's or dementia at bay. Unfortunately, there is no evidence for this belief.

What do you call a person who loves crossword puzzles? ›


Are crosswords good for mental health? ›

According to a University of Exeter study, older adults who regularly did word and number puzzles had increased mental acuity. A 2011 experiment with members of the Bronx Aging Study found that a regular regimen of crosswords might delay the onset of cognitive decline.

What skills do you need to be good at crosswords? ›

What do you need to know to be good at crossword puzzles? You'll need a strong vocabulary and good spelling skills. Knowing a lot of synonyms and familiarizing yourself with the thesaurus will help, too. Often times, crossword clues appear to have more than one answer.

Is there any trick to solve puzzles? ›

Sort your pieces by color and pattern. These are the most easily-distinguished features and they offer a way to break the puzzle into a series of manageable sub-tasks. Also, set aside corner and edge pieces. Optional tip: Divide your piles into smaller collections of pieces based on their number of tabs and blanks.

How do you get better at solving crosswords? ›

In an interview with Business Insider, Barkin broke down how the average person can improve their crossword skills.
  1. Start off with easier puzzles. ...
  2. Try to learn a little of everything. ...
  3. Google is your friend. ...
  4. Start with the blanks. ...
  5. Recognize words that appear over and over. ...
  6. Stay cool.
19 Apr 2016

What is the fastest way to solve a word puzzle? ›

Word Search Puzzles: 17 Helpful Tips, Tricks, and Strategies
  1. Check the theme and keep it in mind. ...
  2. Multi-search (search for more than one word at a time). ...
  3. Cross words off the list as you discover them. ...
  4. Guide your eyes with your finger or back of pen/pencil. ...
  5. Get a new perspective – turn the puzzle upside down.
12 Jul 2021

Do you have to be smart to do crosswords? ›

If you've ever picked up a crossword puzzle and said to yourself, “I am not smart enough” or “I don't have a big enough vocabulary for this,” allow us to tell you a secret: A crossword puzzle is not a test of intelligence and solving is not really about the size of your vocabulary.

How do crossword puzzles affect the brain? ›

Scientists found crossword puzzles were better at improving later cognitive disease stages, but both crosswords and brain games positively impacted early stages. They also found that those who did crossword puzzles ended up having less brain shrinkage based on MRI results.

Do crosswords help ADHD? ›

Crossword Puzzles and Picture Puzzles: It sounds simple, but these are great tools for kids with ADHD.

Are crosswords healthy? ›

Research shows doing crossword puzzles regularly can also improve your ability to focus attention on a desired task and improve your executive function and working memory. All of these skills improve one's ability to successfully navigate the challenges of everyday life and remain independent for as long as possible.

Do crosswords stop dementia? ›

Researchers determined that, out of the participants who eventually developed dementia, those who frequently did crossword puzzles demonstrated a much slower decline in memory. On average, crossword puzzles provided about a two and a half year delay in memory decline compared to those who did not do crossword puzzles.

How do you master crossword? ›

How to Get Better at Crosswords
  1. 1 Tackle fill-in-the-blanks first.
  2. 2 Fill in 3- and 4-letter words you know.
  3. 3 Check the tense and number in the clues.
  4. 4 Look for formatting hints in the clues.
  5. 5 Familiarize yourself with common crossword answers.
  6. 6 Check intersecting words when you guess an answer.
24 Mar 2022

Are crosswords good before bed? ›

If you need some help pulling yourself away from your phone or TV at night, doing crossword puzzles or sketching exercises in the hours before bed can be a good way to start.

Are crosswords good for anxiety? ›

For people with Anxiety issues, crosswords can be a great grounding exercise. They help our minds to calm down and focus on processing the puzzle at hand, which can alleviate anxiety symptoms or at least take the edge off it. Improves Focus – Crosswords need continued attention and focus to complete them successfully.

Does crossword help memory loss? ›

Now, a study published in NEJM Evidence has found that regularly attempting a crossword may help slow decline in some people with mild cognitive impairment, an early stage of faltering memory that can sometimes progress to dementia.

What is a crossword addict called? ›

Well, to put some of you out of your misery, the topic under the microscope today is crossword puzzles. For those who don't know, a cruciverbalist is an enthusiast of word games (especially of crosswords).

Can you be addicted to crossword puzzles? ›

Maybe it just so happens that people who are mentally fit have a tendency to want to do crosswords in the first place," explains Olsher. The possible long-term mental benefits of puzzling aside, Olsher says that crosswords have an addictive, immersive quality that keeps people coming back for more.

Do puzzles help your memory? ›

Working on a puzzle reinforces connections between brain cells, improves mental speed and is an effective way to improve short-term memory. Puzzles increase the production of dopamine, a chemical that regulates mood, memory, and concentration. Dopamine is released with every success as we solve the puzzle.

Do word games sharpen your brain? ›

"Unfortunately, there's really no conclusive evidence supporting that word games and puzzles benefit the brain over time," says Dr. Tanu Garg, a neurologist at Houston Methodist. For instance, studies haven't shown that they help prevent memory loss or reduce the risk of developing dementia.

Can dyslexic people do crosswords? ›

Crossword puzzles are a great way to build or reinforce vocabulary. That said, I'm not sure that they would be a "brain break" for a dyslexic, so I wouldn't necessarily recommend them as that. I would say "additional practice." And, always, these should be done at a level where a student can achieve success.

Are crossword puzzles good for seniors? ›

Recent studies have identified a number of health benefits daily crossword puzzles can have on an individual, especially the elderly. Many studies find the same results: solving crosswords puzzles later in life is associated with delayed onset of memory decline in those who develop dementia.

What 3 basic skills are being encouraged during puzzle use? ›

Puzzles are a great way to create a fun learning opportunity for kids. Simple jigsaw puzzles help children develop finger strength, perseverance and problem-solving skills. Ask your child to turn, flip, slide and wriggle pieces into position.

Do crosswords improve vocabulary? ›

Keeps the Mind Active

Crossword puzzles teach new vocabulary and improve spelling in people of all ages. Keeping a dictionary near you or looking up the meanings of words you don't know online takes the learning even further. With a wider range of words at your disposal, you'll certainly feel and sound smarter.

Do crosswords get harder throughout the week? ›

If you do the puzzle on a daily basis through the week, the Wednesday may not always be harder than Tuesday, Thursday may not always be harder than Wednesday. But if you do the puzzle long enough, the trend shows that it does get harder as the week goes on.”

How long should a 1000 piece puzzle take? ›

A 1,000-piece puzzle has a solving time range of 5 to 12 hours and an average solving time of 9 hours.

Can puzzles train your brain? ›

Doing a puzzle reinforces connections between brain cells, improves mental speed and is an especially effective way to improve short-term memory. Jigsaw puzzles improve your visual-spatial reasoning.

Can an 8 puzzle be unsolvable? ›

It is not possible to solve an instance of 8 puzzle if number of inversions is odd in the input state. In the examples given in above figure, the first example has 10 inversions, therefore solvable. The second example has 11 inversions, therefore unsolvable.

How do you solve complex crossword puzzles? ›

Every crossword clue contains a definition of the answer you're looking for.
All you have to do is find it . . .
  1. Read the clue. Then read it backwards. ...
  2. Think about the rest of the clue. ...
  3. Harden your heart against the setter's siren charms. ...
  4. Repeat step three. ...
  5. Look at the number of letters. ...
  6. Solve the damn thing . . .
3 May 2010

What is the best crossword puzzle solver? ›

The best crossword solvers on all platforms
  • Anagram Solver (Android)
  • Crossword Clue Solver (Android)
  • Crossword Solver by Havos (Android)
  • CS by LithiumApps (Android)
  • Crossword Solver King (Android)
  • Across Lite Crosswords (iPad only)
  • Anagram Solver (iPhone/iPad)
  • The Crossword & Anagram Solver (iPhone/iPad)

What does FR mean in a crossword puzzle? ›

Some common crossword abbreviations include: Fr. – French.

What are the words to win Wordle every time? ›

Choosing a common word that has at least three vowels is a good way to start Wordle. For example, words like 'saute', 'adios', 'aisle' and 'lemur' have a mix of vowels and consonants and can help you finish the game with fewer guesses.

What is the secret word game? ›

The Secret Words Game is a really popular activity that students LOVE! Students receive word clues in the form of pictures. They need to figure out the beginning sound of each picture to reveal the secret word.

What is the biggest puzzle ever solved? ›

With over 40,000 pieces, “Memorable Disney Moments” is confirmed by Guinness World Records as the largest commercially made puzzle in the world, both in number of pieces and overall size.

How much money do crossword puzzle makers make? ›

The average pay for a Crossword Puzzle Maker is $73,889 a year and $36 an hour in the United States. The average salary range for a Crossword Puzzle Maker is between $52,092 and $89,627.

Are crosswords good for stress? ›

1. Stress relief. Stressors in life can vary in their source, but word puzzles (including crosswords) can be a way to relieve stress by offering a valuable way to relax. By taking little breaks absorbed in completing your daily puzzle, it can help you to feel happier and calmer.

Why is crossword puzzle good for you? ›

Crossword puzzles provide a way for you to turn off the noise in your head and truly relax. By focusing on the clues and concentrating on the puzzle at hand, you can relax and enjoy a little break away from “the real world.” Studies have shown that crossword puzzles can help us feel calmer and happier.

Why do people with ADHD like puzzles? ›

Games and puzzles are a natural fit for the ADHD brain. I'd guess games and puzzles are especially likely to lure out the ADHD brain's ability to hyperfocus. To start with, these activities are associated with an imminent, well-defined reward: winning the game or solving the puzzle.

What stimulates the ADHD brain? ›

High-risk activities — driving fast, motorcycle riding, and waterskiing — motivate ADHD brains to focus. Some extreme activities, like daring ski jumps, sky-diving, or taking fast-acting street drugs, elicit a dopamine spike, the brain's most intense reward.

How do I rewire my ADHD brain? ›

The most effective ADHD brain exercises are those administered by medical professionals.
ADHD brain exercises
  1. sudoku.
  2. crosswords.
  3. jigsaw puzzles.
  4. playing cards.
  5. drawing Zentangles.
  6. building with Legos.
5 Oct 2021

How do I get better at quick crosswords? ›

How to Get Better at Crosswords
  1. 1 Tackle fill-in-the-blanks first.
  2. 2 Fill in 3- and 4-letter words you know.
  3. 3 Check the tense and number in the clues.
  4. 4 Look for formatting hints in the clues.
  5. 5 Familiarize yourself with common crossword answers.
  6. 6 Check intersecting words when you guess an answer.
24 Mar 2022

What skills do crossword puzzles work on? ›

Research shows doing crossword puzzles regularly can also improve your ability to focus attention on a desired task and improve your executive function and working memory. All of these skills improve one's ability to successfully navigate the challenges of everyday life and remain independent for as long as possible.

How do you get really good at crosswords? ›

In an interview with Business Insider, Barkin broke down how the average person can improve their crossword skills.
  1. Start off with easier puzzles. ...
  2. Try to learn a little of everything. ...
  3. Google is your friend. ...
  4. Start with the blanks. ...
  5. Recognize words that appear over and over. ...
  6. Stay cool.
19 Apr 2016

What do you call someone who does crosswords? ›

noun. cru·​ci·​ver·​bal·​ist. ˌkrüsəˈvərbələ̇st. : a person skillful in creating or solving crossword puzzles.

Can crosswords help memory? ›

The study found that crossword puzzles were superior to other brain games in improving memory. Scientists noted that both crossword puzzles and brain games positively impacted early stages of cognitive decline.

What is the best dictionary for crosswords? ›

Best Crossword Puzzle Dictionaries comparison table
  • 1st Place. The Million Word Crossword Dictionary, 2nd Edition (Edition 2) (Paperback) ...
  • 2nd Place. Webster's New Explorer Crossword Puzzle Dictionary (Edition 3) (Hardcover) ...
  • 3rd Place. 9.3. ...
  • 4th Place. 100 Crossword Puzzle Dictionary Paperback Large Print An Adult. ...
  • 5th Place.

How much does a crossword setter make? ›

crossword construction probably won't make you rich. Most constructors work on a freelance basis, on a "per puzzle payment plan," if you will. The best known crossword publisher, the New York Times, pays $200 to $300 a puzzle, and $1,000 if you land a coveted Sunday spot (source).

Why is Oreo in so many crosswords? ›

For starters, OREO is the seventh most used four-letter answer since 1993, according to a database of over four million clues from numerous publications. Because OREO has three of the five most used letters in crosswords, making it an easy word for puzzle constructors to fit with other words.

Do crosswords help with anxiety? ›

For example, more intellectually stimulating exercises might improve anxiety. A study found that people with anxiety were more successful at tasks requiring concentration – such as crosswords – than activities most people consider more “relaxing.”


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