CROSSWORDS: Discover the Theme


  • ahaWikipedia: "Many American crossword puzzles contain a 'theme' consisting of a number of long entries (generally three to five in a standard 15x15-square 'weekday'-size puzzle) that share some relationship, type of pun, or other element in common. Examples:
  • category theme, where the theme elements are all members of the same set;
  • quote themes, featuring a famous quote broken up into parts to fit in the grid (and usually clued as 'Quote, part 1',...);
  • rebus themes, where multiple letters or even symbols occupy a single square in the puzzle (e.g., BERMUDA?);
  • pun-based themes (perhaps the most common), where all the answers are similar puns;
  • commemorative themes, based on a particular event or person (often published on an appropriate anniversary)."
  • List of theme categories and examples: Additions; Alliterations; Anagram / Scramble; Antonyms; Bookends; Category Members; Combined Types; Complete The Clue; Compounds; Containers; Definitions; Deletions; Designated Squares; Direction change; Double/Triple Letters; Feature Letter(s); Grid design; Holidays and Special Occasions; Homophones; Jokes / Riddles; Language / Accent; Mini theme; Pairs / Triplets / nTuplets; Palindromes; Positional; Proper Name Play; Punchlines; Puns; Quips and Quotes; Rebus; Redivision; Repetition; Reversals; Rhyme; Sequence; Shared Centers; Shared Initials; Shift; Spoonerisms; Stacked 15s; String / Chain; Substitutions; Switch; Synonyms; Tribute; 4Verse
  • Does puzzle have a Title?
  • Do long (esp. across) answers have 'marked' clues (?, *, CAPS), or contain circles in grid?
  • Specific clue 'explaining' the theme? (often later in clue list)
  • Author: puns (Reagle); age (literature, history, slang references); etc.
  • rebusAnswers not fitting (esp. on Thu or Sun): extra letters, or numbers; rebus?
  • Adding/removing a letter or letter sequence from/to all of the theme entries
  • Grid pattern; insets or circled letters
  • palindromeAnswer or some words reversed; palindrome; malapropism; spoonerism
  • Use crossing words to figure out 1 or 2 longer answers;
    if you recognize a pattern, test/apply your theme hypothesis on other likely theme answers
  • How to Solve The New York Times Crossword What Is A Theme? Why Is There A Theme? Where Is There A Theme? Rebus: mini; 11/2017



  • HSW 4: Figure Out the Theme; Wonder 3. Work out Crossword Themes
  • Yes, You Can Write More Than One Letter in a Square rebus; 6/1/2017
  • Become a Crossword Super Solver by Will Johnston Themes; [.pdf; p1]; 1/19/2010
  • examples below (earlier NYT Sun 1/23/2011, plus other recent puzzles I've solved) are organized by day of week (Fri and Sat usually don't have themes), and then by date
    • click on date/title link for solution (and even more clues & answers) and clue discussion -- if available
    • click on [.puz] link -- if available; $ indicates subscription required (e.g., NYT)
    • spoiler alert! click on [theme]= to reveal details about the theme (using cruciverb categories above); * suffix indicates non-constant addition/rebus.
      "various" for lists of puzzles; "theme" indicates I haven't yet filled it in...
    • spoiler alert! click on any "clue"= to reveal the answer ignore spaces & punctuation; except: older browsers
  • examples (below): Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu | Fri,Sat | Sun





Friday, Saturday

  • Usually themeless (and very hard!)...
  • NYT; Fri, 9/29/2000; [.puz]; Will Shortz says (why 1 of 5 favorites): "This themeless 68-word puzzle contains ten 15-letter answers spanning the grid, with 8-Down intersecting the nine going across. As typical with Bob Klahn, he spices up the puzzle with lively vocabulary, and the grid doesn't have a single unnecessary black square."
  • NYT; Fri, 3/11/2005; from "Five Unforgettable Puzzles" (WordPlay DVD pamphlet); [.puz$]: at the time, set record for fewest (19) black squares