CROSSWORDS: Terminology & Types


  • taxesCrosswords vary widely
  • by difficulty, size and shape
  • by language
  • by style: free-form, themed, rebus, barred, cipher, diagramless, fill-in, etc.
  • There are different kinds of clues, grids, authors, publishers, formats.
  • There are many word puzzles / games besides crosswords.
  • Puzzle Mania! Will Shortz’s Inside Look podcast: 11:25; special 12/18 16 pp. section: 50x50 NYT crossword (728 clues); Sudoku; Acrostics; Word games; Visual puzzles; 12/16/2016


clockpuzzle, word puzzle
"a problem or enigma that tests the ingenuity of the solver"
"the study of all that puzzles" ~Will Shortz his self-designed major at Indiana Univ.
"word puzzle that normally takes the form of a square or rectangular grid of white and shaded squares. Squares in which answers begin are usually numbered. The clues are then referred to by these numbers and a direction."
Afrikaans: blokkiesraaisel
Dutch: kruiswoordraadsel
french gridFrench: mots croisés (grilles)
German: kreuzworträtsel
Italian: cruciverba
Latin: crucivocabulorum
Portuguese: palavras cruzadas
valentine crucigramaSpanish: crucigrama
Swedish: korsord
Turkish: bulmaca
90+ languages via Google Translate: "crossword"; 51+ languages via Bing translator, incl. Klingon!
How to Say Crossword in Different Languages
Crosswords in other languages examples; 5/29/2013
Wikipedia: crosswords in other languages, cryptics in other languages; crossword orthography


cluelessstraight or quick
usually simple definitions; maybe anagrams; rules/conventions;
themes (category; quotes; puns; commemoration; rebus); indirect?
e.g., UK cryptics. "clues are puzzles in themselves. A typical clue contains a definition at the beginning or end of the clue, and wordplay, which describes the word indicated by the definition, and which may not parse logically, but should be grammatical."
double-clue lists
choose between straight or cryptic clues
Fill In The ___
an answer that any player will get easily, e.g., 'Lincoln's nickname' in three letters


black whitewhite cells
or lights
checked, keyed or crossed
"A white cell that is part of two entries (both Across and Down);
a white cell that is part of only one entry is called unchecked, unkeyed or uncrossed." (uncommon in US puzzles)
3Dblack squares
or darks, blanks, blocks, shaded squares
entries or answers
"horizontal and vertical lines of white cells into which answers are written"

Grid Size, Shape, Style

american gridAmerican-style (US) grid
solid areas of white squares; every letter checked; symmetry (180-degree rotational)
Wikipedia: New York Times (NYT)
Why are crossword puzzles symmetric?
crossword for morons 1 squaregrid sizes
mini: 5x5, e.g., NYT
weekday: usually 15x15
weekend: 21×21, 23×23
jumbo: 27x27
foreign: rectangular
custom shapes, e.g., maps, tree, heart, etc.
british gridBritish-style (UK) grid
lattice-like structure; more shaded and unchecked squares; symmetry (180-degree rotational)
Wikipedia: Cryptic
french gridFrance, Italy
crosswords are smaller than English-language crosswords, and not necessarily square
they need not be symmetric and two-letter words are allowed
Italian crosswords are usually oblong and larger than French ones
japanese gridJapan
shaded cells may not share a side; the corner squares must be white
one syllable (typically katakana) rather than one letter is entered into each white cell
swedish gridSweden
no clue numbers; shaded cells are often replaced by boxes with clues (arrows, photos)
crisscrossfree-form crosswords (criss-cross or vocabulary puzzles)
simple, non symmetric designs. Grids forming shapes other than squares are also occasionally used.
barredbarred crosswords
use bold lines between squares (instead of shaded squares) to separate answers
essentially four small puzzles joined in the center by a few letters. Each quadrant needs to be solved separately. example
circular designs
circular crosswordanswers entered either radially or in concentric circles
codewordcipher crosswords / codewords
"clues for each white cell of the grid - an integer from 1 to 26 inclusive is printed in the corner of each. The objective, as any other crossword, is to determine the proper letter for each cell; in a cipher crossword, the 26 numbers serve as a cipher for those letters: cells that share matching numbers are filled with matching letters, and no two numbers stand for the same letter. All resultant entries must be valid words. Usually, at least one number's letter is given at the outset. English-language cipher crosswords are nearly always pangrammatic." example
diagramlessdiagramless, skeleton
"the grid offers overall dimensions, but the locations of most of the clue numbers and shaded squares are unspecified. A solver must deduce not only the answers to individual clues, but how to fit together partially built-up clumps of answers into larger clumps with properly-set shaded squares."
crusadexfill-in, crusadex
"a grid and the full list of words to be entered in that grid, but does not give explicit clues for where each word goes. The challenge is figuring out how to integrate the list of words together within the grid so that all intersections of words are valid."

Difficulty, Themes

already solved crosswords"commuter" crossword
usually "quick and easy" clues Mon-Fri; often < NYT Mon
increasing difficulty, e.g., NYT, LAT
Mon, Tue: 'easiest'
Wed: 'medium difficulty'
Thu: 'more difficult'
Fri, Sat: 'most difficult' -- usually themeless
Sun: like 'hard Wed' or 'easy Thu' but larger (21x21)
seven (Mon-Sun) songs inspired by NYT Crossword puzzle difficulty (.mp3)
crosswordese mugcrosswordese
"words frequently found in crossword puzzles but seldom found in everyday conversation", e.g., SERE, OLIO, OMOO, ULEE, ETUI, ANOA, YSER, ERN, ERNE, NENE; fewer in 'better' puzzles; more lists under Solving: Vocabulary
e.g., NYT Fri & Sat; Newsday "Saturday Stumper"
crossword in which several (usually longer) entries share some relationship, type of pun, or other element in common, e.g., category, quotation, rebus, commemorative event; hints to theme are often found in puzzle title, and in marked clues (e.g., *, ?, CAPS) or special clues (e.g., 'the theme is'; 'marked clues share'); List of theme categories and examples
type of puzzle in which a square can be filled in with a sequence of letters, or a digit or picture/symbol
we'll see examples during Solving: Discover the Theme
alphabet soupholoalphabetic
denoting a grid in which all of the letters of the alphabet appear. Sometimes "pangram" is used synonymously -- though this may be incorrect. "A holoalphabetic crossword without an ulterior purpose is like a can of Campbell’s alphabet soup ('oh, let me see if they are all there'). What it is not is a 'pangram' -- an overused misnomer of crossword bloggers. A pangram is a sentence that uses every letter of the alphabet. A holoalphabetic crossword allows the construction of a pangram." ~NYT Crossword in Gothic
acptAmerican Crossword Puzzle Tournament
oldest/largest US crossword puzzle tournament; official ACPT site 2005 tournament featured in 2006 movie WordPlay
World Puzzle Championship


acronym for The New York Times, the newspaper that has, arguably more than any other, set the standards for American-style crosswords. Other respected crosswords: LAT = Los Angeles Times; WSJ = The Wall Street Journal; WP = The Washington Post
offering reprint rights and granting permissions to other parties for republishing content. "The New York Times crossword puzzle is a daily puzzle found in The New York Times and online at the paper's website. It is also syndicated to over 300 other newspapers and journals." There is usually a time lag before 'current' NYT puzzle appears in other papers (Mail Tribune: Sun =+1 week); Oregonian: daily =+5 weeks); 6 weeks for some online sites; longer for printed puzzle books and calendars.
crossword authors; US: "constructors"; non-US: "setters", "compilers"
will shortzeditor
responsible for selecting and editing crossword puzzles, e.g., moderate the clues so they match the desired degree of difficulty for that day of the week; this can involve significant changes to words or grid
across lite.puz
Across Lite file format created by Litsoft that contains the puzzle: title, author, grid, clues, guesses, solution, notes
.puz files provided by some newspaper sites (NYT in 1996), opened by applications such as Across Lite, Crosswords, ...details: text format, binary format
to convert a crossword puzzle into the Across Lite (.puz) format, so it can be solved on a computer (after "Litsoft")

Other Word Puzzles

alphabet soup diceWikipedia: Word board games; Word games; Word puzzles
see also game shows under History
acrostic; How Acrostic Puzzles Work; Quiz
Alpha Omega unscramble each puzzle with only first and last letters as your guide
crossnumbercross-figure, crossnumber: "numerical analogy of a crossword [or fill-in], in which the solutions to the clues are numbers instead of words. Clues are usually arithmetical expressions, but can also be general knowledge clues to which the answer is a number or year."
crosswordoku; sample
cryptogram; How Cryptograms Work; How Cryptoquotes Work
Dabble Will Stretch Your Brain in New Ways combo Scrabble and crosswords;; 4/15/2012
jumble crosswordjumble; Jumble crosswords (Mail Tribune)
kakuro: Cross-sums; kind of a combination of crossword and sudoku puzzles; How Kakuro Puzzles Work; Quiz
NYT Op-Ed Puzzles
palindrome; The Palindromist Magazine;;
'Rise to Vote, Sir.' 'Now I Won!' World Palindrome Champion Crowned (at ACPT); 3/27/2012
Puzzazz site
Quiddler cross between Scrabble and the card game gin rummy; How Quiddler Works
Can You Do The Regular Expression Crossword? from MIT Mystery Hunt; 2/12/2013
scrabbleScrabble; How Scrabble Works; Scrabble variants
Tale Of How Woman Started Making Earrings Out Of Scrabble Tiles Even More Spellbinding Than Anticipated The Onion; 2/5/2016
Dear Nigel Richards, Please Try Romanian Scrabble more words than French; 7/22/2015
The French Scrabble champion who speaks no French Nigel Richards memorized French dictionary; 7/22/2015
7 Incredible Things You Didn’t Know About Professional Scrabble 6/17/2015
Thousand of new words added to Scrabble dictionary lolz, shizzle, obvs, twerking, emoji, bezzy and ridic; quinzhee; onesie, devo, vape, and shootie; facetime, hashtag, and sexting; augh, blech, eew, grr, waah and yeesh; 5/21/2015
Can New Words With Friends reignite your competitive pseudo-Scrabble addiction? 10/14/2014
Who Owns Scrabble's Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company; players beg to differ; 9/30/2014
W-I-N-N-E-R! Oregon man crowned Scrabble champ 8/13/2014
What Makes Nigel Richards The Best Scrabble Player On Earth 8/8/2014
Now You Can Use The Word ‘Selfie’ in Scrabble dictionary updated; 8/4/2014
The Next Qi and Za Scrabble will let players pick its first new word in nine years; 3/13/2014
National Scrabble Day: A Poem So You’ll Know All 101 Two-Letter Words less relevant for crosswords where 3 letters is normal minimum; 4/13/2013
How Words With Friends Beat Scrabble At Its Own Game 1/24/2012
Str8ts logic-based number-placement puzzle
txtperttxtpert: players decode numeric clues by referencing a telephone-style number pad. For example, the number 2 could be the letters A, B or C (letters found on the number 2 key). The clue for the word "CAT" would be the number 228 but those same numbers also spell out the word "BAT" or "ACT" (seen in USA Today; texting skills handy).
You Should Play: W.E.L.D.E.R. kind of a cross between Boggle and Tetris; iOS; 8/24/2012
word ladder


on holdWikipedia: Crossword
Word-Buff Glossary
WordPuzzle Pro