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The Differences Between US And UK Crossword Grids

British and US crossword grids are very different. This is not something you might expect to be the case, but any puzzle lover who visits the other country soon realises that they are very different beasts.

It starts very much with the grid. With US style puzzles, every square in the grid is fully checked, meaning that each white square is in both an across AND down run. In a British style grid, this is far from the case, and generally it will be the case that every other letter is checked. This means multiple solutions are more likely and thinking of a word that fits may be harder as there are less checking letters available.

US grids - as a result of the above - pack a load more clues in each puzzle. A typical 15x15 grid in the UK, for instance, might have a number of clues in the low 30s, whilst in the US the same grid would have almost double the number of clues.

Filling a US grid is clearly harder than a British style grid, where the fact many less squares are crossed means that it is easier to achieve a grid fill as there are more options available for each word.

As well as the above differences, the clues lengths usually aren't stated with US puzzles. If the answer is composed of multiple words, this also isn't given.

Whereas in the UK there are various different style of puzzles: the quick, the general knowledge, the cryptic and the (heavily) themed, in the US you just get one standard type of puzzle, which may be lightly themed (by UK standards) with just a few themed entries, usually the longest horizontal answers in the grid.

The reason for this is that the rigidity of the grid style and the difficulty filling it makes it a lot more harder to create a heavily themed puzzle or indeed a puzzle where every answer can be the answer to a general knowledge clue.

Because the US style of grid gives you two chances to get each word, then the clues can be a lot vaguer, in the way that with a UK puzzle this generally wouldn't be possible. Also, due to the harder nature of achieving a good gridfill, you will tend to get more abbreviations and obscure words in US puzzles - particularly to fill three and four-letter word slots. US puzzles can be quite impenetrable to a foreign audience as they may well include references to baseball and basketball players that no-one else would have a clue about, as well as small towns / cities, references to abbreviations for relatively unknown organisations and so forth that will be unknown to a generalist audience. This generally isn't the case with British puzzles.

People who grow up playing US puzzles probably end up preferring them to the UK style, and vice versa. However some people do learn to love the other type. If you've played both, which do you prefer, and why? What do you consider the strengths and weaknesses of each style?
Date written: 27 Apr 2015

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